This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 13th March 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 ORME?
(Variations: Orm, Ormes, Ormson, Oram, Orum, Orrum)

A Norman ancestor might be responsible for a few examples of this name. It would have been derived from the French "l'orme" meaning "elm-tree" (Latin "ulmus"). Probably conferred on people who dwelt in the vicinity of clump of elms or near one which was a landmark. Although the Normans tried to foist their language on the English there are few indications that "orme" in the sense of an elm tree featured as a unit in native placenames whereas there are nearly 100 such which incorporate "elm" and from which related surnames have been generated. Unless there is evidence of some French connection, surnames such as "De L'Orme" or "Des Ormes" were probably concocted by social climbers in the 19th century.

It must also be noted that "Ormond" is Irish and quite unrelated. Otherwise the most frequent source of the name lies in Nordic Mythology. In the western world the traditional source of evil was deemed to originate with the serpent, which, in a round-a-bout way was identified with the dragon. This conception arose because that creature was invariably represented as being a combination of two reptiles. Its main body was apparently a sort of winged crocodile which tapered off to form a serpentine tail.

The identification of both the serpent and the dragon occurs frequently in old Chronicles. In the Bible, for instance, the Devil is referred to in Revelations: XII-9 as both "the great dragon" and "that old serpent".

Here it is necessary to pause and draw attention to the fact that in Old English and related languages, the expression "worm" was used in contexts where, later, "snake", "reptile" or "serpent" would have been employed. In fact "worm" was used several centuries before "serpent" displaced it. Some 200 years before that word ever appears in writing, the reference to "serpents" in Deuteronomy: XXXII-24 is rendered in an Anglo-Saxon commentary a "wurmum". Shakespeare himself still employed it as, in his Egyptian play where the poisonous snake which kills Cleopatra is described as "the pretty worm of Nilus". (1606).

In the old Scandinavian language it is easy to perceive the relationship between "orm" and "worm". The ferocity and cunning attributed to serpents and dragons were qualities which the wild Norsemen would have admired in their warriors and so it is not surprising that "Orm" was widely adopted as a personal name. This accounts for its widespread survival in place-names. They are largely to be traced in the north and east of England which were subject to successive invasions by the Scandinavians. Futhermore they were intrepid seafarers and some sites on the western coasts are still known by the names they gave them. The best example is that distinct promontory in North Wales (Caernarvonshire) known as "Snake's Head" or the "Great Orme".

There are about 30 locations in both England and Scotland which incorporate the unit "Orm". Mention might be made of "Ormiston" (i.e. The Fortified Settlement of Orm, in Roxburghshire, which, significantly is pronounced locally as "Wurms-tun". And also of "Ormsby" (i.e. the place established by Orm) in the North Riding. Then there is "Ormskirk" (i.e. Orm's church) in Lancashire. The old name for a forest clearing was 'rod' and out of this emerges "Ormerod", meaning "Orm's Clearing". This place is also in Lancashire 2 miles south east of Burnley, just south of Worthorne.

So in addition to the single surname "Orme" and its variations, there is a multiplicity of related ones derived from placenames upon which it was constructed. Note our own "Orme's Moor" at the extreme north of the county. It will readily be conceded that the title belongs very much to the north of England.

Variations are self-explanatory. "Ormes" is "the son of Orm" as is also "Ormson". Evidence of pronunciation and that the "-r" was strongly trilled is demonstrated in the spellings "Orum" or "Oram".

However in passing it should be noted that here in Derbyshire the name "Orman's Close" is excluded. The place is near Ashbourne on the right-hand side as you come to the junction of The Green Road (B5035) and Windmill Lane. In the time of Queen Elizabeth I it was called "Herdman's Close" (i.e. an occupational name) which by 1677 had modified into "Harmon's Close" and by 1836 appeared as "Orman's Clase".

Historically, as a first name it was borne by the Scots Priest of Hume (Berwick) in 1153 and his contemporary, an Augustinian monk in Lincoln also called "Orme". He is celebrated for his "Ormulum" - a metrical commentary on the Gospels which is one of the most important examples of early English literature.

As a surname, the earliest record is to "Orm de Hedoc" (Haydock) in Lancashire for 1169. It is certainly well-represented in this area. There are about 70 entries in the local directory. Forms such as "Omerod", "Ormsby", "Ormiston" and "Ormston" are also listed.

In spite of its being so well-established a surname, there are no outstanding personalities bearing it. Still mention should be made of Eliza Orme (1848-1937). She was the first woman to be awarded a law degree (London - 1888) and during her life she engaged in much social reform. She was a tireless advocate of what today is called Women's Liberation" but disapproved of fanaticism.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 13th March 2000.

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