This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 9th July 2001, 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 REVILL?
Variations: Revell, Revel, Reville, Reavill, Reaville, Revels.

A survey carried put in 1890 included "Revell" and "Revill" amongst those surnames special to Derbyshire. The local directories contain most of the variations listed above, but since "Revill" predominates (40 entries) it has been chosen for the heading.

The name usually "Revel" in older documents, is found both as a personal name as well as a surname. It appears frequently as a first name in the Domesday book (1086). Its origins are simply not known. Merely as a suggestion (it is put no higher) it might be related to the name "Ralph" (ie. He who has the cunning of the Wolf) which was extremely popular both sides of the Channel. In English, forms of the name occur as "Rowl" and because in medieval script, the letter "w" was often transcribed as a "v" it is just possible that an appearance like "Rovl" could have led to the novel name "Revel". Perhaps the rare form of "Ralph", which is "Raoul", and sometimes encountered today, might be involved (?),

However for some reason as a personal name it suddenly went quite out of use and is now completely forgotten. A possible explanation is that there had also evolved the word "revel" which had somewhat unappealing connotations and was used as a nickname and would have rendered the personal name open to ridicule. (Compare the modern "Randolph" and "randy").

While the source of the personal name still remains obscure, the surname came from a different direction. It started off with the Latin "bellum" which means "battle". Upon this word speakers of Old French constructed their own word for "rebel". The word then passed into English but with a more forcible meaning. Whereas in French (as even today) it described the circumstances where a fight is merely re-newed, in English it means to challenge authority. (In modern French a form similar to the English "insurgent", conveys this sense). The word "rebel' also modified into "revel" In the development of language it is not unusual for the "b" sound to change into that of "v" (Note: Diabolus giving Devil). "Revel" in both Old English and French conveyed something of the meaning of "rebel" in that it meant "tumult" then gradually softened down to "noisy merry-making". Then it dropped out of use in French (at least with this meaning) but was retained in English. During the centuries the meaning varied. Having never quite thrown off its original associations with "riot' and "disorder", word such as "revel" and "reveller" are often found in contexts which imply disapproval. Chaucer (1386) used it in a description of an unfaithful husband. Milton (1667) wrote censoriously of the "barbarous Dissonance of Bacchus and his revels". And, while in modern conversation the term "flutter" is a polite euphemism for gambling, the expression "revelling" bore the same meaning in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Even though it is known that in the royal and noble households of the Middle Ages it was the custom to appoint a "Master of the Revels" to organise jollifications and that no doubt many festivities were perfectly in order, yet nevertheless, when one reads about the "Lords of Misrule" and the coarse jests of such characters as Tyll Eulengspiegel, then one is left wondering. It seems to have not been unknown to frolic in total darkness. "If we play revel and ryot by it, let the candelstickes be removed and ye Lightes be put out" recommends an Old Chronicler of 1621. So from all the foregoing it can be taken that a person who was perhaps no better than he ought to have been and something of a layabout or wastrel attracted the nick-name "Revel".

Unfortunately it is not easy to decide from the records whether a person now bearing the name "Revill" or one of its variations can trace it to a predecessor who had been baptised in the name or acquired it as a term of mockery among his neighbours. Families who claim association with the West Country might possibly look to the family called "Revell" whose association with "Revelstoke" and "Curry Revel" (both in Devonshire) began with the important personality called Sir Richard Revell (died 1222). The name also occurs in Dorset, Wiltshire and Northamptonshire but whether the families were related is not certain. It should be borne in mind that it was the practice of workers on estates to assume the name of their over-lords merely for identification and so similarity of surname does not necessarily imply relationship. Some credence to the notion that the name belongs to the West Country and the Midlands is found in the reference to an "English Foreigner" entering Scotland in c.1170 and being awarded property in Fife. He must have been a person of standing as was Sir Richard, and might even have been the same. The name was introduced into Ireland some time in the seventeenth century.

The only example of the name outside the south-west is to be found in York for 1379 and is to a "Thomas Ryvell". For the removal of doubts, the name is not based on the place-name "Rievaulx", in the North Riding, near Helmsly.

Apart from a brief entry to Sir Thomas Revell in the standard biographies, the only name included is a Baron Revelstoke (1863- 1929). He was associated with Baring's Bank which was apparently in much the same difficulties in 1890 as it was at a more recent date! Here in Matlock we have our own Jeremy whom we, encounter when we visit "Farmer's" the wellknown TV and electrical goods shop.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 9th July 2001.

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