This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 19th July 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 ROWLAND?

The local directories contain over 300 entries under the name Rowland - not to mention such variations as Rowlands, Rowlandson and Rolland. This is not surprising since the name is regarded as being somewhat special to Derbyshire.

There are two possible sources from which the name can be derived: either a habitation-name; or, a Germanic importation, based simply on the name "Roland".

As a habitation-name it is made up of two units - "Row" and "land". The first refers to the small species of deer, now written "roe" and the second refers to "land" - but, not as might be expected, in the sense as opposed to "water" but, in this context, describing a wood or a grove or, sometimes, an open-space. (The word is related to "lawn" and note also the use in France in the "Landes District") So in its original form the word "Row-land" would have been used to describe "a place where the small deer are to be found" and would have been taken by or bestowed upon such people who first lived there.

The alternative derivation is based on the actual name "Rowland" which seems to have made its way into England even before the arrival of the Normans, and who made it still more popular since it was borne by one of their Champions. It is of Germanic origin. It first appears as "Hrodland" which is a combination of "hrod" meaning "fame" and of "landa" which signifies "territory". The first Roland was a celebrated warrior at the time of the Emperor Charlemagne. His exploits are set forth in a great epic poem which stands in French literature on a level akin to our stories of King Arthur. He died at the famous battle of Roncesvalles in 778.

As a first-name "Roland" was tremendously admired all over Western Europe - in Italy it took the form "Orlando". It is to have been expected therefore that many of our Anglo-Saxon and Norman ancestors were called "Roland" and that it eventually moved over to becoming a surname. In the process of becoming a surname "Roland" became confused with "Rowland" and vice-versa. For instance the warrior "Roland" is specifically written down as "Rowland" in Shakespeare's "King Lear"!

Local names meaning "the place where the small deer dwell" cannot, of course, be limited to Derbyshire - it is to be found, for example, in Sussex (Rowland Wood, Slinfold) but all the evidence suggests that since "Rowland" was to be found in Derbyshire even before the Conquest, long-established natives of this County can confidently look to some locality in the area as the source of their name. Otherwise and elsewhere whether the name is a habitation-name or whether it is a corrupt form of "Roland" can only be decided by referring to early records - most of which, sadly, have long since perished.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 19th July 1993.

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