This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 19th December 1994, 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 MONCRIEFF?

Occasionally spelled "Moncrieffe", this is a very old and respected Scots title. It originates in Perthshire. There are several locations taking up the name, but the significant sites are the small township of Moncrieff and a hill under the same description, rising to 725 feet. They lie together alongside the M90 Motorway, some three miles outside the City of Perth. just beyond Bridge of Earn.

Perth itself is an ancient settlement, well-established even before the Roman Occupation and has played a leading part in the history of Scotland. It is not surprising, therefore, that reference to Moncrieff Hill occur in historical documents. In a "Chronicle of Events for the Year 726" (although compiled somewhat later) mention is made of "Monid Croib" and even before 1100 A.D. there are preferences to "Monagh Craebi."

Another version, "Moynid Crewe" dates from 1400. Although such curiosities of spelling are to be expected in old writings, it is still rather difficult for us who are unfamiliar with Scots dialect to extract "Moncrieffe" from these archaic renderings. Even so, the people who are skilled in the development of the Gaelic Language have established that correctly presented the name would have been written as "Monad Craoibhe."

In modern form. the unit "Monad" now usually appears as "Mon" and it is quite easy to detect its association with equally old words meaning "hill" - and all ultimately derived from the Latin equivalents of "mons" and "montem."

However the origins of the second unit, "craoibhe" are most elusive. It is certainly verifiable that it now emerges as either "Crieff" or "Crieffe" and that the variations are not critical. "Crieff" is, in fact, to be found as a place-name on its own: it is a small Scots Burgh about 18 miles west of Perth. But the exact meaning is now lost.

Researchers are agreed that for "Crieffe" itself, it may well be interpreted as "The place of the Tree" but for "Moncrieffe" there are still more conflicting opinions. Some investigators suggest that it means simply "The Hill with the Trees" but others claim something more significant: "The Hill of the Sacred Bough."

In this context, the word "Bough" is probably an exercise in metonymy and would have been understood in an expanded sense as alluding to the entire wooded area on the top of the hill and which could very well have been a Grove.

One needs to be deeply versed in the traditions of Prehistoric Scotland to be able to speculate why a "Grove" might have been specifically commemorated. It cannot be disputed that in the dim distant past such Groves were frequently planted by the Heathen Tribes who inhabited these Islands and in honour of Local Deities. So it is not altogether too fanciful to advance a theory that the ancient occupiers of the Area where Perth is now situated had once set about and planted such a Sacred Grove on the heights of what eventually came to be called "Moncrieff Hill."

Persuassive evidence to support this notion can be derived by looking at the word "grove" itself. It is unique to the languages of this Island: there is no counterpart in any Teutonic language from which it could have been derived. Working backwards and applying the rules which govern the formation of words, one can postulate the existence of a word "graibo" which would have been used to describe such a plantation. So it is just feasible that "craoibhe" might have volved from it.

Reviewing what has gone before, if may be taken that people called "Moncrieff" would formerly have been dentified as "The People who live in the vicinity of the Hill whereon is planted the Sacred Grove."

Occupying a site that was already steeped in history long before the Roman occupation (A.D. 43-408) the Moncrieff family (which still flourishes) can trace its ancestry with certainty to the year 1248 (Sir Matthew de Muncrefe). Persons today, who are called Moncrieff can confidently claim to belong to the Clan (and, no doubt, sport its distinctive red and black tartan!), but tracing the individual lines of descent would be a matter for personal and particular investigation.

Still it is gratifying to think that one has links with a family related both to King Duncan of Scotland (as mentioned in "Macbeth") and also to Niall, King of Ireland (which takes ancestry even further back to the Fourth Century)

Probably the most frequently encountered use of the name lies in its being conferred upon a leading character in the Classic Play "The Importance of Being Earnest" - and, curiously enough it was a William Moncrieff (1794-1857) who put on the Stage that inimitable pair "Tom and Jerry".

As might be expected, most concentrations of "moncrieff" are to be found in Scotland - in both Perth and Edinburgh in about 100 names are recorded. Locally, apart from our friends here in Bakewell, who run the "Country Life" shop in Matlock Street, with its fascinating choice of Greetings Cards, there are only about a dozen entries altogether in the local Directories.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 19th December 1994.

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