This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 19th April 1999, 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 WESTON?

This is a habitation-name which could have been derived from any one of the 35 places called "Weston" in England or the 2 in Scotland (Lanark and Peebles). In Ireland, especially Leinster, it exists as an import from both Anglo-Norman times and the "Plantations", (1609). It is so frequently encountered that over 60 places originally just called "Weston" now carry an additional identity of which "Weston-super-Mare" will readily come to mind. Except for the Scottish places, the name does not appear to extend further north than the West Riding (near Otley), and is spread mostly across the central areas. There is certainly no original settlement in our own county called simply "Weston". (The site near Ripley known as "Weston Spot" dates from 1800, long after surnames had evolved). Otherwise there are only two places in Derbyshire which double-up this way: Weston Underwood and Weston-upon-Trent. The first stands about 4½ miles south-west of Belper and was first noted in Domesday (1086) as "Westone" - a form continuing for 200 years. Then it changed to "Weston Underwode" and took its present form in 1415. The second, "Weston-on-Trent" is some 6 miles west of Derby. It had already been recorded as "Westune" some 80 years before Domesday and "-super Trent" becomes tagged on in 1281. Since surnames began largely to evolve towards the end of the 1300's and these two places were then still identifiable as "Weston" they could possibly have provided a surname. However as in all cases where a surname is based on a location, and especially if that placename is widely distributed, it must be a matter of family tradition to determine the particular place of origin.

In nearly all cases "Weston" has only one meaning - "The farm or the village which stands over to the West". It is necessary to say "nearly all cases" because in its evolution as a surname it could have been confused with several places with almost identical spellings. In Derbyshire there is "Wheston" near Tideswell but in the adjacent counties of Lancashire, the West Riding and Staffordshire there is to be found "Whiston". These places and the surnames they could have generated will be dealt with in a later issue of the Peak Advertiser.

Taking "Weston" on its own, the first unit "West-" is self-explanatory in that it describes a compass point. The word is shared among all European languages, as in the Scandinavian "vest" and the Spanish "oeste". This indicates a common origin, no doubt long ago from Central Asia. It is linked with the Greek "hespera" and the Latin "vespers" which mean "evening" and so the association with that point where the sun sinks below the horizon and when darkness sets in is readily discernible. The second unit "-ton" once meant "fence". Since life for our mediaeval ancestors was decidedly hazardous, they tended to establish themselves in settlements which they protected by erecting "fences". Today a "fence" is used largely to describe structures put up in gardens, but the word itself is a contraction of "defence" which can refer to all forms of protection, from raising one's hand to ward off a blow to dispatching nuclear missiles. The earliest "fences" would have been simple affairs, just palings and ditches, but as time went on some valued sites protected themselves by more robust structures built in stone which eventually became "Towns".

Hence the surname "Weston" would have originally been borne by any number of people as a highly localised form of identification. In the absence of detailed records it is now difficult to pretend to any precision in the matter. A family could have occupied a farm ("tun") lying to the west of their village known as "West Tun". Later an entire community could have assumed the name "Weston" and such inhabitants who emigrated to a neighbouring settlement could have been referred to by their new associates as 'the folk from over Weston'. As a piece of inspired guess-work one might speculate how workers at a much later date could have travelled from "Weston" near Chester to Crewe and then to Derby in connection with working on the railways and brought the name into our region.

The earliest record dates from 1086 and is to a Godwin of Westuna in Huntingdon. Most of the bearers of the name in the Middle Ages seem to be found in the Midlands and East Anglia, where "Wesson" is a variation, especially in Leicestershire, although there are about 40 entries in the local directories. In the case of "Weston" itself, there are over 100 names listed. Otherwise the name is fairly evenly spread across the country.

Among the sea-faring community, the name of Agnes Weston (1840-1918) is highly regarded on account of her praiseworthy efforts to promote the welfare of sailors. The "Royal Sailors' Rests" are still affectionately referred to as "Aggie Weston's".

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 19th April 1999.

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