There are four types of surname:
- patronymic - refer to the mother or father (John's son = Johnson)
- locative - connect a person to a particular place where you live, work, or were born, or by the land you own (de Rachedale = from Rochdale in Lancashire). There are two broad categories of locative surname - toponymic and topographical. A toponymic surname refers to a named place, i.e., it incorporates a proper noun. Up to about 1400 AD the usual English form is de or del X, where X is the name of a town, although in speech de or del was probably replaced by of e.g. Henry de Rachedale 1351 and Hugh de Rastrik 1274. After circa 1400 AD the preposition de or del was simply dropped, and indeed it wasn't always used even in earlier records (e.g., Richard Wangeford 1296). A topographical surname refers to a feature of the local landscape, either natural or man-made (del Dene, modernly spelled dean or -den, a very common place name element in the West Riding of Yorkshire, from Old English denu, meaning "valley" e.g. William del Dene 1350)
- epithets (nicknames) - refer to a person's notable characteristic (a brown-haired man = Brown)
- occupation – identify by an occupation or rank (black smith = Smith).
The English surname RAMSDALE is locative (both toponymic and topographical) in origin (1) belonging to that group of surnames derived from the place where the original bearer once dwelt or where he once held land, and (2) likely also derived from Ramsons, being a widespread colloquial name for wild garlic (Allium ursinum) the derivation of which is:
- the Anglo Saxon word Hramsa meaning rank - the butter and milk of cows which have eaten Ramsons is said to be bitter (rank)
- Old English hramsa dael meaning wild garlic valley.
The surname RAMSDALE is related etymologically to the surnames RAMSDEN, RAMSDELL, RAMSGILL and RAMSBOTTOM, all of which derive from the same hramsa, and tend to be associated with Lancashire and Yorkshire.
The most probable source of the surname is Ramsdale Hamlet in Fylingdale's Parish, North Yorkshire [NZ 927037]. This parochial chapelry lies south of Whitby parish and contains the villages of Robin Hood's Bay and Thorpe, or Fyling Thorpe (Presterthorpe, 13th century), and the hamlets of Normanby, Parkgate, Ramsdale, Raw (Fyling Rawe, 16th century), and Stoupe Brow.
Place-names on the North Yorkshire coast ending in -dale, -by and -thorpe (eg Whitby, Ramsdale, Fyling Thorpe) are indicative of settlement by Norwegian adventurers in the ninth century AD who had joined Danish Vikings in subjugating the whole of northern England (the Danelaw) before settling there as farmers and traders and developing great mercantile cities such as York.
The surname may also indicate an individual from one of the following Hampshire parishes:
- Ramsdell - part of the parish of Wootton St Lawrence, Chuteley Hundred, Hampshire;
- Ramsdale - the consolidated chapelry of Ramsdale, in the parish of Tadley, Overton Hundred, Hampshire.
Toponymic surnames are by far the most common type of surname in Britain. In many cases the location is as specific as an individual farmstead or a place no longer found on any map, in others a more generalised location such as a village or town. Some of these surnames have been identified because hundreds of years later the surname holders remain concentrated close to their point of origin and their family history has been traced back through early medieval documents
Some of these surnames could conceivably have arisen because an ancestor travelled away from his home region during the period of surname formation, so the principal modern-day heartland of the family could therefore be in that new settlement area rather than the area of origin. Studies have shown, however, that overall more than half the surnames in Britain still have a statistically significant association with a particular locality.
Toponymic surnames are relatively more common in the parts of Britain that are sparsely populated with scattered farmhouses rather than larger settlements, for example in the far north and the south-west of England.
Like all surnames, toponymic surnames can "mutate" when name bearers change their locality, their name then being pronounced differently and leading over time to a change of spelling. Some modern surnames are unrecognisable abbreviations of familiar places e.g. "Deadman" being a contraction of "Debenham", a village in Suffolk.
Given that toponymic surnames are so specific in their origin, logic suggests that many of these surnames will probably have a single common ancestor at their head. Accordingly, DNA tests on modern-day name-bearers should reveal that they have identical or very similar DNA signatures.
"On Scandinavian Place Names in the East Riding of Yorkshire" (1878) Edward Maule Cole at page 13
… In several cases, perhaps in a majority, if we knew the actual facts, the prefix is a proper name. The Norse invaders originally gave their name to the place where they settled; in more recent times, families took their name from the place where they lived. Thus some Scandinavian warrior gave his name Griner to Grims-ttina, and subsequently the owner of the soil, possibly a descendant, called himself "de Grimston", which passed into a surname, and is one of the most ancient in the East Riding. Griner was a name of Odin, and the word occurs in many compounds, e.g. Thor-grimy, Hergrintr, Hallgrimr, Grin/ken, Grimhildr, &c.
The second common type of surname is that derived from a topographical feature in the landscape. These arose in the same way as toponymic surnames, but because they tend to describe a general feature rather than a specific location e.g. Brook, Green, Hill, Wood, it is generally assumed that they must have arisen in many places across the country independently of each other.
Recent developments in surname studies (Surnames and Genealogy: A New Approach, Dr George Redmonds) demonstrate that some topographical surnames are toponymic i.e. they are linked to a specific location rather than to a general landscape feature e.g. the relatively common surname "Sykes".
Given that topographical surnames are likely to have arisen in many different places across the country, it is to be expected that DNA results of men bearing one of these generic surnames should reveal its multiple ancestor origin.
Although it is highly unlikely that the surname is in any way derived from the word ram meaning a male sheep, the arms of Ramsdale make a pun on this, a practice known in heraldry as canting:
Blazon of Arms Argent, on a chevron between three fleurs-de-lys sable, as many rams' heads couped at the neck of the first Crest An arm in armour erect couped at the elbow proper, holding in the gauntlet a fleur-de-lys sable Motto Coelum non animum mutat (a change of skies does not change the mind)
Argent (Ar'-jent): White. The silvery colour on coats of arms. In the arms of princes it is sometimes called lune, and in those of peers pearl. In engravings it is generally represented by the natural color of the paper. It represents purity, innocence, beauty or gentleness.
Chevron (shev'-ron): One of the honourable ordinaries. It is rafter shaped, and its breadth is one-fifth of the field.
Fleur-de-lis (flur'-de-lee): Heraldically this is a flower, and stands at the head of the flowers of heraldry. Its origin is unknown, one "authority" claiming that it was brought down from heaven by an angel for the arms of France. It is also said to mean the flower of Louis (Fleur de Louis), and was certainly used by Louis VII. It is undoubtedly the "flower of the lilly." Originally the royal banner of France was seme of lis (completely covered with fleur-de-lis); but from the time of Charles VI it has consisted of three golden fleur-de-lis on a blue field. The fleur-de-lis did not at first meet with much favour in England, and did not become popular, in fact, until its assumption by Edward III. The French quartering in the English royal arms was abolished by George VI on his accession. When used as a difference the fleur-de-lis represents the sixth son.
Sable: The tincture black. In engraving it is represented by perpendicular and horizontal lines crossed.
Couped (koop'd) Said of an animal having the head or any limb cut clean off from the body.
When a specified number of charges is immediately followed by a similar number of other charges the words "as many" may be used, e.g. Argent, on a chevron between three fleurs-de-lys sable, "as many" rams' heads couped at the neck of the first (Ramsdale), and Argent on a Chevron Gules between three Leopard's Faces Sable "as many" Castles Or (de Sausmarez).