This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 8th September 2003, 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 MARRIOTT?
(Variations include Merriot, Marryat, Merrett, Merritt etc.)

There are many variations in the spelling of this name. As a general rule variations are rarely significant, but in the case of this surname they very well could be. For example people with connections in the West country (particularly Somerset) might derive their name from Merriott, a large village 2 miles north of Crewkeme. its meaning is not certain. The unit "mer-" is probably related to the Old English "gemaere" which was first recorded in 825 and means "a boundary". The place is strung along a road which might have been the same boundary to whatever area it once surrounded. Care needs to be taken over identifying this road with what ultimately came to be the legal demarcation because, although the word "mere" is a recognised expression signifying "boundary road" such usage dates from 607 and may have come too late to have influenced the original meaning of the place. The matter is best left to local historians.

Thomas Merriott (1589-1663) a celebrated Latin scholar certainly derived his name here, having been born in a family which had moved to Steeple Langford (Wiltshire) some 35 miles distant. Of the several forms taken by this surname, Merrett and Merrit are to be found in the local directory.

It is not disputed that many varieties of this surname must be based upon the personal name "Mary" but there are several confusing exceptions. This occurs with the unrelated medieval name "Meryet". Even before the conquest we find a reference to Alric Filius Meriot and references abound through eleven successive reigns: John Merryatt of Colchester (1375) for example. Here the unit "marr" is taken from the same source which yields "mer" in the previous surname (Merriott) and still describes a boundary but with the difference that it applies to what is implied in "landmark" and the "Welsh Marches".

Historically it is associated with the Saxon Kingdom of Mercia which itself describes the region bordering upon Wales. The second unit "-at" is a considerably foreshortened rendering of the Old English "geat" which meant 'great' or 'famous'. (It still survives in dialect where "gert" means much the same). "Geat" appears in the old records as "Geatas" which was the name of a tribe originating in Southern Sweden (later Gotland") to which the hero Beowulf belonged. The words "Goth" and "Gothic" are related. The surname "Marryatt" is thus derived from a personal name which would have been written "Maergeat" and would probably have been conferred upon leading members of the "Geat" tribe who were responsible for safety along their tribal boundary - an early "frontier guard" as it were. It is first recorded as a surname in Cornwall in the person of Richard Meryet (1297) and then here in Derbyshire as William Meriot (1327). The most celebrated bearer of the name is Captain Marryatt (1792-1848) whose adventurous life furnished him with material for such stories as "Peter Simple" and "The Settlers in Canada" and many other titles - all still very readable.

In the case of "Marriott", this has over 250 entries in our local directory. As already suggested, it is based upon the personal name "Mary" which for nearly 2000 years held special significance in the Christian community. Until recently (1900) it regularly headed the list of popular girls' names but since 1950 it has steadily declined in favour and now is no longer even included in the official "top fifty" listings.

Its original meaning is uncertain. It might have originated in the Hebrew "mara" meaning "Bitterness" (c.f. "myrrh" - a bitter herb). Perhaps it might be equated with "Maryan" (Old Testament "Miriam"). But once, having been mentioned in connection with events in the life of Moses (c. 1235 B.C.), the name rarely, if ever, appears again until narratives concerning the advent of the Christian era.

This silence of over 1000 years has never been satisfactorily explained. A popular interpretation (attributed to St. Jerome) is that is is linked with the Latin word for sea which is "mare". (Hence "Stella Marls" or "star of the sea" - a familiar title for the New Testament Mary). But since Latin developed much later than Ancient Hebrew, this interpretation is hardly feasible. Anyway, such linguistic considerations did not concern our medieval ancestors: they chose the name simply for its religious connotations.

Surnames based upon personal names tended towards those borne by boys since the identity of a father prevailed (technically called "patronymics"). Only in exceptional circumstances did a child take an identity from its mother's first name (i.e. metronymics). Although there were other reasons for assuming a metronymic, the most widely adopted was that of a couple contemplating matrimony; having publicly let this intention be known, they cohabited for a year or so before going through a ceremony of marriage. It was a tradition widely followed in many parts of the country, and, though not entirely unknown even in Victorian times, became less observed, although seems now to be reviving. If during the currency of the cohabitation the man died or the couple decided they were not compatible, the arrangement was discontinued. Children born during this union were generally known by the first name of the mother with the addition of the diminunitive suffix "-ot". Hence: Matilda - Tillot; Emma - Emmet, and, of course "Marriot". Exceptionally a father's name appears: Phillip - Philpot.

The earliest record is for William Henricus Merriot (Warwick; 1105). In Suffolk there is a Nicholas Maryot (1273) and in York (1379) a Ricardus Meriot. Older readers will no doubt remember the comic actor Moore Marriott who supported the actor Will Hay in many films.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 8th September 2003.

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