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Greenhalgh, the name, the place, the History

  Origins and Meaning

Everything written here is open for debate, if you have information to prove or disprove what I have written, or you simply have something to add, I will be more than happy to publish your views or information here on the web site. Some may say that the following is pure conjecture, but it is based on known facts. I look forward to your thoughts, good or bad.

Surnames! Where do they come from?
Surnames were not generally used until around the time of the Norman Conquest, & they were still not commonplace for another 200 years. The reason behind this, is there was no need for them, as communities were small & travel outside of that community was rare, so the chance of two people having the same name was remote. If they did travel out side of the community, they would use descriptions of themselves. So second or surnames names fell in to the following categories

  • Place Names
  • Occupational
  • Descriptive/Nicknames
  • Patronyms (A name that identifies the father) i.e. John son of Will is John Wilson

Some Greenhalgh surname facts
The name Greenhalgh does not appear in the top 500 surname list in the UK, and the name is found most extensively in the Lancashire area.

Greenhalgh the Origins & meaning
One theory is that the name is of Nordic (Viking) origin, one possible meaning which I keep hearing over the years is Land by a body of water.

The current spelling of Greenhalgh I believe is an English approximation of the local pronunciation. The spelling has probably changed several times since the Norman conquest of England which was complete by 1071AD.

The Doomsday Book which was written 14 years after the Norman conquest states that the original spelling of Greenhalgh was Greneholf, so lets have a look at the meaning of this spelling by breaking this in to its two parts, firstly Grene.

Meaning found at www.dictionary.com Using their Dictionary search
Middle English grene, from Old English grne; sense 7 translation of German Grünen, Greens, from grün, green.]

Now lets look at the second part holf
Meaning found at www.dictionary.com Using their thesaurus search
N. island, isle, islet, eyot[obs], ait[obs], holf[obs], reef, atoll, breaker; archipelago; islander.

So loosely translated from old English Greenhalgh means Green Island, rather nice I think. I feel to take the HALGH in modern English/Dutch or German is impossible, as I said earlier this spelling is an approximation of the pronunciation & is not truly a word.

I have found no information to detail when the village of Greenhalgh was originally named. It has even been suggested that Garstang was originally called Greenhalgh! This I cannot prove, but it seems unlikely as the Doomsday Book mentions both Garstang & Greenhalgh or Greneholf as it was known. The Doomsday Book was commissioned, December 1085 & was complete by the August of 1086.

Greenhalgh castle which is near Garstang was not built until the year 1490 by Thomas Stanley, some 400 years after the Doomsday records. The record clearly states that Garstang & Greneholf were two separate villages/towns, make your own conclusions.

It would be fair to say that the origins of the name came from the village as people started to move between villages. The village of Greenhalgh (Greneholf) was probably in existence quite some time before 1071 possibly with the treaty of Wedmore, which gave the Danish settlers the north & the east of the country in 880AD.

Greenhalgh coat of arms
As far as I can tell the Greenhalgh coat of arms was granted to Thomas Greenhalgh of Bandlesome . Further information can be found here The motto with this coat of arms is "vinctus sola" time to get out the latin dictionary!

Greenhalgh the pronunciation
The one thing that won't be argued about by many Greenhalgh's is the fact that not many people know how the name should be pronounced, most people can't even spell it! The spelling of GREENHALGH has been here for a very long time, certainly since the first scholars started to record English history. But the modern pronunciation has caused no end of debate.

Forgetting all the rather rude & non entertaining pronunciations that I have heard, there is one that I do hear regularly, GREENHALSH. Not a bad pronunciation but I have always been brought up to pronounce the name as follows.

Broken down it would look like this GREEN-HAL-J the J is pronounced the same as the way J is pronounced in Jeep, so put it all together & there you go. Ironically some believe that HALGH was spelt with a J originally!

It is fair to say that the name of Greenhalgh is indeed old, with the first Greenhalgh surnames probably going back to around 1200A.D. The castle & its owner Thomas Stanley played a major part in early English history, but the reasons why they called it Greenhalgh castle so far elude me. The one thing the castle does do is confirm that the current spelling has been in existence since 1490, who knows how many spelling changes there have been since the name was first recorded in the Doomsday Book some 400 years earlier.

English history is indeed a truly European affair, & its this cosmopolitan mish mash of nations which has given us this rather unusual name, & I hope during 2001 to find out more about the origins of the Greenhalgh name, as well as the castle & its place in English history. Still I hope this page has been interesting for you to read, remember if you would like to add your thoughts please do contact me, It will be great to hear from you.

If you would like to make comment on the theories and views on this page, why not visit the Greenhalgh Forum by clicking here

Latest origins & meaning finds on the Internet:
Doomsday book
I have found this site which is all about the Doomsday Book
http://www.domesdaybook.co.uk/index.html which states that the name was originally spelt Greneholf. Now this is straight out of the Doomsday Book, so I cant argue with that really!

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