This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 26th January 2004, 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 GOODWIN or GODWIN?

The request for information about this surname has come from Perth in Western Australia. Otherwise it is also well-represented locally with some 200 entries in our directory. There are few variations in the spelling and none is significant. Godwin is the authentic form because it conforms with its Old English original spelling. Alternative arrangements, in the absence of special circumstances, might be conscious archaisms.

A very particular interest attaches itself to this name, not only for its intriguing etymology but also on account of its having started life as a personal name. Whether this is an instance of the modern trend for adopting surnames as first names or a deliberate revival of the old personal name is debatable.

One of the more appealing characteristics of human beings is a desire to form friends and in Old English society this was reflected in the name "Goodwin" for which a rough and ready rendering in modern parlance would be "best mate".

The two units forming the name can best be discussed separately. The word "god" in Old english meant "good" and was similarly pronounced. Hence in an early translation of the Gospels (c. 998) the reference in Matthew VII - 7 to "Every good tree..." appears as "Alc god treow", and it is not until about 1279 that the spelling "good" is adopted. It must be emphasised that the word "god" as applicable to mythology has a differing origin.

This interchange between "god" and "good" certainly is perplexing. It helps to understand that "god" (in this context) was pronounced "good". This may be confirmed by noting the Cumbrian usage of "gewd" and the Scots "guid." The word has similar counterparts in many northern languages:- "gut" (German), "godnyi" (Russian), "gad" (Norwegian). This points to the word having a common origin and research suggests an Old Teutonic word "godo" which meant "to assemble". The "assembly" as related to the meaning of "good" was interpreted as the accumulation of all that was excellent or desirable. This also reveals an interesting point of grammar. Just as the word "unique" is independent and admits of no qualification, disregarding such solecisms as "very unique" or "most unique", so also was the understanding of the word "good". At a very early period in the development of our language "good" was recognised as an absolute term and no qualification could be admitted. Hence the expected forms "gooder" and "goodest" were not constructed and the irregular forms "better" and "best" evolved separately. A discussion about their development, although fascinating is not relevant here.

As has been mentioned, the original form of "good" lay in the Germanic "godo". Among its meanings was not only "to assemble" but also "to gather". At first this word was spelt "gadder" to correspond with the original Teutonic source. This spelling persisted until about the 16th century. For example, Chaucer says (Canterbury Tales 1386) "Up rose our host and gaddered us togidere". The modem "-th-" spelling dates from the time of Shakespeare. This point makes the connection of Good and Gather certainly intriguing.

The unit "win" now is associated with carrying off prizes or a victory. Originally it was related to notions that were pleasant and agreeable. A description of an ancient city (1397) refers to the city walls as "win to behold." Although now somewhat old- fashioned, to describe somebody as being "winsome" implies their having an attractive personality. Similar ideas lie behind the reference to "winning way". In Old English the spelling was "wyn" which changed to "win" during the 16th century. A commentary on the Apostles' Creed (1275) explains that the traditional release of Souls in Hell was "a win for dwellers of Middle Earth" (i.e. a pleasant experience). Note that wine - a beverage which holds pleasure, and with collective drinking helps to foster friendly relations - is a related term.

For such reasons "Godwin" was one of the most popular names among our Medieval Ancestors. Among the earliest records may be included Walter Godwin of Norfolk (1170) and John Gudwyn of York (1388). In Scotland it was imported into some of the eastern lowland counties and it is known that a steward of the royal household bore the name in 1127. The corresponding Gaelic form in Ireland was O Diagghaudh which was rendered as Goodwin and later back-translated taking the spelling "O'Day". The dangerous sandbanks off the Kent Coast called the "Goodwin Sands" take their name from a former owner called Earl Godwin who died in 1059. The second highest mountain in the world, Godwin-Austen - was named after a member of the Trigonometrical Survey of India.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 26th January 2004.

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