It’s certainly a mighty tome and it’s one for the connoisseurs of names and what they mean.

Huddersfield historian George Redmonds has written a new book called A Dictionary of Yorkshire Surnames which goes into great detail about the origins of each one and how it has evolved over the years.

The book, which costs £49.50, represents a lifetime of research by George who more than 60 years ago first realised that it is the geographical distribution of a surname which often helps to explain its meaning.

From ‘Abba’, a Northern variant of ‘Abbey’, first recorded in 1570, to ‘Yoward’, meaning a ‘ewe herd’, which first appears in 1379, this comprehensive dictionary of Yorkshire Surnames contains thousands of entries within its 864 pages.

'A Dictionary of Yorkshire Surnames' by George Redmonds.

Each entry cites the sources and the variant spellings through which many surnames have evolved in the last 800 years. Many names are given a radical reappraisal, superseding the ideas of earlier writers.

For example, Dyson is now known to mean ‘Son of Dy’, for the female name Dyonisia, whereas it used to be believed that it meant ‘son of the dyer’.

Both DNA studies and manuscript sources have shown a Colne Valley origin for this name and now we can even identify the original Dy, the eponymous ancestor of all the Dysons, Dyonisia of Linthwaite, recorded in 1286.

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What does your surname mean? George shares meanings of common Huddersfield family names:

Brook, Brooke

This is a surname with fewer origins than is generally assumed and the numbers nationally owe a great deal to a spectacular expansion in the West Riding, especially in Huddersfield.

That can be traced to families living in the area known as Fartown which is separated from Huddersfield by a brook that was formerly an important boundary between the wapentakes of Morley and Agbrigg. It was called the ‘town brook’ in early documents and the surname originated in that valley: 1309 Adam Bythebroke, Rastrick; 1421 John Bythebroke, Huddersfield; 1490 John Bithebrooke, Rastrick. There were already four taxpayers called ‘Brook’ in the town in 1379 and more than 20 in a subsidy roll of 1545. Those numbers were augmented by the expansion of the same name nearby in Birstall parish and there will have been other origins. The preferred spelling in 1672 was Brooke, represented about 200 times in the West Riding. The ramification in that part of the county is reflected in the 1881 statistics when Brook had a total of 11,574 and was ranked 369th in Britain in order of popularity. Two thirds of those were in Yorkshire and the highest counts were Huddersfield (2,387) and Dewsbury (1,161).

Brooke was less common but still prolific (4,471) and again Huddersfield (367) and Dewsbury (739) had the highest individual totals. The spelling stabilised late in the names’ history and it does not have genealogical significance. Brook and Brooke have several origins but people named Brook can have the same ancestry as people named Brooke. Brooks and Brookes occurred only occasionally.

Haigh

There are several minor places named Haigh in the West Riding, the sites of early enclosures, one or two of which became settlements and gave rise to by-names. The surname will therefore have had more than one origin but there is no doubt that Haigh in the former township of Quarmby was a major source. The place name in this case referred to a triangle of land on the north side of the watershed that divided the ancient parishes of Halifax and Huddersfield. It was in the hamlet of Longwood and came into the possession of Fountains Abbey in the 12th century. There was a settlement there soon afterwards with examples of the by-name or surname from the early 1200s. After a move to Golcar in the Colne valley the family ramified in a spectacular fashion: 1377 Thomas del Hagh, Quarmby; 1451 John Haghe, Golcar; 1545 James Haight, Quarmby; 1601 John Haighe, Huddersfield.

It remained essentially a West Riding surname and scores of taxpayers were listed there in 1672. The expansion continued and in 1881 Haigh was hugely prolific (10,324) with roughly 80% of the name-bearers in Yorkshire, no fewer than 3,166 in Huddersfield. Many more were in neighbouring parts of Lancashire such as Ashton-under-Lyne and Rochdale.

Hirst

This has to be treated as a surname with several potential origins and one that sometimes has a shared history with Hurst. However, it would be a mistake to let that obscure the ramification of the name in the Huddersfield area where it derives from Hirst in Longwood, part of the old township of Quarmby: 1308 John del Hirst, Rastrick; 1379 John del Hirst, Quarmby; 1447 John Hyrst, Quarmby; 1545 John Hirst, Quarmby.

George Redmonds with his new book 'A Dictionary of Yorkshire Surnames'
George Redmonds with his new book 'A Dictionary of Yorkshire Surnames'

The subsidy roll of 1545 confirms that expansion listing five examples in Huddersfield and others near by in Almondbury, Cumberworth, Dalton, Honley, Marsden, Rastrick, Slaithwaite and Thurstonland. There were no fewer than 10 individuals named John Hirst in that group. It was a period in the name’s history during which the spelling, like that of the place name, alternated between Hirst and Hurst, but the former was more usual and it became the conventional form in the West Riding.

That may have influenced the spelling of names which had Hirst or Hurst as a suffix and the latter came to be associated more with Lancashire, c.f. Dewhurst, Dewhirst.

By 1672 the ramification of Hirst in the West Riding was extraordinary and more than 150 taxpayers were listed although it was extremely uncommon in the north and East Ridings. The 1881 statistics reflect that ramification, with more than 80% of people named Hirst living in Yorkshire.

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Significant totals were Huddersfield (2,764) and Dewsbury (1,163). Demographers would find interesting parallels with other Huddersfield names such as Brook and Haigh.

The book is published by Shaun Tyas (Donington, Lincolnshire) and is available post-free from there. Email shaun@shauntyas.myzen.co.uk or phone 01775 821542.

It is also available on Amazon.