This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 24th March 1997, 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 FARRELL?

Families called "Farrell" can lay claim to having origins either in Ireland or, nearer home, in the neighbouring county of Staffordshire.

The Irish group can trace their ancestry to County Longford. Although the form "Farrell" prevails, there is a number of variations: Farrel, Ferrell and, as might be expected, O'Farrell and O'Ferrall, etc. The name "Farewell" (especially if it is pronounced as "Farrell") might be related, but as will be explained has quite a different source.

In the original Gaelic the name appears as "Fearghail". This is made up from two units: "fear" which means "a man"; and "gal" signifying "brave". An acceptable interpretation of the name would be "the man of valour".

Whether there was any particular individual so identified or whether it was simply a mark of distinction generally conferred upon successive members of a tribe who had earned such prestige is not known. Longord itself is a short modern version of "Longphort Ui Fhearghail" which means "the fortress of O'Farrell".

An interesting development of the surname is "O'Farelly" which is a rendering if the Gaelic "O'Faircheallaigh". Those who bear this name belong further north to County Cavan and they can trace their origins to a site in the vicinity of Beal Tairbirt formerly Belturbet).

An alternative source lies in Staffordshire. It can be traced to a location called "Farewell" which lies about 2 miles north-west of Lichfield. In records dating from around 1200 it is spelled variously as "Fagerwell" and "Faierwell" and later (1251) as "Faurewell". Of its meaning there can be no doubt: "the fair well" or "the pleasant stream". This description probably applied either to some spring or well situated within the settlement or, to Bilson Brook which flows just to the south.

The link between "Farrell" and "Farewell" requires some explanation. The pronunciation of many words - not only place names - can differ considerably from what their spelling would suggest. This is very distinctive in words where there is an intermediate "- w-" and . especially if it governs an unaccented syllable. What happens is that the "-w-" sound vanished entirely although it will still be preserved in writing. The most frequently encountered usage occurs in remarks such as "I will go" which invariably coalesces into "I'll go".

Numerous single words provide illustrations: for example two, sword, and boatswain. Placenames are particularly susceptible to this influence: Berwick, Towcester and, not so far away, Darwen (referred to as "Darren" by those who know better!).

In matters of pronunciation here, the point is that the "-w-" spellings are consistently preserved whereas how the words were sounded seems to vary. For example, we now tend to say "always" and "backwards and forwards" yet we know for certain that not so very long ago even well-educated speakers said "allus" and "backards and forrards" - a practice which is still followed.

It is very rare indeed that spelling, even of place-names, is altered to reflect this change of sound. If it is, it is conscious and deliberate, as in the case of "Warwick", which, when its namesakes were established in the States of Indiana and Montana, the new settlers adopted the spelling "Warrick".

It is not therefore too fanciful to suggest that this particular surname, "Farrell" must have been subject to corresponding influences otherwise no convincing alternative explanation can be provided to account for how "Farewell" modulated into "Farrell". Certainly "Cauldwell" gives "Caudell" and, locally, "Derwent" is pronounced "Darrent".

Location-names, when they are used as surnames usually indicate that somebody had migrated from his native place. It would have been quite in order for his new neighbours to identify him as "the man from such-and-such a place". The less distance he had travelled, the more likely his home would be known to the new people around him, and since, in this case, "Farewell" is not so very far away, it provided a ready means of recognition.

This probably accounts for its slight prevalence here in Derbyshire. The new arrival would have been referred to as "that guy from over at Farewell", which, we may confidently assume was pronounced as "Farrell". The form "Farewell" existed and survives as a surname of which the earliest example is to be found in Yorkshire for 1180 - "Bartholomew de Farrwell".

Here, it might be noted that there is some evidence that there was also a place of the same name in Yorkshire, but its whereabouts are now unknown. Perhaps families in the Northern Area of Derbyshire might look in this direction for their origins. And, of course, it is perfectly possible that the Irish name was encountered and went to influencing the spelling of the local name as well as its pronunciation.

For the removal of doubts, it may be mentioned that attempts to give an aristocratic flavour to the name by spelling it as "Ffarrell" or "ffarrell" (along with other names beginning with "F-") have their origins in illiteracy, and confer no distinction.

Readers might reasonably wonder it the expression "Fare Well" (i.e. "Goodbye") can be brought in. In the context of surnames it is possible for"Farrell" to be an attenuated phrase-name. In Mediaeval Times, while surnames were evolving, there were many instances of names taking the form of a short saying. In 1410 there was a many in Cumberland called "John-Twyson-the-day".

Whatever it was he did "twice-a-day" we don't know and neither do we know why "Elias Over-and-over" of Nottingham came to be so- called. In the case of "Fare Well" there is a corresponding French expression "Adieu" which: was the name of "William Adieu" alongside "Richard Farewell" in the Parliamentary Writs for 1273.

In Derbyshire the earliest references are to "Andrew Farell" and Roger Farell" both dated 1642. Today, in the Local Directories there are about 40 entries, which is a pattern followed throughout the Country, although heavier concentrations are discernible larger centres: Liverpool (200), Glasgow (200) and London (300). There is a noticably heavier concentration in Northern Ireland.

The name is not a "Head-Liner". The only person listed in the Standard Reference works is James Farrell (1935-1979) His life was tragically ended by an accident at the age of 43. He was of Irish connection and showed great promise as a writer, winn- ing several literary prizes for his novels.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 24th March 1997.

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