This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 11th December 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 MOORE?
(Part One)
Variations include: More, Muir, Moir etc.

The name "Moore" is very widely distributed. There are nearly 400 entries in the local directory under "Moore" alone, which figure can rapidly be increased if all the variations are taken into account. However, unless there is a strong tradition in support or documentary evidence is forthcoming, it will often be difficult to say exactly how any particular family derived its surname. This is because there are at least five possible sources and as a starter it is obvious that the term describing tracts of wild uncultivated land is one of them.

In Nordic the expression was "mor" and it now appears as "moor" in English while "muir" is its Scots equivalent. The origin of the word is obscure. Because the soils of moorlands were generally unproductive it is possible that it was designated as "dead land" and that phrase can ultimately be related to the Latin word for "death" (mors). Another explanation is that "moor" can be related to the Latin for "sea" (mare). In the Middle Ages most of the country was covered in dense woodland and so any sizeable open space invited fanciful comparisons with stretches of open water.

It is interesting to note that for a long while the word "moor" was applicable to similar areas all over the country, even in East Anglia where expressions such as the "Fens" (Lincoln) and the "Levels" (Bedford) now prevail. So even in 1706 it was stated in a dictionary that "Moor... is now commonly taken for a Marsh or Fen". This is noticeable in East Anglian place-names such as "Moorby" (Lincoln) and "Morden" (Cambridge).

A popular misconception has it that all moorlands were inhospitable and barren. This was not so. During the Middle Ages they were extensively utilised for grazing. The great monasteries, Fountains Abbey in particular, controlled huge flocks of sheep and other land-owners provided enclosures for rearing cattle. Hence the surnames "Moorman", "Morman", "Mureman" etc. are occupational names describing an official in charge of a moor. In 1687 there was a direction that "every Man that keepeth cattell upon ye Moore shall bringe hys Beaste to ye Mooreman to be Branded". The earliest reference in England is to a "Ralph le Mueman" (Suffolk, 1287) and in Scotland to "Thomas Mureman" (1576).

Furthermore the steady rise in the population from 1100 to 1300 put pressure on available farmland and the inhabitants of many settlements found it necessary to clear tracts of adjacent moorland to meet the ever growing demand for food. Not only did they expand existing habitations but also established new ones. It is interesting to note that following the Great Plagues (especially the Black Death, 1348) a large number were abandoned and are now classified among the "lost villages". Out of this development innumerable surnames evolved. No doubt those who worked on the new holdings would acquire the name "Moorcroft" and dwell in "Moorcott" or "Moorhouse" - and perhaps collective habitations were responsible for "Moorhouses".

Even more names have been derived from the numerous sites which incorporate various forms of the unit "moor". Most have been swallowed up by larger districts such as "Moor" in Sutton Coldfield and in Bramcote, but "Moore" in Cheshire (near Runcorn) and "More" in Shropshire (near Bishop's Castle) still preserve their identities. Most place-names are compounds, but providing a list would read like a gazetteer - there are well over 500 of them! However, mention may be made of some local examples, as "Moor Hall" (Bakewell, now lost), Moorseats (Hathersage), Moorwood (Dethick), Morley (Ilkeston), Morton (Stonebroom) and Mosborough (i.e. "the fortress on the moor", near Eckington). It must be left to individual families to decide which one of all the places previously mentioned has given rise to their surname.

Apparently readers with Scots connections can take it that their surname, be it "Moor", "More", "Muir" signifies "one who dwells on the heath or moor". The most celebrated Scotsman is probably Sir John Moore (1761-1809). He was a distinguished soldier and his death at the Battle of Corunna is the subject of a celebrated poem, "Not a drum was heard..." It seems that the original form of his surname was lacking the final "-e" and was added "for a difference". The earliest reference in that country is to a Thomas de la More (1291). English readers must accept that unless they can relate to such records as "William de, More" (Suffolk, 1086), "John Bythemore" (Somerset, 1327) or "Pontius de la More" (York, 1273) or "Johannes atte More" (1379) where being located on a moor is specifically stated, they could just as easily have derived their surname from one of several other sources, all of which will be discussed in the next issue of the "Peak Advertiser".

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 11th December 2000.
Are you called MOORE?
(Part Two)
Variations include: More, Muir, Moir etc.

It was noted in the previous article under this heading that the preponderance of place-names incorporating forms of the word "moor" and signifying heath and waste land tended to obscure the fact that surnames spelled with corresponding appearances could have actually originated elsewhere.

For instance, "moor" had another meaning and one which is immediately apparent when referring to "Othello, The Moor of Venice". Today, except in specialised contexts such as "Moorish architecture" and the archaic allusions to "Blackamoor", the expression is obsolete. However, to our medieval ancestors, as well as to Shakespeare, "moor" was the general term for describing the inhabitants of North Africa. It is a word which goes back even to classical times and which the Romans gave to that part of Africa now called Morocco and Algeria. It took the form "Mauritania" and an inhabitant was called a "Maurus". But how the expression originated is not certain. It is believed that it may have come from the Phoenician "mauharim" which signifies "dweller in the East". Among the ancients it was adopted as a sort of personal name and it certainly persisted into the later Roman Empire because its most celebrated bearer was the Abbot St. Maurus who introduced the rule of St. Benedict into France and after whom many places were named, especially "St. Moritz" (date: 19th January, 584).

Although the name was popular on the continent and was introduced into this island by the Normans, it does not seem to have appealed to the English. If used, it generally was written "More". The earliest references to its being a personal name occur in Lancashire (Johannes filius More, 1185) and in Kent (Morus de la Hale 1214). Far more often it was conferred as a nick-name descriptive of a man with a swarthy countenance, but it is well nigh impossible after all this time to say which of the two were applicable, say, to "Hugo Maurus" (Cambridge, 1186) or "Osbert Mor" (Essex, 1195).

Families with Irish connexions and whose surname is "Moore" could look to their origins either to County Leix (formerly Queen's County), or to Kerry. That name is a popular re-rendering of "O'More" although since the modern tendency of Irish people is to restore the old Gaelic forms, it could take the spelling "Mordha" which means "a descendant of the man called Mordha". The Gaelic word "mordha" has several meanings but all share the same sense: stately, majestic, proud etc. The best known bearer of the name "Moore" from Ireland is Thomas Moore (1779-1852) whose ancestry can be traced to Kerry. He lived for a while in Mayfield near Ashbourne. It was there that he wrote an Oriental romance in verse called "Lalla Rookh" which was a literary sensation for years, but is now forgotten. On the other hand his "Irish Melodies" are still deservedly popular. His piece, "Oh Believe me if all those endearing young charms" has been a favourite with the present writer since he first heard it as a child - and that's some 70-odd years ago!

Finally, as well as "Moore", the forms "More", "Muir" and "Moir" indicate associations with Scotland. In Gaelic "mor" signifies "large" and so in the context of surnames would have originated as a nick-name for a heavily-built man. Families who identify themselves with Aberdeen and who are called "Moir" might be interested to know that although written "Moir", it is pronounced as "More" and in the earliest records the spellings interchange. Indeed, variations in the spelling are quite remarkable. A notable family dwelling in Stoneywood (just north of Aberdeen, on the A947 highway) have registers showing it to appear as "Moer", "More" and "Moore", as well as "Moir".

Bringing all what has been described in this and the previous article, it may be concluded that the most common rendering of the name is "Moore". In the Standard Biographical Encylopedias there are nearly 100 entries. The references begin with Sir Thomas de la Moore (or More) (1327?-1347?), a shadowy historical writer and government official who is known to have taken his name from Mora or Moor in Oxfordshire and which is now known as Northmoor. The present entries finish with Henry Moore (1898-1986), the celebrated sculptor.

Mention may be made of Sir Thomas More (1478-1538) who was a statesman under Henry VIII. His appearance is well known on account of Holbein's brilliant portrait and he made us all familiar with the word "Utopia". Even so, the most familiar personality is "Old Moore" - referring to Francis Moore (1657-1715), who issued the first "Almanack" under that name in 1701 and which is still published.

This being the last article for the 20th century, the writer would like to mark it with a personal observation. One of the alternative versions of the surname is "Moir" and it is borne by one Dennis Moir (formerly of the Q.E.2). He has been a good friend of the writer since they first met at school in Liverpool in 1936 and to whom this article is addressed in compliment.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 18th December 2000.

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