This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 18th May 1998, 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 GEDNEY?

In a letter to the "Peak Advertiser" a reader asks for information about the name "Gedney". In the letter mention is made that the name is associated with the place just outside Bakewell called "Higgin Holes", which the reader describes as being one "to conjure with".

In fact neither name is particularly exceptional. "Higgin Holes" is much less curious than its appearance might suggest. The site is roughly co-terminous with the Peak Park Headquarters (Aldern House) just beyond Newholme Hospital, at the junction leading to Hassop (B6001) and to Baslow (A619). The first unit, "Higgin" is an extension of the man's Christian name, "Richard" which has taken on numerous "pet" or "family" forms, of which "Dick", "Rick" and "Hick" are amongst the most well-known.

Out of "Hick" emerges "Hickin" which in this particular case modified to "Higgin". Whoever this "Higgin" might have been is now a mystery. All we know is that he presumably occupied the site which is described as being a deep hollow or depression and from that we get the designation "Higgin's Hollow" or, today, "Higgin Holes".

There appears to be no significance as to whether the word is spelled as one or two units. The older records, dating from 1541 offer both. In passing it might be noted that there is a corresponding name in Lancashire - "Higginbottom" but its origins take a different turn.

"Gedney" is also a place-name and incorporates another personal name. It is in Lincolnshire. Standing on the A17 Highway (Sleaford to King's Lynn) it lies about 10 miles east of Spalding. Apart from the town there is also a "Gedney Hill" but, as might be expected in that region, its height is under 300ft. There are also places called "Gedney Marsh" and "Gedney Broadgate".

Very little information is available about the first element "Ged-". It is certainly a personal name, but whether it was "Gaeda" or "Gydda" is uncertain: either is possible and the old records are ambiguous. The Domesday Survey of 1086 uses "Gadenai" but 50 years later another survey refers to it as "Gedeneie." In the Ecclesiastical Registers of 1226 we find "Geddney".

The second unit, "-ey" signifies "island" but as is often the case with such references to specific land formations, it is modified to correspond with the related landscape. Words, for example, signifying "hill" in low-lying regions are confirmed to "mounds" or "rises" in hilly districts.

Similarly, in Lincolnshire, among the Fens, just about any extent of firm, dry land was called an "island". Although such a feature would certainly have been very distinctive in the Middle Ages, it is less evident today, if at all, following the great drainage works carried out by the Dutch in the 17th century. Some evidence of the original conditions is afforded in how Gedney is situated in the midst of an extensive scheme of water engineering. The unit "- ey" occurs quite frequently in Derbyshire place-names as well.

Examples are "Eyam" and "Makeney" (the latter about half-way between Belper and Duffield, just south of Milford). On the A625 (Hathersage to Bamford) there is "Kentney". It stands alongside the River Derwent. Just as "Gedney" means "Gaeda's Isle", it has an exact parallel in that "Kentney" means "Centa's Isle". It may be presumed that for some reason this site remained dry at times when the River Derwent flooded.

Attempts to find a modern equivalent for the first-name "Gaeda" are hesitant. The most that can be suggested is that it could itself be a familiar and shortened version of some name beginning with "Gadd-" of which there were several and all popular among the English before the Conquest. If so, it might be related to the old word "gad" meaning "a spike" or "nail" and ultimately to yet another word "gaida" which meant "arrow head". So as a piece of inspired guess-work - and it is put no higher "Gedney" might be interpreted as "the refuge in the midst of the Fenlands belonging to one who is an arrow-maker".

The earliest record of the name is found in York for 1258 and describes a Richard of Gedeneye. The earliest mention for Lincolnshire occurs in 1273 and is to Harvey de Gedeney. After that the records are scattered: Godfrey de Geddeny in York for 1345, John Gydeny in London for 1379 and another John, called Gedeney in Essex for 1416.

There does not seem to be any Scots counterpart of the name, although the surname "Ged" is located in Beldridge, near Dunfermline.

A corrupted form of the surname seems to have made its way across the Atlantic and five examples are listed in the Municipal Register for Philadelphia in 1884.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 18th May 1998.

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