What's in a Name ?


This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 9th November 1998, reproduced by kind permission of The Peak Advertiser.

The "What's in a Name" series is a regular feature in the Advertiser.
Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames and Desmond regrets he is unable to undertake research into the genealogy, descent or family history of individuals.

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.

WHAT'S IN A NAME Are you called CARROLL?

The majority of people called "Carroll" (or any of its variations such as "Carol, "Carrill" or "Kerrill" etc) can look to Ireland as the source of their name, However, before discussing its Irish background, a few alternative origins are possible. Some families could trace their ancestry to one who was either a travelling cobbler or one who made a living by assembling bed-furniture, especially pillows and bolsters, for which the old French was "carrel".

This might account for William Carell of Yorkshire dated 1379 and possibly Stephen Caryl of Devonshire in 1332. In modern French a "carreleur" describes one who lays tiles and paving-slabs and it might be traced back to a medieval craftsman who followed such a calling. The name has nothing to do with the songs sung at Christmas since the earliest reference to "a carrolle upon Christmas day" is dated 1502, some 200 years beyond the evolution of surnames.

The Latin for "Charles" is "Carolus" but although "Charles" through "Carolus" forms the basis of several names "Carroll" is not included.

Because of its Irish origins, the forms "Mac-" or "O" frequently accompany this surname. With the prefix "Mac-" it signifies "the son of Carroll" and with "O-" it can be interpreted as "belonging to the family of Carroll".

It might here be useful to mention that there is no foundation for the belief that "Mc-" is Irish, whereas "Mac-" is Scots. Furthermore both forms are merely abbreviations of "Mac-". And whilst some families might have had special reasons for assuming either "Mc-" or "M-" alone is looked upon with disfavour by those who have made a study of these things in both Scotland and Ireland, there appears to be no basis for this.

Both "Carroll" and "Carrol" are to be found in Scotland but they are acknowledged to be of Irish Origin. The earliest reference is to a "Duncan Carroll" in 1653 (Dunblane).

In Gaelic the name appears as "O Cearbhaill" which itself is built upon a personal name which signifies: "He who falls upon the enemy with ferocity". The "ferocity" here would have been demonstrated by a warrior hacking and slashing his way through his opponents. There is an old Gaelic word "cearbh" which can be linked to the act of "hacking". It is here tentatively suggested that the expression might be related to "carve" (that is in the sense of cutting meat) and which, in old English appears as "ceorfan". The word "cearbh" is believed to have meant "One who hacks at a carcase" or, simply, "a butcher". No doubt the sobriquet "Butcher" would have been very appropriate if bestowed upon a doughty warrior, either by his admiring friends or, perhaps, his nervous enemies!

Since prowess in battle was a quality greatly esteemed amidst early communities anywhere, and not exclusively in Ireland, it is only to be expected that many men sought to be identified as "the fierce warrior" and names of similar significance are not infrequent amongst early communities. In Ireland, for example, "O'Donnell" means "the mighty one" and "Kearney" - "victorious".

In the case of "Carroll" the records reveal that within much the same span of time it emerged from amidst more than seven different regions of Ireland. The areas with which it is particularly associated are both the counties of Offaly and Tipperary and those of Louth and Monaghan.

An interesting development of the name lies in its association with "Carvill". This is a location name based on several sites in Normandy. They were called "Karvill", and later "Carville" - ("Kare" is a Scandinavian personal name imported by the Normans, who were originally "Norsemen").

After the Conquest many Normans crossed over to Ireland and were rapidly integrated with their new neighbours, so much so, in fact, that they adopted Irish names. In this case, they adopted forms of "Carroll" or "Cearbhaill" as being the nearest approximation in sound to "Carvill". During the times when the use of Irish names was suppressed, some bearers of the name adopted "Carville" or "Carvell". Since 1921, after most of Ireland had regained its independence there has been a tendency to revert to the old forms.

The name is very widely distributed across the British Isles. In Ireland itself it is listed among the twenty-five most frequently encountered. Most of the families in England and Scotland who bear the name could ultimately trace it to an Irish source. The fact that it is heavily concentrated in centres such as Glasgow, Liverpool and Birmingham points to immigration, especially since the numbers further inland and less westerly drop perceptibly - York, Sheffield, Norwich and Exeter barely reach double figures in the local directories whereas the others mentioned run to several hundred each,

Although the name is so widely known and so universally spread over the country, no personality under "Carroll" is mentioned in the Standard Biographies. Still, out of deference to the feelings of our Irish neighbours, mention ought to be made of Charles Carroll (1737-1832) one of those who signed the American Declaration of Independence in 1776.

The author of the "Alice" books, Lewis Carroll actually contrived that surname on his Baptismal name, "Charles" which Latinises into "Carolus" and from which he derived "Carroll".

Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 9th November 1998.