This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 16th April 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 STANLEY?

This is derived from several location names which mean "the stony ground". In earlier times most of the country was covered in woodland and forest and so stretches of ground which were exceptionally stony inhibited the growth of trees and this accounts for the number of places described in ways signifying "rock-strewn" such as "Standish", "Stanney" as well as "Stanley".

The name is made out of two units, the first of which is "stan-". This is so very ancient a word that it can even be identified in the Greek "stion" (pebble). Equally as ancient is the second unit "-leah". This is one of the most frequently occurring elements in English place-names (there are over 100 in Derbyshire alone). Its origins are not certain but it was often applied to spaces which were clear of trees and where the light could as it were, "get in" and so some connection with the Latin word "Lux" (i.e. light) is possible.

It must be left to individual families to determine their particular place of origin though no doubt local residents would look either towards "Stanley" (3 miles south-west of Ilkeston) or perhaps to another settlement in Nottingham (4 miles south of Hardwick). Further afield there are sites in Staffordshire (between Burslem and Leek), in the West Riding (2 miles north of Wakefield), in Durham (2 places: 8 miles south of Newcastle and 6 miles north of Bishop Auckland), and finally, in Wiltshire (half-way between Chippenham and Calne).

There is no Scottish form. The town of "Stanley" on the River Tay, 7 miles north of Perth was consciously given the name in 1700 by a local landowner who had married a woman called Amelia Stanley. Otherwise it is acknowledged as being imported from England and first appears in Edinburgh in 1455 in connection with an Alexander Stanlie. It was introduced into Ireland by the Normans as early as the l3th century.

The name is first recorded in Staffordshire in 1130 and refers to a Robert de Stanlaya. Later, in 1208, Alan de Stanlai is mentioned as dwelling in York and then in 1273 we find a William de Stanlegh in Wiltshire.

Stanley is the family name of the earls of Derby. In this case the "Derby" was an administrative area (ie. "A Hundred") of Lancashire, mentioned in the Domesday book (1086) as "Derbei" but later (1177) it became "Westderbi". There is no association with the City of Derby. As a point of interest "Derby" means "Deer Park".

Although the name "Stanley" now provides a name for several sites around Prescot, Knowsley and other parts of Merseyside, as a family-name it originated in the place in Staffordshire just mentioned.

Until surnames became more established it was by no means unusual for workers on big estates to assume the surname of their employer - indeed the practice can be shown to have survived in a few exceptional cases even until the early 1900's. So it may very well be that some bearers of the name "Stanley" owe it solely to the fact of having an ancestor who worked for an employer of that name. It is interesting to note that the explorer, Henry Moreton Stanley (1841-1904) was originally John Rowlands and adopted the name "Stanley" in compliment to a benefactor. It was he, by the way who gave us the immortal quote: "Dr Livingstone, I presume". The name was often conferred as a first name upon the sons of families who claimed relationship with the Stanleys. It must be admitted that as a first name it was never very popular and it has never made it to the "top fifty" in this country, although it had a fleeting fashion in the United States during the 1920's. Stamp collectors will not need telling about Stanley Gibbons and older readers might recall the inimitable recitations of Stanley Holloway (1890-1982) concerning "Albert and Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom". The celebrated comic, Stanley Laurel (of "Laurel and Hardy)" was born in Lancashire (1890-1965) and all readers, old and young need no reminding of his talents. He died in 1965.

In the history of Derbyshire, the name "Thomas Stanley" should always be respected. He laboured long and hard alongside William Mompesson while the plague raged through the village of Eyam in 1665. The social status of the Stanley family at West Derby allowed many of its members to secure important positions in politics and administration but it must be left to historians to appraise them. One became prime minister (1866-1868) and is identified with the saying: "The duty of the opposition is to oppose everything and propose nothing".

The name is most frequently spelled "Stanley" but the forms "Stanly" and "Standley" are occasionally found. Attempts to make the name more "up-market" by writing it as "Stanleigh" are based on questionable comparisons with the place-name "Stoneleigh" and in most cases are a bit of Victorian snobbery!

Although there are over 50 entries in the standard national biographies it must be admitted that none of them is exactly a "head-liner".

The name is well-represented locally. There are over 100 listed in the local directory. Here in Matlock is to be found our own Haydn Stanley to whose establishment on Bank Road we all resort for our furnishings and fabrics. Incidentally it might be thought that the first-name would be a variation on the name "Hayden" but it is actually spelled as such and is the Celtic word for "fire".

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 16th April 2001.

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