This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 14th August 2000, 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 HALL?
(Variations: Halls, Hallman, Hallgate, Hallgarth)

Some of these variations can be deceptive. Not every surname incorporating the unit "Hall" is associated. Names such as "Hallam" and "Halliwell", for instance, have different origins.

Otherwise the surname "Hall" is one of the most widely distributed and familiar surnames in the English- speaking world.

This is only to be expected since the word "hall" forms an element in countless place-names. Here in Derbyshire we find Moor Hall, Holme Hall - to name only two of the 40-odd sites identified by the Place-name Society. Furthermore, in everyday speech "hall" describes not only the diminutive vestibule of the average dwelling but the capaciousness of the Albert Hall: There are, in fact, some 25 different applications of the word in general use, but many came into the language long after surnames had become established and had no part in their formation. For example, "hall" as meaning a vestibule was not in use much before 1663, whereas it was the recognised term for describing places where public business could be conducted as far back as 1297 - though "Town Hall" dates as recently as 1481.

Originally a "hall" described any large place which was roofed-in. Historically the earliest examples are little more than four walls and a roof. The word itself can be traced across eastern Europe to the ancient language spoken to the north of India, called "Sanskrit". There it appeared as "sala" and this accounts for the French "salle". In the development of Germanic languages the initial "s-" converts to "h-" and so we get the English "hall" and the German "halle". The word is closely allied to sources which give us "helmet" (protection for the head) and "helm" (shelter for cattle: old Northern dialect).

It is the notion of "shelter" that lies behind the word "hall". Our medieval ancestors lived a very open-air existence. With limited facilities by way of artificial light, all work had to be done during day-light. When darkness fell, then that was the time to eat and sleep! Small peasant households huddled in poorly constructed hovels around an open fire (if they were lucky!) However the people who were involved in the administration of the village community (usually called "the Manor") occupied more substantial premises, in which large numbers of workers could assemble for meals, to bed down and, according to circumstances, conduct business. Apart from the principal and his family, accommodation and facilities were available for officials who travelled from place to place on behalf of the King or his barons. Hence the "Hall" was an important and dominating feature in every manorial settlement. And this explains why "Hall" as a surname is so widely distributed and is not limited to certain regions.

It should be remembered that the owners or occupiers of such "Halls" are hardly likely to have derived a surname from this source. As Lords of the Manor or as his important deputies, they would almost certainly already have borne a surname commensurate with their status. The name would have arisen in other ways. Great landowners controlled many manors and generally lived elsewhere and visited individual halls only as occasion required. So a great many would have been occupied by deputies. They readily attracted the designation as being "of the Hall". Hence the earliest records include "Warm de Halla" (Essex: 1178); Robert de la Hall (Hampshire: 1199); Roger de Hall (Derby: 1327). In addition the name would have been given to servants engaged in the hall. Here some precision is encountered. First there is "Hallman". This is one of the oldest names recorded: Aeluric Halleman is mentioned as for Bury in 1095. Gilbert le Halleman is found in Nottingham, 1301. Then a family who lived within the enclosure would be known as "Hallgarth" ("garth" being Old English for enclosure) and so in Lancashire there is "Henry de Hallegarth" (1298). Similarly people who attended at the entrances and kept the access roads clear were designated "Hallgate". People who lived adjacent to the hall were identified as being "next to it" giving us "Haller", as in the case of "Robert Haller" (Surrey: 1332). Sometimes the word "atte" was included as "Willelmus atte Hall" (York: 1379) but later records show this usage dropping.

There are few extensions to the name. Apart from "Hall" itself, there really is only "Halls" which shows descent - i.e. in answer to the question, "Whose kid's that?" the answer came, "It's Halls". A few variations in spelling such as "Halle" are found.

The name has counterparts in Scotland. Families with Irish connections should check whether their name is simply an imported one or whether it is an anglicised version of "MacCaul" which is derived from the Irish "MacCathmaoil".

It is difficult to select any personality for mention. There are so many. Older readers might recall, with pleasure, the band leader called Henry Hall (1898- 1989) whose performances on the radio during the 1930's gave so much pleasure. Locally, patients attending the clinic at the surgery in Imperial Road, here in Matlock, will know our friend, Martin Hall. Along with those of his fellow-workers, his ministrations are much appreciated.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 14th August 2000.

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