This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 3rd July 1995, 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 PARKER?

This name is widely distributed across the British Isles and there are over 800 entries in the local directories. Ever since frequency tables were first compiled (1853) the name "Parker" has continued to rank high in the lists and is currently holding 38th place.

It has strong North Country associations however particularly in Lancashire and Cheshire. Among the earliest references to the name is that of Richard le Parker (1380) of Clitheroe. It is the family name of the Earls of Macclesfield (Cheshire) and Morley (near Ilkeston(?)) People bearing this surname and with attachment to this region might possibly be able to claim descent through any one of these old families - but caution is necessary. Workers on feudal estates were regarded as being no more than chattels and were given the name of their Over-Lord to confirm ownership and not to indicate identity.

Otherwise most families called "Parker" and its associated form, "Parquier" must accept that their original ancestors were merely servants in medieval households. (Note: the related name "Park" would, require an article to itself).

"Parker", then, was an occupational name and in the staffing records the office of "Parker" appears regularly, along with "cook", "butler" and "clerk" - to name only a few. The job must have been important because one of the favourite pastimes of the nobility was hunting and this called for the setting-aside of great stretches of land. To keep an eye on the wild creatures and warn off trespassers "parkers" were appointed and put in charge. The territory they supervised was specifically designated a "Park". This was because it was owned privately and differed from a "Forest" which was the property of the King.

The significant feature of both a "park" and a "forest" was that they were enclosed - which distinguishes them from a hunting ground which was left open and was called a "chase".

Nobody knows exactly why or how they came to be called "parks". It is believed to derive from "parrock" which in turn seems to have originated in some long-lost Germanic word. The obvious similarity to the fenced-in area called a "paddock" and to "parrock" arises from the fact that in the development of languages, it has been noted that "--rr--" in the middle of a word can change to "--dd--". Compare, for example, the alternatives "poddish" and "porridge". This point is further supported by the fact that "Parrock" and "Parrack" still survive as surnames and are identified as variations of "Park".

The term "parr" was a dialect word, particularly in East Anglia even within the present century. It was used to describe the different sections of a farmyard which were fenced-off to form enclosures so as to separate livestock. Agricultural writers within the last hundred years still made reference to the "par-yard". At one time it was thought that "parrock" was derived from the same root-words which gave us "parish" and "Parochial" - describing a specifically marked-out ecclesiastical district - but this is now known to be mistaken.

Summing-up, then, the essential feature of a "park" does not lie in its association with wide open spaces but in being enclosed - and in some contexts, not only the enclosing but also in the laying- down of a floor, hence "parquet".

The practice of manoeuvring covered wagons into a ring to form a protective ring, now referred to under its, Spanish name "corral" was no novelty invented by the wild westerners. It had been well-known to European armies for centuries.

Although, no doubt, different vehicles had been used, the central space thus enclosed was referred to as the "park". Indeed, a sort of "Survival Guide" issued in 1859 for travellers contains instructions as to how one might defend oneself against attacks from prairie Indians: it advises "seeking cover in a park of wagons".

It is not surprising that the association of vehicles and protected area influenced the choice of expression in "car-park" - which first appeared in print in 1926!

So, basically, the name "Parker" means "One who is employed to patrol and protect an area specially enclosed for hunting". A modern job description would probably be a "Game Keeper".

In spite of its wide proliferation, only one person in history is positively identified. That is Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury (1559-1575). He was said to have an unusually long nose and, according to a malicious tradition, too much interest in other people's affairs: hence the expression "Nosey Parker". In fact he was a man of great moral worth and his "nosiness" lay in his considerable scholarship in that he never had his nose out of a book - as the saying goes.

There are about a dozen families in Bakewell called Parker and no doubt the best known is that of Maurice Parker, our local plumber.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 3rd July 1995.

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