This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 11st February 1996, 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 PICKERING?

The earliest mention of this name (1165) is simply to a "Reginald de Pickering" but where he lived is not stated. However the standard Biographical Dictionaries agree that most of the personalities bearing this name have links with the North of England.

It is clearly based on the name of that pleasant little town which stands some 30 miles to the North-East of York in the North Riding of Yorkshire. The exact meaning of Pickering is, however, not yet agreed. Still, the older spellings of place-names are generally useful guides to their meaning and in this case we are fortunate in that the Domesday Book (1086) records it as "Picheringa". Because the unit "-ing" appears as "-inga" it is pretty nigh conclusive that it was originally a tribal centre.

The precise origin of "-inga" is unknown but since it refers to "people" or "inhabitants" it is reasonable to deduce that it is related to an ancient Indo-European word "gen" which made its way into Latin as "gens" and "genus" and into Nordic and Scandinavian languages as "kin". So where "-ing" occurs in place-names it frequently means "The Settlement belonging to such-and-such a tribe". So Westmoreland was once "Westmoringaland" or "the land belonging to the people on the Western Moorlands" and Kettering, "the land belonging to the tribe called Cytra".

The remaining units, "Pick" and "-er-" are open to various interpretations and some inspired guess-work has to be made. As a start, "Pick-" could certainly mean "hills" or "uplands" but a note of caution is needed. The familiarity in this, our own region, of the expression "The Peak" obscures the fact that "Pick" is rarely found in place-names. And, where it does occur it can be variously interpreted, as, for example, a personal name in the case of "Picton" (North Riding) which means "The farm belonging to Pica": or the fish because "Pickburn" (West Riding) signifies "The stream where pike are to be found".

Even so, it is an acceptable suggestion that in this case "Pick-" in "Pickering" refers to high ground - which, as the quickest glance at the map of the Region will demonstrate, is represented by the vastness of the North York Moors. The forms "Pic" and "Pick" can be traced as variations on "Peak" but otherwise little is known of that word's sources.

However "Pik" is found in a West Norwegian dialect and means "pointed hill". Since the Norseman invaded this part of the country in the century or so before the Norman Conquest, it is likely they imported it. It is found in names such as Pickwell (Leicester) - "The well admidst the summits", and Pickhill (North Riding) - "The shady nook among the hills" - both these areas were subject to the Norse Invasion.

Had the name merely emerged as "Pickering" the foregoing descriptions would have provided a reasonable interpretation of its significance. However, and this is curious, the name emerges as "Pick-er-ing" and this has rather thrown research off balance. Several suggestions have been put forward and the one which seems the most satisfactory is that this insignificant unit ("-er-") is a fragment of another word, "ora" which means "hill-slope" or "at the foot of a slope". Considerable credibility lies in that the geography of Pickering would conform to this interpretation.

The place lies in the centre of a valley which opens out into the Vale of York and which separated the wild limestone moors to the North from the chalk uplands in the South. The Town itself is at the junction of several routes: the A64/A169 from York to Whitby; the A170 from Scarborough to Thirsk. It stands where Pickering Beck cuts through Newton Dale and alongside that watercourse runs the North York Moors Railway while on the edge above it the A169 makes its way.

The sides of the Dale rise very sharply, from 200' to over 400' and the presence of place names such as "White Cliff Rigg" and "Fall Rigg" - ("Rigg" being a local dialect expression for an inland cliff or ridge or edge) - all these features together combine to furnish persuasive evidence that "Pickering" was identified in terms as being in the vicinity of pronounced slopes and that the compound name "Pick-orr-inga" might very well be interpreted as something along the lines of: "The Settlement belonging to the Tribe which dwells where the land rises steeply towards the Peaks".

Because "Pickering" was, in any case an identifiable tribal or clan-name, it would seem to have adapted itself also to becoming a surname. It is remarkable how highly concentrated it is in that part of North-East England.

The Directory for Pickering alone includes over 200 entries while those for the surrounding areas muster well over 1000. It was certainly an important route-town and this might account for the considerable degree of migration into Derbyshire revealed by the large number of entries of the name in the local directories. Otherwise the name seems fairly evenly distributed throughout the rest of the country.

Here in Bakewell the name is well-known on Account of the welcome presence of Alan Pickering, one of our team of postmen. He must have delivered parcels and correspondence to countless households.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 11st February 1996.

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