This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 1st November 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 GREATOREX?

This name not only belongs to Derbyshire but it can also be traced to specific locations. Note that mention is made of "locations" and not simply of one "location". This is important because those bearing this name (or one of its many variations) can look either to Wormhill or to Carsington for their origins.

How exactly such people would be able to decide where they might have come from would depend a great deal upon how their name was originally spelled. Whatever the case, though, there can be little room for confusion over the first unit of the name. "Great-" means, in this context, what it has always meant: "extensive" or "massive". It is the second unit of the name "-rex" that we run up against problems.

In spite of its undeniable similarity, It has absolutely no connection with the Latin word "rex" which means "a king". So it is regretted that people who might have been hoping to lay claim to Royal Ancestry must be disappointed!

Although clues to the precise meaning of "-rex" can be found in the forms of spelling which occur in early records, they are far from conclusive since there are so many of them and were used haphazardly.

Even so we can make a start by declaring that "Greatorex" is, for some people, a location name and means "Great Rocks". That immediately pin-points a site near Wormhill - those splendid crags known as "Great Rocks Dale". In old writings the word for a single rock or boulder is to be found spelled in several ways but "rox" interestingly and significantly enough exists to describe more than one. This could go quite a long way in explaining how the unusual "-rex" unit came into being. Many people, therefore, called "Greatorex" or "Greatrex" can confidently claim that their ancestors took their name from the spectacular rock formations lying at the end of the Monsal Trail.

It is a curious coincidence, but running alongside these ancient words for "rock" was a similar word, belonging to the Old Norse language. It was "rack" or "raik" (they were more or less interchangeable) and it meant, among other things, "a path", "a stripe", "a streak" and even "a line of driven cattle". What is noticable is that all these words share the idea of length and extension and so it is not at all surprising that a similar word was adopted to describe a special feature in the mining of lead - an activity for which Derbyshire was famous even in Roman times. In mining, a "rake" came to be used to describe a "long path" or (in modern parlance) a "rich and long vein of ore". In 1653 Edward Manlove refers to an established custom in the Wirksworth District, that if a native of Derbyshire discovered a "Rake" he was entitled to work it regardless of who owned the land.

To this day the "Great Rake" at Carsington can still be identified. It lies just about halfway between Carsington and Brassington. So it is reasonable to suppose that some of the people now called "Greatorex" could have originated from this part of Derbyshire. Their name might partake of both location and occupational sources. All this is given some support from the fact that many families now using the "-x-" form of spelling originally wrote their names as "Greatrakes". It is to be assumed that as time went by and spelling became more consistent, the form "-rex" prevailed over "-rake" and in so doing people lost sight of their particular origin - whether it was Wormhill or Carsington.

This point is attractively illustrated in the case of Thomas Greatorex (1758-1831), a distinguished musician who became Organist at Westminster Abbey. He too might have had problems in deciding his ancestry since, although he wrote his name as "Greatorex" his family was associated with Calow and Wirksworth and spelled their name "Greatrakes"! In his diary, Samuel Pepys makes mention several times of Ralph Greatorex, a maker of scientific instruments and who can be tenuously linked with Macclesfield which is about 15 miles from Wormhill.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 1st November 1993.

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