This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 10th March 1997, 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 ROWORTH?

A Reader living near Hathersage has approached the "Peak Advertiser" for information about his surname which is "Roworth". Since settling here (1996) he has become aware of that small settlement on the Border with Cheshire, 2 miles north-west of Hayfield called "Rowarth" and naturally wonders if there is any connection. However the Reader also introduces an important qualification. He mentions that he is a Southerner. This could eliminate any local associations.

"Roworth" might very well be derived from a rarely encountered Germanic personal name "Hrodhardt" which signifies "He who seeks glory through bravery". It passed into Old French as "Rohart" or "Roan" and seems largely to have been distributed across the Southern half of the Country where French influence was strongest. Its earliest appearance is in Somerset (1086) as "Rohardus" and in Hereford (1193) as "Rohard" and in Oxford (1279) and Essex (1327) as "Rowartd". The furthest North it seems to have advanced during this early period is in the form "Ruardi" (Yorkshire 1219) and "Ruard" (Lancashire, 1220) - but these two forms are open to question.

The Reader acknowledges that his name, "Roworth" is not easily pronounced and this could account for the comparative rarity of this spelling and, in fact, it seems to have modulated into forms such as "Rohard" and " Rowatt". The circumstances are still further involved because the basic root word ("Hrod-Hardt") was often confused with another and more popular Germanic name "Hrod-wald" ("Famous Chieftan") and which took on the form "Roald" or "Rohard" and which has generated countless variations such as "Rowland", "Rowe" and, in Scotland, "Rollo".

The nearest approach to the Reader's name are the two given for Oxford (1279) and Essex (1327) - that is "Roward", which could conceivably have been re-written as "Roworth". The close relationship between the words "-ward" and "-worth" - both of which have similar meanings, furnishes interesting speculation.

The other source of "Roworth" is most certainly derived from that settlement of much the same name, in Derbyshire. It is submitted, however, that only persons having an established ancestry in our Region can confidently lay claim to it.

Although differences in spelling, both of surnames and location- names are not usually significant it may be noted that the form "Roworth" actually appears in the records for 1467. Before that date it was spelt "Rowarth" (1285), "Rouworth" (1318) and "Rowarth" (1345) and later, in 1767 it was registered as "Roworth".

The unit "-worth" is Old English and means "enclosure". It is one of the commonest elements in place-names. The form appearing in our place-name ("-warth") is unusual but not significant. The term is extremely old and passed into the language of place-names so long ago that its existence in its own right has been forgotten. In a transfer of land dated 1649 mention is made of "ye Woorth, commonly called ye Spittlehill". The words "worth" and "warth" are identified with "garth" which also describes a fenced-in place. (Note the related terms "girth", "girdle", "yard", "ward", and "garden".

The unit "-worth" only became meaningful in any place-name through a supporting prefix. In the case of "Rowarth", the prefix "Ro" is the remains of an old word "Row" which is, in turn, a variation of "rough". It may be assumed that originally the site was called "Row Worth" and that not only were the two "w's" merged but also that it might have been influential in causing the vowel change in "- warth".

This alternative to the word "rough" occurs quite frequently in Old English but then fades from use by the 1400's. An example occurs in an Anglo-Saxon version of the Old Testament (c.975). The reference to the coarse and hairy hands of Esau (Genesis: XXVII-23) appears as "ye rowan handa". (i.e. "the row hands"). Assembling these units, the meaning of "Rowarth" can be taken as "The enclosed area given over to rough grazing".

When surnames correspond with place-names it indicates that the original bearer had moved away from his native place and become known to his new neighbours (as in this case) as "The man over from Rowarth". If a man travelled beyond the area where he originated, though, such identification would have been meaningless and a more generalised name conferred, such as "North", "Derby" or "Scott". Still it seems that the first emigrants from Rowarth didn't travel far afield and were able to preseve their name.

Later, when surnames had become established they could venture where they willed and the name "Rowarth" would have been accepted as it stood. Even so movement wasn't all that extensive - or so it seems - judging from the noticable concentration of the name in Derby and Nottingham.

The conclusion is that the remarkable similarity between the surname "Roworth" and the place-name "Rowarth" (which also appears as a surname in the Local Directories) is no more than an interesting coincidence. Stated broadly, people called "Roworth" can assume a Norman-French origin while those of the name "Rowarth" enjoy a local connection.

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.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 10th March 1997.

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