This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 5th April 1993, 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 FOSTER?

Most names ending in "-er" are described as being "occupational" and in this case would originally have been used to indicate that a man called "Foster" could have followed one of three possible occupations: either that of a forester, a woodworker or a maker of scissors.

The history books tell us that William the Conqueror (1066-1087) and his successors were very fond of hunting and set aside large areas of woodland for that purpose. They appointed "woodmen" or "foresters" to police and patrol them and this gave rise to an occupational name "Forester" which modified also to "Foster". Not surprisingly, the name is widespread in Nottinghamshire (Sherwood Forest) and it is there that the earliest record is to be located: 1240. Hence people today called "Foster" - and its innumerable permutations including "Forster" and "Forrester" - could be descendants of a man who had taken up that job.

As an alternative it may be remembered that in the unsettled times of our ancestors there was considerable demand for weapons, such as clubs. The makers of these were called "fosters" and in this case the name can be traced back to the Latin word "fustis" which describes such things as a block of wood or a sturdy stick or a cudgel.

Finally we have "scissor-makers". A Latin word for "shears" or "scissors" is "forfices" which passed into French as "forcetier" and emerged in Early English (about the time of the Norman Conquest) as "foster". As might be expected it is not uncommon in sheep-rearing districts, as the North of England and the Cotswolds - perhaps that's why we find "Doctor Foster of Gloucester"!

Today, similarities of spelling conceal the direct source of the name with regard to particular families. Only if one had access to very early records, to be able to see how the name was first written, would it be possible to suggest which of the three origins was applicable. Certainly the local directories between them contain over 500 entries.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 5th April 1993.

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