This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 17th January 2000, 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 WAIN?

A reader in Chelmorton has asked about this name. It has about half-a-dozen variations but they are immediately recognisable, such as "Wayne", "Waine" and, in Lancashire especially, "Wane". It also expands into forms such as "Wainer", "Wainman" and "Whenman". Another related form is "Wainwright" - which is self-explanatory. An interesting and highly localised name is "Waining" which a reader in Bradwell has requested.

The word "wain" is derived from the same source which also gives us "wagon" (often misspelled "waggon"). A link can also be established with the Latin "vehiculum" - hence "vehicle" and "wheel". Its ultimate source is from a language once spoken in central Asia in which occurs "vahane" meaning a "chariot".

The difference between "wain" and "wagon" was that whereas the wagon was heavier and had four wheels, the wain was lighter and ran on only two. This, together with its characteristic long handles made it more manoeuverable over the rough fields and tracks of the Middle Ages. Four-wheeled carts seem to have been preferred more on the Continent than in Britain and only began to come into general use over here and to replace the wain during the late 16th century. It may be significant that the first reference to a "wagon" dates from 1523 and to a "wagoner" some 20 years later. Although it occurs in earlier translations, it is missing from the Bible of 1611 (Authorised Version). No native surnames seem to have been generated through "wagon". By the time the vehicle had replaced the wain, surnames such as "Wainman" and "Wainer" had become established and forms based on "wagon" such as "Waggoner" are importations from the Netherlands and Germany. Music-lovers might be interested in knowing that it provides the name "Wagner".

Wains were used throughout this island, even in the Scottish Highlands. They were extremely versatile, being as equally capable of bearing cumbersome industrial burners as well as lighter agricultural produce. Even so heavy a commodity as lead could be sustained. It is recorded in the Domesday Book (1086) that the people of Hope (Derbyshire) were required to present five wain-loads of lead to the Lord of the Manor as annual tribute.

In passing it may be noted that Constable's celebrated painting "The Hay Wain" actually shows a wagon. It was an ill-informed art dealer who gave it that name. The artist's choice had been "Landscape at Noon".

Among our ancestors, when everything had to be made by hand, possessions were few and highly regarded. Wains were often mentioned in wills as when in 1521 a father deemed it appropriate "to leave to William my sonne, my wane and ye two oxen that came from Hornecastell". Indeed wains were as extensively used for transporting goods as are lorries today. So much so, in fact, that the present-day euphemism to account for questionable ownership - "It dropped off the back of a lorry" had its medieval counterpart in "It did but fall from the wain's tail" which was described as an "old saying" even in 1688.

It is interesting to speculate that if the motor-car had been around in the Middle Ages, then what surnames might it have generated? Nevertheless, to have been in control of such a vehicle (as today) would have been so commonplace that unless exceptional circumstances prevailed, a surname such as "Motorist" would have conferred no special form of identification - which is, after all, what surnames were originally intended to do.

Consequently as an occupational name "Wain" and its variations, while not uncommon, are not quite as widespread as might have been expected. It is certainly suggestive that there is no Scottish counterpart even though wains were in use in that region.

A secondary source of "Wain" as surname can certainly be discerned in its association with the well-known constellation, now more frequently called the "Great Bear". Our medieval ancestors chose another name - "Charles's Wain". Its resemblance, in outline, to a long-handled cart is acceptable and "Charles" refers to the Emperor Charlemagne. It was frequently adopted as an inn sign and passed over to being a surname. This is borne out by regular appearances of units which signify "dweller at or by the sign of the Wain". An early example occurs here in Derbyshire for 1327 in the case of "John atte Wayne".

Otherwise records of the name are rather thin on the ground. The earliest references are to a Richard Wayn (1319) in Essex and John Waynman in the West Riding for 1297.

The local directory has about 100 entries under "Wain" and about 30 for "Wayne". This pattern of distribution is repeated pretty well all over the country and there are no apparent areas of exceptional concentration.

Only one personality has borne the name: Louis Wain (1860-1939). He was a humorous artist who specialised in picturing cats in human situations. From around 1890 to 1910 "Louis Wain's Cats" were as popular as, say, some of the modern TV characters are today. And, of course, mention must certainly be made of John Wayne, long the idol of many a cinema audience.

At the beginning of this article the name "Waining" was alluded to. It may be peripherally linked with "Wain" and since it has an interesting background and almost certainly a localised association with north Derbyshire, it will be specially discussed in the following issue of the Peak Advertiser.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 17th January 2000.

This is a Genealogy Website
URL of this page: https://names.gukutils.org.uk/Wain.shtml
Logo by courtesy of the Open Clip Art Library