This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 27th January 2003, 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 WALLACE?
Variations: Wallis, Walsh, Welch etc.

A reader in Matlock is interested in this name of which there are about 50 entries in the local directory. There are included at least a dozen other variations and some are listed above. All of them, whatever their spelling, carry the same meaning: foreign, alien, "not one of us". What is remarkable is that the people first so-designated had inhabited this island far longer than the new-comers who applied this rather disparaging name. (Compare "oborigine" - Australia). The reason for this can best be explained by outlining the pattern of events which are deemed to have begun around 500 B.C.

A race of people called the "Keltoi" (later "Celts") inhabited much of central Europe. Over the centuries branches of these "Keltoi" made incursions into surrounding regions. Central Turkey was one such and they are identified as the "Galatians" in the New Testament - a modification of "Keltoi". Another group, moving westward, crossed the sea and established itself in Ireland. Their tribal name was "Goidal", from which "Gaelic" has emerged. Afterwards they crossed over to Scotland and the Hebrides. Later, another group, called the "Brythons" (giving "Britons") secured domination over much of the north-west (later known as "Strathclyde"), Wales and the South-West. Then came the Romans who occupied most of this Island, naming it Britannia - the Brythons being the first Keltoi they encountered. They were, however, unable to get far into Scotland and made negligible process in Ireland, where the Celtic tradition still prevails. In 500 A.D. the Romans abandoned Britain, which soon after fell under the domination of Anglo-Saxon invaders from northern Europe. They did however make little headway in Ireland, Strathclyde, Wales and the extreme south-west.

The foregoing description, though concentrated and simplified, hopefully points the way to a better understanding of the significance of surnames such as "Wallace" and "Walsh" etc. The Anglo-Saxons considered that by right of conquest they were the true occupants of "Angle-Land" (i.e. England) and that the Celts were "aliens".

The original Anglo-Saxon word in this context was the adjective "waelisc" - from the noun "wealh". With the few exceptions by way of place-names and surnames, the word survives only in "walnut". The Germanic peoples were familiar only with the hazelnut and when the Mediterranean item was introduced in the north, it was known as the "foreign nut" or "wealh-knut".

In the matter of surnames: contrary to popular thinking, it is established that "Wallace" did not originate anywhere closer to Scotland than the British kingdom of Strathclyde and could very likely have been carried north from Wales. It is certainly first recorded in Paisley (1160) for Richard Wales, but the evidence is evenly balanced as to how he acquired the name. It is said that he was a vassal employed by the Stewarts who held larger estates in Shropshire - (Welsh Borders). Being a non-Anglo-Saxon he would undoubtedly have been dubbed "Waelisc" i.e. Welsh. When his employers moved north, he was included in their retinue and the records suggest he settled in Riccarton, near Kilmarnock. Alternatively he could have been a resident of Strathclyde, who were then addressed as "Walenses". Whether the celebrated Scots Hero, Sir William Wallace (1272-1305) was related to the above-mentioned Richard or descended from an unidentified Briton of Strathclyde is not perfectly settled. Assuredly to the Anglo-Saxons the Welsh were decidedly "aliens" and the word "waelisc" evolved into "Wales". Incidentally the Welsh called themselves "cambroges" (fellow countrymen) - hence Cymru and Cambria. In the north-west that same word provides "Cumbria". In the south- western peninsula, the folk called themselves "Cornovii" to which was appended "wealh" giving "Cornwall": Compare: Walloon (Belgium) and Wallachia (Roumania).

A curious reversal occurred in Ireland. Many Anglo-Saxons settled there and in turn were referred to as "the strangers". In Gaelic this is "Breathnach" which Anglicised into "Brannagh". Following the later prohibition of native Irish names by the British, "Brannagh" was back-translated as "Walsh". The numbers of English immigrants led to a wide dissemination of the surname and it is now among the five most widely encountered in that republic. It there forms a unit in many place-names: over 12 sites called "Walshtown". Because the immigrants were so widely scattered, there are few older families who can pinpoint the site of their original settlement with certainty. However a well-authenticated association with Mayo might justify some descent from Walynus, who arrived in 1169.

The earliest mention is for an Osbert Waleis (1169) of Warwick, which suggests a Welsh connection. The name is often found in the Eastern Counties which indicates the large number of immigrants from the continent: Robert Walleis (1169) of Norfolk and John Le Welsche (1327) of Suffolk. Lancashire, almost central between Wales, Strathclyde and Ireland, reveals a preponderance of the name Walsh; it appears as Walshe, Walensis and Walleys even for the same person as in the case of a certain Richard of Garston, Liverpool in 1250. Lord Litherland's name was Richard le Walais (1254). Several Medieval personalities are named both as Wallensis and Waleys - but their achievements interest only specialist historians.

The most widely appreciated of the name is probably Edger Wallace, (1895-1932) whose detective stories were immensely popular. A local boy, Barnes Wallis (Ripley), (1887-1979) invented a successfully deployed bomb which materially went to our victory in the second world war.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 27th January 2003.
This page provides additional speculation about the origins and meaning of surname WALLACE and variants to complement Desmond Holden's article above.

In approx. c1170 a William de Walley (Baron) was mentioned in relation to St. Hilary's Church in Wallasey, Wirral. Thomas de Walley was ther first recorded Rector of the Church, and another Thomas de Walley was a Prior at Birkenhead Priory (founded approx 1170).

This is another area where de Walley's settled and maybe the name Wallasey is derived from Walley and Walensis

There were numerous 'de Walley's' mentioned in local charters of Wallasey, then known as Kyrkby in Walay, in the county of Cheshire, around 1200's and 1300's.

Quote from 'The Rise and Progress of Wallasey' by E.C.Woods and P.C.Brown referring to the Church of St.Hilary "The unappropriate moiety was granted before 1180, possibly about 1170, by William, son of Richard de Walley, with all appurtenances to 'God and the Church of St. Werburg in Chester. William, his wife and heirs to be buried in the cemetery of St.Werburg where the bodies of his ancestors lay". William de Waley appointed Thomas de Waley as Parish Priest for the Church of St.Hilary circa 1170.

William was classed as 'Reputed Chief and Prime Man of Wallasey' also written as 'The great man called Wally'.

Additional information supplied by Helen Joyce Jones - September 2004]

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URL of this page: https://names.gukutils.org.uk/Wallace.shtml
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