This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 26th November 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 SIMS?
Also included: Simmonite, Simcock, Simkin, and related names.

Although this article is headed Sims it has actually been prompted by a reader's inquiry over Simmonite. Both are derived from the personal name Simon. The two surnames are to be found in the local directory but in the form Sims or Simms (around 150 listings) and Simnett (about half a dozen entries). The adjacent columns provide some 20 related surnames.

Out of deference to the reader who has asked about Simmonite, this name will be taken first. Its spelling certainly puts one in mind of the precious stone called Selenite and even the car polish traded as Simonize but its origins are less exotic. The first element is the personal name Simon and the second is a modified form of "-et". This second unit is what clever people call a "diminutive suffix" - that is to say a syllable tagged on to a word to give it the sense of being small. So the old word for what we now call a "hold-all" was a poke (ie. pig in a poke) and a smaller version was described as a pocket. Similarly, in building a small tower becomes a turret.

When it came to personal names "-et" was generally added to demonstrate affection towards a "little one" and they were so widespread that eventually they became names in their own right, then surnames. One example is "little Willie" becoming Wilmott. So Simonite would have been "our little Simon". In the records of the Tower of London we find "Simonetts Mercator" and in Stafford "William Symonet" (1327).

Although as a baptismal name Simon or Simeon was not unfamiliar to our medieval ancestors it was not consistently popular. Why? A possible reason might be that according to Acts VIII:9-25 and using modern jargon, a New Testament character called Simon Magus unsuccessfully launched a hostile bid to buy out the early Christian community. This gave rise to the expression "Simony" and describes the unlawful trafficking of church property. In addition it was the name of a bystander who was dragooned into carrying the Cross to Calvary - Mark XV:21. No doubt such associations as these militated against its popularity.

The name had long been associated with simplicity. A thousand years before the nursery rhyme about "Simple Simon" (1665) the title had been bestowed upon King Charles III of France. Still the name must have enjoyed some favour, judging by the number of surnames it generated: "John Simon" (Sussex 1296), "Philip Simondson" (York 1430) and "William le fiz Simon" of Lancaster in 1175 now taking the form Fitzsimon.

The use of pet forms of personal names was as widespread in the Middle Ages as today. Some of the pet forms are now no longer in use but they have survived in surnames and are sometimes difficult to unravel. The name Simon was regularly abbreviated to "Sim" as in the case of "Sym Clerk" of Edinburgh (1446) and the Dickensian character Sim Tappertit (Bamaby Rudge). A final "-s" or "-son" indicated descent as in Simms or Simson.

These pet forms (technically termed Hypocorisms) often had other diminutive suffixes appended. One such was "-ock" as in hollock (ie. small hill) and paddock (ie. small park). It appears in many surnames (Hitchcock) and when added to situ yields forms such as Simcock or Simcox. (Note: the unit is rarely to be identified with a male bird in these cases).

Another diminutive is "-kin" but this has a doubtful ancestry. It is absent in early English and seems to have been imported from the low countries where it was regularly employed in personal names. Its use here in ordinary words is often linguistically uncertain. Napkin is admissible for example but bodkin is very ambiguous.

In the case of Sim it provides Simkin as well as Simpkin, Sinkin and Sempkin. The Victorians bestowed standard names on their domestic servants: Mary for housemaids and James for men-servants. The name Simpkin was usually reserved for the skivvy! In London mention is made of "Symekin Sadelar" (1378) and in Suffolk of "Amand Symkyn" (1524).

Finally there is Simmonds or Simmons (there are about 15 variations). While it is not disputed that many families would be able to lay claim to an ancestor called "Simon" it is equally as possible that their name could have been derived forms of the Scandinavian personal name "Sigismund" and that the two were constantly confused. Our great constitutional hero Simon de Montfort (1200-1265) is often referred to in contemporary chronicles as both "Simon" and "Simsod". In his translation of the Bible, Wycliff regularly refers to the apostle Simon as "Symound". (1382). In a register for London the same person is noted under the names "Adam Cimond" and "Adam Simon". A similar confusion occurred in Scotland. So it is absolutely impossible, without access to ancient records, to decide how the surname of any particular family originated.

There are a great many personalities fisted in the Standard Biographies who bear names based on "Simon" and it would be invidious to make any selection. Still, older readers might be grateful for being reminded of that great stage and film actor, Alistair Sim (1900-1976).

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 26th November 2001.

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