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Derivation of Surname

General Information on English Surnames

The history of English topography is a long and involved story. The earliest written work on the subject was "Brittania" by Camden. This is one of the finest literary projects ever produced, and is the recognised basis of the subject. Another of his works, although shorter, is of greater positive value. This is entitled "Remaines concerning Britain" which contains some 14 essays on archaeology. These included Money, Apparell, Languages, and other similar topics. One of the best is that on "Surnames" extending in the 6th impression dated 1657, to more than 50 pages. It shows great and original research, and it has been extensively quoted by all subsequent writers on the subject. Camden, after a sketch of the history of second or sur-names in different ages and countries, traces the first appearances of settled family names in England about the time of the Norman Conquest. He then divides surnames into several distinct groups as follows:

  • Local - names derived from the NAMES of specific localities i.e. towns, villages, manors etc., and those which allude to the SITUATION of the original residences such as Field, Wood, Cliffe etc.
  • Occupations and Professions - Smith, Fletcher, etc.
  • Offices and Functions, civil and ecclesiastical - Clerk, Bishop etc.
  • Parts of the Body - Legg, Foot, Head, etc.
  • Habitude of Body - Armstrong, Redhead, etc.

Other groups included Ages and Times, Weapons of War, Qualities of the Mind, Costume, Colours of Complexion, Flowers and Fruits, Animals, i.e. beasts, birds, fish, Christian names, Nicknames and Signs of Houses.

Another author was Verstegan who, in 1605, published his "Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities concerning our Nation". He devoted a Chapter to the enquiry "How by the Surnames of the families in England, it may be discerned from whence they take their Originals, to wit, whether from the ancient English Saxons, or from the Danes and Normans".

This Chapter was mostly based on Camden and has little value. A few of his definitions will sufficiently demonstrate this:

  • BOLT - of the straightness of his body
  • COLE - of his blackness
  • ROWS - of his making a noise
  • YONG - of his fewness of years

The most important 19th century work was written in 1858 by Robert Ferguson. This 430 page book entitled "English Surnames, and their Place in the Teutonic Family" listed the author's suggested derivation groupings as follows:

  1. Signifying Man or Woman
  2. From Teutonic Mythology
  3. From Hero Worship
  4. From Animals
  5. From Trees, Plants, Metals etc.
  6. War, Arms, Warlike Occupations
  7. From Peace, Friendship and Affection
  8. Relationship
  9. From Nationality
  10. Old Saxon and Anglo-Saxon names
  11. Scandinavian names
  12. Patronymics and Diminutives
  13. From Physical Characteristics
  14. From Mental and Moral Qualities
  15. From Office or Occupation
  16. From the Sea and Sea Life
  17. Local Surnames

In modern times it is generally acknowledged that surnames were derived from one of four general sources, viz:

  1. Patronymic - derived from the name of a father or ancestor, e.g. Johnson, Wilson
  2. Locative - expressing location, e.g. Field, Wood
  3. Trades and occupations - Smith, Coleman, Fletcher
  4. Physical, mental and moral characteristics - Armstrong, Redhead, Little

HULLEY in North East Cheshire

From 19th and 20th century Cheshire historians

  • From the Hoghlegh or Heghlegh familes of Cheshire c. 1272. (My research has shown that this possibility is doubtful)
  • From some long-forgotten hamlet in a hilly district
  • From William de Holeye, Regarder of Macclesfield Forest 1285
  • From a place name i.e. hill-lea, a clearance on the hills

From my own research

I have found dozens of occurrences of the surname (or variants of it) in searching through the thousands of Court Rolls for the Macclesfield area, together with other documents for the district held at The National Archives under the Class No. SC2 (Special Collection), CHES (County Palatine of Chester) and other references, and other sources at Manchester Central Library (Local Studies). I started at the earliest Court Rolls dated 1346 and I have completely searched those up to 1700. The earliest reference to Hulley is found in an Eyre Roll of 1360-61. This shows that WILLIAM DE HULLEY of Newton and JOHN DE HULLEY de Hyde were jurors at the coroners court where they presented John son of William de Hyde for feloniously murdering Galfrdn (Geoffrey) son of John of Honford. ADAM DE HULLEY is shown on a list of "Escapes" - fines imposed on people for grazing their animals on Macclesfield Forest land dated 1369-70. I have a copy of the parchment sheet. ADAM DE HULLEY occurs previously in 1359 as ADAM DEL HULL.

From the above information, it is reasonably clear how the HULLEY surname (as far as those families living in the Macclesfield area) was derived. Although the Cheshire historians Earwaker, Ormerod and Smith postulated that the name had been derived from a branch of the HEGHLEGH, HELEGH or HOGLEGH families living in the area in the 13th and 14th centuries, this theory is unlikely, in view of the appearance of HULL, HULLE, HULLAY and HULLEY names throughout the Rolls during the same period. It is likely that the original root of the name was DE HULL(E), which changed to its variations of HOL(L)AY and HULLAY before changing to HULLEY. It is quite possible that the above-named William de HOLEYE, Regarder of Macclesfield Forest 1285 was a member of the family. HOWLEY appeared as a variant between 1560 and 1680 and HOOLEY was an offshoot from around 1680 to the present day.

The use of the locative 'De' at the commencement of early versions of the name could denote Norman ancestory but this is not certain. To be named after one's own landed possessions seems to have been an inevitable result of the feudal system. The Norman Conquerers, who had in many instances used the territorial De, introduced the fashion into England. To quote Camden (see above) "there is no village in Normandy that gave not denomination to some family in England" is justly followed by another, that "every town, village, or hamlet in England and Scotland hath afforded names to families".

To sum up, I would postulate that the Hulley surname is either a Norman import or is derived from the description of the district in which the family first settled. It is likely that there are several 'starting points' for the surname in England, e.g. Hulley in Cheshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire and West Yorkshire, Hully in Westmorland, Cumberland and North west Yorkshire. All these areas have one common feature - the Pennine Hills - and so the root of the name is probably linked to HILL. The -ley, -lay ending is Old English for a piece of land put down to grass, so the earliest ancestors lived in a grassy settlement on the hillside.

August 1989
Revised February 2003


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