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Part 1 Index:
- Teutonic Sources
- Viking Influence
- Danish or Norwegian Origin ?
- Møre og Romsdal, Norway
- Topographical and Toponymic (habitation) Surnames
Part 2 Index:
- Ramsdale Hamlet, Fylingdale's Parish, North Yorkshire
- Ramsdale Megalithic Standing Stones, North Yorkshire
- Ramsdale Valley, Scarborough, North Yorkshire
- Ramsdale & Ramsdell Chapelries, Hampshire
The place name and English surname Ramsdale are both likely derived from Ramsons, being a widespread colloquial name for wild garlic (Allium Ursinum), the likely 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
Wild Garlic [Allium Ursinum]
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.
Ramsdale Ha [Ramesdala 1170 Oxf], Ramsdale - YN [Ram(m)esdal 1240 FF], Ramsden Bellhouse, Crays & Heath Ess [Ramesdana DB, -den 1158 BM, 1208 Cur, Ramesden Belhous, Gray 1254 Val, Ramesden Crei 1274 RH], Ramsden - O [Ramesdon 1179 RA, Rammesden 1279 RH, 1316 FA]. "Wild garlic valley" or possibly "ram valley". See HRAMSA, RAMM, DENU.
Ramsdale farm in Nottinghamshire (EPNS Nt 114) was held by John de Ramsdale in 1332 - per Dr Gillian Fellows-Jensen (2 April 1997)
Ramsden Bellhouse was held by Ricardus de Belhous in 1208 (Cur). Bellhouse means "belfry". Ramsden Crays was held by Simon de Craye in 1252 (Cl). Craye is from CRAY or CRAYE in France.
Hramsa, hramse OE, wild garlic, sometimes appearing as hramaes-, hremesin OE place name spellings and is therefore difficult to distinguish from rammes, genitive singular of ramm, as in (a) Ramsbottom La (botm), Ramsdale Ha (denu), Ramsey Ess, Hu (g), Ramsholt Sf (holt), Romsley sa, Wo 300 (leah) [Middle Low German ramese "garlic"].7
The suffix -dale is derived from the OE doel, or, perhaps nearly always in old names, ON dalr, a dale, the root meaning being probably deep, low place [cf Gothic dalath, down]. Found from the Scottish border south to Derbyshire, but much commoner in the north, where Norse influence was strong, and there usually a river valley between hills, a glen - Allendale, Borrowdale, Ennerdale, etc.2
Similarly, the English surname Dale is a topographic name for someone who lived in a valley, ME dale (OE doel), reinforced in Northern England by the cognitive ON dalr, or habitation name from any of the numerous minor places named with this word.1
The frequent replacing of Old English names by Scandinavian, eg Scandinavian dalr replaced Old English denu, accounts for the large number of dales and the comparative rarity of deans or dens.4
Of the numerous place-name elements denoting a valley, valley itself is very rare and vale, also a French loan-word into English, is infrequent ... Dale on the other hand is common enough, particularly in Scandinavianised areas of the country, and sporadically elsewhere. OE doel, modern dale meant "pit, hollow" and the general view today is that it was really only in general use with the sense 'valley' due to the influence of the cognate Scandinavian word dalr which did mean 'valley'. It would appear, therefore, that it was only in late Old English, for the most part, that doel denoted a 'valley'. The usual English word for this topographical feature was denu, modern dene ... The widespread use of dale in later minor names and field-names must, it would seem, ultimately be the result of Scandinavian influence ... in major place-names the occurrence of doel 'valley' is rare indeed and south of the Thames it is not found at all. In Devon, for example, Dalwood is not recorded before 1175 and is probably of post-Conquest origin, while the other dale-name in Devonshire is Dymsdale, in Alwington, first recorded in 1371. The editors of The Place-Names of Devon comment "As the element dale is otherwise unknown in Devon the name can hardly be of local origin". Indeed, there can be little doubt that Dymsdale is derived from the topographical surname Dymmyngesdale, that of a miner or miners from Derbyshire or Staffordshire impressed into work in the royal stanneries in the south-west, for which there is evidence certainly from 1295. A John Dymmyngesdale is actually mentioned in the 1371 document noted above. The surname itself is doubtless derived from a place-name such as Dimmin Dale in Taddington (DBY) or Dimsdale (STS), but unfortunately the first element has not yet been fully explained. Dale is found most frequently to the north of the River Mersey and River Humber but it also occurs as far south as Northamtonshire. Even in the north, however, it is comparatively rare in Durham and Northumberland, where Scandinavian influence is much less than in Yorkshire, and it has been plausibly suggested that the degree of Scandinavian influence is crucial in the use of dale in the formation of place-names. Further because of "its wide currency as a term for 'valley' it often replaced the more usual OE word denu". This has happened in the self-explanatory Deepdale (NTH), Oxendale (LAN) 'where oxen are found', Saxondale (NTH) 'valley of the Saxons', and Stavordale (SOM), the first element of which may mean 'stake'.8
Dale has been added to a number of river-names like Airedale (WRY), Eskdale (CUM), Lonsdale (Lune, LAN), Ribblesdale (LAN), Swaledale (NRY), and Wharfedale (WRY). It is named from animals in Cowdale (DBY) and Kiddal (WRY) 'cows', Grisdale (WES) 'young pigs', and Withersdale (SFK) 'wether-sheep', from plants in Farndale (NRY) 'fern', Matterdale (CUM) 'madder', and Mosedale (CUM) 'moss', from a cross in Crossdale (CUM), a church in Kirkdale (LAN, NRY), and from a fortification in Borrowdale (CUM, WES). In the north-west the first element is sometimes a Scandinavian personal name as in Bannisdale (WES) from Bannandr, Belasdale (LAN) from Blesi, and Skelmersdale (LAN) from Skelmer, while Patric, an Irish name, is the first element of Patterdale (WES).8
OE denu has been referred to as "the standard OE term for a main valley" and as such is widespread in this country. We have seen how it has sometimes been replaced by dale and in at least one name, Longdendale (DBY), the latter has been added to an original Langdene 'long valley'. Indeed, it has been shown that most valleys derived from denu are long and sinuous, and as Ann Cole notes that "denu is mostly used of long, narrow valleys with two moderately steep sides and a gentle gradient along most of their length".8
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Many old Norse names had roots and meanings similar to old English names, for the Saxons had themselves come as invaders from the opposite shores of the North Sea, like the Vikings. This makes it often impossible in their modern forms to distinguish between names which are in fact Viking from similar names which are Old English.3
Many names used by the Norman settlers after the Norman Conquest were also of Norse origin and indeed the name Norman itself simply means Northman. Some of these Norse names brought to England by the Normans are known to have been already used in England, for they occur in Saxon Charters, and other such names may also have been already used in England though they do not happen to survive in any of the Saxon charters which still remain to record the fact. Names of this kind became more common thanks to new arrivals with similar names from Normandy; but, whether used by conquerors or conquered, spelling and pronunciation took on the French air which was to be fashionable in conquered Anglo-Norman England for the next two centuries and more after 1066.3
The main source of English place names is Teutonic and came at two distinct times
- at the Anglo-Saxon invasions during the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries
- during the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th centuries when the Danes came direct to this country from Denmark and the Norsemen or Northmen from Norway penetrated into the north-west by way of Ireland and the Hebrides, passing up the Wirral peninsular and spreading over Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire.4
In addition to the direct invasion of England by the Danes via the east coast there was also a Norwegian conquest of northern Scotland, the Orkneys and Shetlands and other islands, as well as the over-running of most of Ireland. It was from the Hebrides and Ireland that they penetrated into England via the west coast, especially into Lancashire with an overflow into Yorkshire. Well over 50% of place names in Yorkshire are of Scandinavian as distinct from Anglo-Saxon origin.4
This double Teutonic influence has made it difficult in every case to say definitively to which source a place-name such as Ramsdale belongs, but if the root is to be found in Old English it will be allocated to the Anglo-Saxon period; if the root is to be found in Old Norse it will be placed in the period of the Danish and Norwegian invasions. Often, as perhaps in the case of Ramsdale, the root is to be found in both these old Teutonic languages (OE doel and ON dalr), and then it is immaterial to which source we allot it.4
But everywhere it is the Norse element that predominates, recalling the Scandinavian settlements of exceptional thoroughness in the 9th and 10th centuries. Remember that in 915 Norsemen from Ireland captured York, and for 35 years Irish Vikings ruled there.4
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In the same way that the Danish names in England are seen to radiate from the Wash, so the Norwegian immigration seems to have proceeded from Morecambe Bay and that part of the coast which lies opposite to the Isle of Man.5
In the North Riding, in the western half, in Gilling, Richmondshire and Langbargh, there is very definite evidence of extensive Norse settlement, as well as on the coast near Whitby, the latter, no doubt, reached directly from the North Sea. These Irish Vikings, on their way east, quickly came into contact with the earlier Danish settlers and in places there was a considerable mixture of races, Norwegian, Danish and Anglian. 6
The Norwegian movement from the north-west into Yorkshire culminated in 919 in the capture of York by Ragnall mac Bicloch, who was the first of a series of Irish Viking Kings of York which lasted for 35 years, during which constant intercourse must have been maintained between Yorkshire and Ireland, with a constant increase of Irish-Norwegian settlers all along the route.6
Scarborough is one of the few place-names of which the exact origin is known. From the Kormakssaga we learn that two brothers Thorgils and Kormak went harrying in Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland: "They were the first men to set up the stronghold which is called Scarborough"
From two poems which Kormak addresses to his brother, we know that Thorgils was nicknamed Skarði, the hare lip, hence the Scandinavian form of the name, Skarðaborg, found also in English as Scartheborc c1200 later Scareburgh (1414). Thorgils died in 967; the brothers' expedition to England took place immediately after their return from one to Russia in 966, so that Scarborough must have been founded late in 966 or in 967.6
The mixture of races is well illustrated by such names as Danby, Normanby and Ingleby, each of which occurs three times in the North Riding. These denote villages of Danes, Norwegians and Angles and can have been given only by Scandinavians in districts where these races were in a minority. Normanby, found four times in Lincolnshire and three times in the North Riding, was a village where Norwegians lived, among an overwhelming Danish population.
"Several places with the name Normanby in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire mark Norwegian settlements while Denby/Danby is Danish (Cameron 1958; Fellows Jensen 1972: 189ff, 1973: 18) ... In Norfolk, names in -by are rare except on the Norse-settled coast (Sandred 1987) ...
-DAL(E). Valley names in -dal(e) (cf. OIce dal-r 'valley: DALE') are frequent north of a line from the Mersey to the Humber, excluding Northumberland and Durham (PNL 95), e.g. Grisedale 'valley of pigs' (OIce griss 'young pig: hog') ..." External Influences on English: From its Beginnings to the Renaissance” (D. Gary Miller)
The distribution of these names is interesting and unexpected. They provide evidence for Norwegians in the eastern Danelaw who could hardly be Vikings from Ireland. They may have been Norwegians who had joined the armies of Halfdan and Guthrun, and the scanty evidence of their presence in the eastern Midlands may be due to the known hostility between Danes and Norwegians. The capture of York from the Danes and the establishment of a Norwegian kingdom would not conduce to friendly relations, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of the 10th century not only gives proof of the internecine feuds between them but also provides evidence of similar hostility farther south.6
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Danish or Norwegian Origin ?
It is frequently impossible to decide whether a particular word or personal name is of Danish or Norwegian origin. Both "by" and "thorp" were used alike in East and West Scandinavia, whereas in England, whilst "by" was clearly used by Norwegians, "thorp" may be regarded as a sign of Danish settlement.6
Place-names on the North Yorkshire coast ending in -dale, -by and -thorpe (e.g. Fylingdales, Whitby, Normanby, Ramsdale, Fylingthorpe, Sneaton 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 word "beck" (e.g. Ramsdale Beck, Thorpe Beck), a brook, is more frequent in the Norwegian than in the Danish region, and this is also the case with the suffixes -haugh, -with, -tarn and -dale. The word "force", which is the ordinary name for a waterfall in the lake district, is exclusively Norwegian, and corresponds to the Icelandic and Norwegian foss. The word fell is also derived from Norway, where it takes the form fjeld (pronounced fi-ell). It is the usual name for a hill in the north west of England.5
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Møre og Romsdal, Norway
Romsdal is the name of a valley and traditional district in the Norwegian county Møre og Romsdal. It is located between Nordmøre and Sunnmøre. The district of Romsdal comprises Aukra, Fræna, Midsund, Molde, Nesset, Rauma, Sandøy, and Vestnes.
The Norse form of the name was Raumsdalr. The first element is the genitive case of a name - Raumr - and this was probably the old (uncompounded) name of the Romsdalsfjord. The old fjord name is derived from the name of the river Rauma in the counties of Oppland and Møre og Romsdal. It runs for 68 km from Lesjaskogsvatnet in Lesja to Åndalsnes in the Rauma Municipality (basin area 1.202 km²).
The meaning of the name Rauma is unknown (it is probably very old). The river was once famous for its salmon-fishing, but since an infection with Gyrodactylus Salaris (Salmon Fluke) only 5-10% of the original stock survives. The Romsdal (Roms valley) and the Rauma river is by many regarded as the most beautiful river valley in Norway. The river runs very clear with a green tint, and the mountains towers 1500-1800 metres above the river in the lower and middle parts of the valley.
The Romsdal Valley, through which the Rauma river passes to the Romsdalfjord, has been described as a worthy rival for Yosemite, being surrounded by the mountain range Romsdalsalpene.
The 1,550 metre tall Romsdalhorn has been compared to the Matterhorn, while the Trolltindane peaks, according to legend a bridal procession of trolls turned to stone by the morning light, stands opposite across the Rauma. The North Face of Trollryggen peak (1,740 m), Trollveggen (Troll Wall), is the tallest vertical cliff in Europe. Norway's most famous hair-pin road is Trollstigen, or "Troll's Trail", which leads to the south out of Åndalsnes to the beautiful Geirangerfjord.
In the early Viking Age, before Harald Fairhair, Romsdal was a petty kingdom.
According to legend, Romsdal is an eponym after Raum the Old, son of the equally eponymous king Nor, legendary founder of Norway.
Jøtunbjørn ("Giant-bear") the Old, was the son of Raum the Old and Bergdis, a giant’s daughter. He inherited Raumsdal (modern: Romsdal) from his father, and was again the father of King Raum, who is the father of Hrossbjörn, who is the father of Orm Broken-shell, who is the father of Knatti, who had two sons: Thórolf and Ketill Raum (in one version, Thórolf and Ketill Raum are sons of Orm).
Among Thórolf’s descendents, according to legend, came some of the first settlers of Iceland.
The Laxdaela Saga claims that Raumsdal was the home of Ketill Flatnose, a descendent of Ketill Raum. In the 850s AD Ketil was a prominent viking chieftain. He conquered the Hebrides and the Isle of Man. Some sources refer to him as "King of the Sudreys" (Hebrides), but there is little evidence that he himself claimed that title. The Norwegian king appointed him the ruler of these islands, but he failed to pay tribute to Harald Fairhair and was outlawed.
He and his family left Norway and fled westwards across the sea, to Scotland, then Ireland, where he married off his daughter, Aud the Deep-Minded, to Olaf the White, king of Dublin. Aud went eventually to Iceland where she began that country's shift to Christianity. The crosses she had erected to mark her places of prayer are still to be seen in their original locations.
Ragnvald Eysteinsson (830–890) (Norwegian: Ragnvald Mørejarl), was jarl (earl) of Møre, approximately of today's Møre og Romsdal. He died at the Orkney Islands.
He was son of King Eystein "Glumra" (the Noisy) Ivarsson of Oppland, and a contemporary of king Harald Fairhair, whom he supported in the unification process, and received his fiefdom from. He is likely to have resided on or nearby the important township of Veøya, Romsdal's Viking Age hub for commerce and communication.
With Ragnhild Rolfsdaughter, he had the sons Hrolf Ganger, and Tore Teiande who inherited the earldom after his father’s death. Another, illegitimate, son was Turf-Einar, ancestor of the earls of Orkney. Although historians are divided on this, Hrolf Ganger might be identical with Rollo of Normandy, and if so the great-great-great-grandfather of William I of England.
The legend says Ragnvald was the one to cut the hair of king Harald Fairhair after he became king of all Norway.10
View in the Romsdal (circa 1908, artist L.M. Long)
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Topographical and Toponymic (habitation) Surnames
Locative surnames derived from place-names may be divided into two broad categories: topographic and toponymic (habitation):
Toponymic (habitation) 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.
Toponymic (habitation) surnames are derived from a pre-existing names denoting towns, villages, farmsteads, or other named habitations. Other classes of local names include those derived from the names of rivers, individual houses with signs on them, regions and whole countries.1 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.
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.
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.
The second common type of surname is that derived from a general descriptive reference to someone who lived near a physical (topographic) feature in the landscape such as an oak tree, a hill, a stream or a church. 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.
As a general rule, the further someone had traveled from his place of origin, the broader the designation. Someone who stayed at home might be known by the name of his farm or locality in the parish; someone who moved to another town might be known by the name of his village; while someone who moved to another country could acquire the name of the country or region from which he originated.1
Recent developments in surname studies 9 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.
Monogenetic surnames are those with a single origin, often being derived from just one original bearer or family of bearers at one particular place and time. Most polygenetic surnames were coined independently in many different places. It is not normally possible to identify the original bearer of a monogenetic surname, but it is sometimes possible to postulate that a name must be monogenetic on the basis of its distribution.1
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It is highly unlikely that the surname is in any way deived from the word ram meaning a male sheep, although 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 lis 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 lis sable.
Motto: Coelum non animum mutat (a change of skies does not change the mind).
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1 A Dictionary of Surnames; Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges, OUP 1988
2 The Place Names of England and Wales; Johnston, John Murray, 1915 (page 50)
3 History Through Surnames; W O Hassall, Pergamon Press, 1967 (page 15)
4 Place Names and Surnames - Their Origin and Meaning; Taylor Dyson, Alfred Jubb & Son, 1944 and Simpkin Marshall (1941) Ltd (page 43)
5 Words and Places; Isaac Taylor, London, published by J M Dent & Sons (pages 128 and 137)
6 The Origin of English Place Names; Reaney, Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1960 (page 175)
7 English Name Elements, Part 1, A - IW; Cambridge University Press, 1956
8 English Place Names; Kenneth Cameron, The Bath Press (1996) (pages 189 to 191)
9 Surnames and Genealogy: A New Approach; Dr George Redmonds, New England Historic (June 1997)