This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 2nd August 1993, 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 RANGELEY?

A reader, now living in Ashover and formerly of Great Longstone has approached the "Peak Advertiser" for information about his own name - "Rangeley". It has to be said, straightaway, that nothing definitive can be said about most names unless early records remain and can be consulted. The spelling of many a name has modified over the centuries and the particular meaning is lost unless an old example can be found giving the name as originally written. Then one can compare the form of spelling with that used for similar words of the time and, hopefully, deduce its true origin.

That note of caution having been entered, we can begin confidently enough by noting that the unit "-ley" is frequently found in place- names and so it is reasonable to suppose that "Rangeley" is a habitation name: that is to say, it would have been used to denote a group or a family of settlers who lived in a particular "lea" - that is, a meadow or an open-space.

The next thing, though is: What does "Range" mean? And there we have a problem! Without access to original records - assuming, that is, that they still exist - the significance of the unit "Range-" must ever remain a matter of various surmises. The most picturesque suggestion is that the name was originally "Ring Ley" and that the "ring" in this case was some prehistoric stone circle of which there are many examples in our part of the world. Hence persons now bearing the name "Rangeley" could have descended from ancestors who occupied a settlement where there was such a Stone Circle and known locally as "the place of the Circle" or "the Ring Lea" and from which they ultimately took their identity.

Although this particular reader hails from Great Longstone where there are various examples of Prehistoric Workings, that fact provides, at best, only plausible colouring and the suggested origin is not unanswerable. For instance, it is not easy to show how the "-i-" in the word "ring" could have modulated into "-a-" and end up as "range".

A better explanation lies in that the unit "range" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon "hrung" which had several meanings, including a "cudgel" or "stout walking-stick". The "sticks" used in the construction of ladders - i.e. the "rungs" can be traced to this source. So it is feasible that certain tracts of land could have been set aside for the cultivation and coppicing of suitable trees to provide materials for cudgels for the use of our ancestors - very desirable in those troublesome times.

From this circumstance it is possible that the early inhabitants of "an open space where trees were grown for cudgels" adopted, or were given the name "Cudgel Field" or "Range Lea". Some credibility can be given to this suggestion in that where the unit "Range" appears in a place-name it is connected with the planting of trees for staves and cudgels. The place in Gloucester, called "Rangeworthy" has a name derived from old words meaning "the enclosure built of stakes".

Even so, a still more acceptable explanation seems to be found in the fact that the original "Range Lea" could have been a site given over to weapon-training and tournaments. At a time when most of England was heavily forested, open spaces would have been appreciated for the opportunities they could provide where local people might practise self-defence - again, very necessary when law enforcement and the protection of person and property was more or less left to the principle of Self Help! As has been mentioned before, the word "range" has many meanings, some of them now discontinued, and one such meaning was descriptive of open spaces used for friendly combats and jousting. It is frequently found, as one might expect, in old narratives setting forth the exploits of King Arthur. So it is quite possible that the predecessors of the present-day "Rangeley" people lived near a site which was a sort of "Training ground" for local inhabitants. In spite of its undeniable similarity, the name "Rangeley" cannot be linked with anything to do with "Rangers" - i.e. those who patrol.

The name seems to be highly localised and only two examples can be found in the local directories and it does not appear in any of the Standard Biographical Dictionaries.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 2nd August 1993.

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