This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 15th August 1994, 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 TROSSELL?

A reader now living in Belper has approached the 'Peak Advertiser' with a request that her maiden name, which is "Trossell" be investigated. As the reader herself says, it is both unusual and not listed in any work of reference. Although the absence of the name from any standard list certainly creates considerable problems, it does, at least, encourage and justify varying approaches and they are now presented, partly to try and answer the lady's questions and partly to demonstrate to the general reader how investigations might be conducted.

Among lawyers there is a well-known case involving a defendant named "Coopper" (1956). It is an obvious misspelling of either "Cooper" or "Copper" and the point is that the misspelling of surnames is not infrequent. It is worth bearing in mind that in the past, when there weren't the vast number of forms to be filled in as there are today, the number of times in a person's life when he or she was called upon to supply their name in writing was extremely limited so it is not surprising that variations in spelling occur. The only records kept were often no more than three: the birth, marriage and death. If the entries were made by a different scribe who would, perhaps, have been Norman French and unfamiliar with English, quite extraordinary transcriptions resulted! Even Shakespeare used different spellings when writing his name!

So the most rational approach is that "Trossell" is a homely rendering of another name. The trouble is, though, that it could be a misspelling of several other names, and, without any supporting references as to where the family believed it might have originated, one has to rely on what, at best, is inspired guess-work.

If there was a family tradition that an ancestor has crossed the Channel then it could be that it is a corruption of a Flemish name, "Dresseler", which has modified into an English version under "Thrussel". The word itself is linked indirectly with "Turner" and the "Thrusselers" were craftsmen who turned and carved small objects in bone and ivory which were extremely fashionable in the Middle Ages as articles of adornment.

Another suggestion is that it could have begun life as "Thrussell" being a variation upon the word "throstle" meaning the "Song Thrush". Bird names are quite common as surnames and were originally conferred as nicknames to pick up a characteristic of the first bearer. So it is quite possible our Reader might have had an ancestor who possessed an attractive singing voice, like the "Song Thrush" or the "Throstle".

Having looked at "Trossell" as being possibly an occupation name or a nickname, it remains now to examine whether it could be a location name. Here, it might be stated, we seem to be on more certain ground. First of all it could have referred to a site along a river. Where there is a pronounced curve the inner angle tends to level off and the bed to be exposed when the depth of water falls. On the untidy surface, river debris and fallen leaves tend to accumulate. Now the Old English word for such deposits was "trus" (Note: the modern word "trash" is not related to it). To this may then be added the old word "halh" which actually describes the flat land alongside the river. This latter word frequently modifies into "-el" and so it is feasible to assume that a local site was called "Trus-el" and that the people dwelling in the vicinty could have been identified as "the people who dwell on the flat land where river debris is deposited". This is certainly a very colourful notion but it is not presented with great confidence simply because there is no place-name which perfectly corresponds.

However there is a place-name "Acton Trussell" in Staffordshire and it can be linked with the name "Trysull". If the Reader is aware of any Staffordshire connections in her family, she might find out more about her name. It is certainly an old name. Although spelled as "Trysull" it is pronounced "Treezell" and that might point to the confusion over spelling. It appears in the Records for 1176 as "Tresel" and, later in 1236 as "Trisel" - which confirms yet again that possibly the enigma surrounding her name lies in transcription. On the old maps of the region there appears a water-course, now identified as Seaton Brook, but then called "Trysull". There is too a local site called "Tixall" but whether there is any tie-in cannot confidently be stated.

The River name is built up from very old units indeed. "Tres" meant "to toil" or "to work hard". "Treio" meant "to move back and forth". Hence the title of the river could be understood as signifying a "strong stream that ebbed and flowed". No doubt persons who lived alongside would have been identified with it - much as today, people in Liverpool can be designated "Merseysiders". It is suggested that this is probably the best lead. Furthermore, there was a local family of the name of "Trossell" (or "Trussel") and since people who dwelt on the estates of noble families tended to identify themselves with the name and carry it with them if they moved or were taken away, it might very well have been able to emerge in neighbouring counties.

It is a melancholy fact, however, that the most celebrated bearer of the name, William Trussel (c.1330) is not favourably mentioned in the history books!

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 15th August 1994.

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