This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 22nd May 1995, reproduced by kind permission of the author, the late Desmond Holden.

The “What's in a Name” series was a regular feature in the Advertiser over the period 1993‑2004, taking a refreshing look at the derivation of some typically Derbyshire surnames.

Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames, and do not indicate any particular interest on Desmond's part in the genealogy, descent, or family history of individuals bearing the surnames featured.

Editor's Note: Articles are provided for general interest and background only. They are not intended to provide an exhaustive treatise for any individual family history - investigations of which may yield quite different results. Or, in Desmond's own words:

“In the end it must remain with individual bearers of the names to draw upon family traditions and to seek out such documentary evidence as is available to decide the matter for themselves.”

WHAT'S IN A NAME … Are you called EDMUNDS?

During the time when surnames were being created, people took to incorporating units which explained how they had inherited them. In Scotland they used the word "Mac" and in Wales it was the prefix "Ap" - and both of which mean "son of -". Among the Irish the prefix "O" is characteristic and means "a descendant of -".

Our English ancestors had a choice: they could add the word "-son" (which is self-explanatory as in "William- son") or they simply added an "-s". This is a shorten- ed form of "-es" which was the very Old English way for saying "of" which didn't begin to form part of the language until after the Norman Conquest, largely through the influence of the French use of their word "de".

The older form still survives in everyday speech in what is called the "apostrophe 's'" This final "-s" is found in hundreds of names and it follows that in the case of "Edmunds" the present-day bearers of the name are descendants "of" somebody called "Edmund".

The name was very well-established in medieval times and was sufficiently widespread to make it difficult now, for any family of the name of "Edmunds" or one of its many variations, to trace their descent back to any particular individual - at least not without access to detailed records. And why was the name so widespread?

According to the history books just over 1000 years ago Britain was divided into several small kingdoms among which was one more or less corresponding to the region now known as East Anglia. It was ruled over by a king called Edmund (840-870). He was a Christian and spent much of his time fighting the Danish invaders, who were Pagans.

The exact circumstances are uncertain but it is generally believed that he was killed in defence of the Faith at the Battle of Haxne (Suffolk). His body was carried to the town now known as Bury St. Edmunds. He was later made a Saint and his shrine became an important place of pilgrimage, visited by travellers from all over Europe as well as the British Isles. St. Edmund was not the first person to be given that name. It had been in use long before his birth. In fact the name of the place where he was buried had already acquired a name meaning "Edmund's place" and was his home- town. He took his name from the place and not the other way round as might be supposed.

The name combines two units. The first, "ead" is Anglo-Saxon and means "prosperity" or "blessed with good fortune." Contemporary religious writings for example refer to the Blessed Virgin as "ye eadi ladey". The second unit, "mund" is also an old word which comes down to us today as "minder". So altogether the name may be interpreted as "He who is entrusted with prosperity".

After 1066, Anglo-Saxon names were rather looked down upon by the Norman overlords, but even among them, the reputation of St. Edmund stood so high that his name persisted - though usually they spelled it "Edmond" to meet French pronunciation.

Strange to say, although St. Edmund was greatly venerated, his name was never widely adopted and even today, although it is not exceptional or unfamiliar, it is not often encountered. It had a fleeting upsurgence towards the end of the last century and so also did its feminine counterpart "Edith". As a girl's name "Edith" had some vogue up to about the 1920's but it is now regarded as somewhat old-fashioned.

There are about a dozen entries in the local directories for the base-name "Edmund" but most versions indicated descent, usually with the possessive final "-s" or with the ending "-son". These forms prevail all over the British Isles and there are no noticeable concentrations in any area.

At least six variations of the name are to be found in French- speaking countries, such as "Edmont" and "Emont". Lovers of the French Impressionists will be rather surprised to learn that "Monet" is also a permutation. However, people called "Beaumont" should be wary of laying claim to aristocratic Norman ancestry. The name could have developed from the Welsh form "Ap Edmund" which, modifying to "Bedmond" eventually ended up as "Beaumont".

The surname otherwise can be found in all its variations in the local registers. Most bearers of the name spell it either "Edmunds" or "Edmands". No significance can be read into the variations of the spelling of most surnames. Most of them are simply scribal errors. This is particularly evident in the case of names including the letter "-u-". In the old elaborate Gothic lettering formerly used by our early writers, the letter "-u-" could very easily be misread for an "-a-": This shows up in the form "Edmands". It is unusual but has become well-known to us here in Bakewell on account of the Chiropody services conferred by our own Carolynn Edmands.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 22nd May 1995.

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