This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 5th February 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.”


A reader working in Matlock has asked for this name, and specified the spelling. In fact there are innumerable variations and none is significant, although the forms incorporating "-au-" as in "Saunders" are considered especially Scots.

Surnames which are based on first-names can generate countless permutations. "John" and "Richard" are obvious examples (Jackson/Dixon). One of the oldest personal names is "Alexander". It has long been a popular name for a boy. Since 1700 it has been a favourite, especially in Scotland.

According to the old chronicles the name was introduced into Scotland by St. Margaret, wife of Malcom III (of "Macbeth") about 1070. She had been brought up in Hungary where the name was greatly admired. She conferred it upon her third son who became Alexander I (1107-1124). The name thereupon became so popular in Scotland that its "pet" form, "Sandy" is now the traditional name for a Scotsman.

Even so, the name was not unknown before the time of Margaret, either in England or Scotland. Apart from the Greek hero, the name was already identified with at least eight other rulers in the ancient world, several philosophers and poets and two saints. It should be noted that the continuing popularity of "Alexander" throughout the Middle Ages was not so much in estimation of the real historical character but misconceived through reconstructions of his life based on legends and spurious anecdotes. One even made him an Apostle of Christianity!

"Alexander" is a Greek name and means "Defender of Men". The first unit is from "alexein" meaning "to fend off" and the second is from "andros" signifying "man".

Fanciful legends place the origin of the name with a character in the "Iliad" but in fact it goes back even further to a King of the Hittites (Turkey) called "Alaksandus". (1300 B.C.) No doubt his people looked upon him as able "to fend off" their enemies and as such it would have been an appropriate name for any ruler at any time and place.

Certainly by the 13th century in these islands the name was not uncommon. Mention may be made of a scholarly monk, Alexander of Canterbury (1120), Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln (c.1148), Alexander of Ashby (c.1220) who wrote a useful historical work and Alexander of Hales (Gloucester) a famous cleric (c.1245).

The name did not always retain its form. In the development of language there is a process which causes the first syllable of certain words to be lost ("Apherisis"). "Anthony" for example becomes "Tony" and "Alexander" becomes "Sandy". This aphetic form so quickly became an acceptable first name in Scotland that in 1473 the Scottish Treasury deemed it perfectly in order to issue a receipt to a "Sandy Wardroper" and in 1783 a dictionary of dialects gave "Sandy" as "a general nick-name for a Scotsman". Both in England and Scotland, the surname "Alexander" was to be found. In England it was recorded as early as 1144 (Lincoln: no details) while in Scotland it became and remains a common surname along the West Coast, especially in Carrick (Ayr). In Suffolk we encounter a Thomas Alexander (1283) but Scottish examples of the Clan Mac Alexander, which is known to have been associated with the area around Colmonell (South Ayr) do not emerge until the 16th century.

However a William Alexander is noted in Edinburgh (1435). The best known bearer of the name is Mrs C.F. Alexander, who wrote hymns (Once in Royal...). Otherwise "Alexander" had already taken several fore-shortened versions of which "Sandee" in Oxford is the earliest English example and for Scotland, "Alex. Sanderis" (Coupar, Fife: 1479). Sometime the Scots doubled-up with "Saunderis of Murray" alternating with "Alexander of Moray" (1429).

In the case of names derived from the abbreviated "Sandy" the number is extensive. Many terminate in "-s" which is the possessive form (the apostrophe 's') and represents a father and son relationship as in "Sanders", "Saunders", "Sandars" etc. Sometimes this appears as "Sanderson" and even doubles-up as in "Saunderson".

Diminutive forms also are to be found, especially in the south-west in the form of "Sandercock" and "Sandow" (Note: the celebrated "strong man" Eugene Sandow was German and the name has another source).

Families called "Sandeman" (or a variant) can trace descent from an ancestor in service to an employer called "Sander" or "Sanders" etc. The custom for employees to adopt the name of their employer still persisted even until the 1930s.

Hence we find David Sandeman (Alyth, Perth: 1628) and John Saundirman (York: 1379). This variation seems to prevail in Scotland and the north of England. There also can be found such heavy accumulations such as "Robert Alexandersman" who dwelt in Perth during the time of Charles I. Here in Derbyshire, in the village of Mugginton (near Weston Underwood) dwelt a certain Thomas Saners who became a Colonel in Cromwell's Army.

Although there are in all about 50 personalities listed in the Standard Biographies under various spellings and forms of the name, none is exactly a "headliner". Mention may however be made of Frederick Sanderson (1857-1922) Headmaster of Oundle School who brought new thinking into education and is highly regarded by the profession.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 5th February 2001.

This is a Genealogy Website
URL of this page:
Logo by courtesy of the Open Clip Art Library