Fairholm & Fairholme Family Trees Worldwide
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Family name

This page is about our surnames.


Variations on the surname


Scottish contractions









When we started our search we assumed that Fairholm and Fairholme were entirely separate surnames. We were wrong and we found 24 other spellings amongst our ancestors. Some people had different spellings recorded for their birth, marriage and death. This was not because they changed their name, but because so few people were literate, they relied on others to fill in forms for them, and it depended on how these people spelt what they heard. One of our distant relatives was christened as a Fearham, married as a Fairholme and died as a Fairholm, according to official records. Such differences in spellings are not unique to our families. As an extreme case, there have been 459 recorded spellings of Shakespeare throughout the world!

The main variations for the first four letters and the last letters which have been found in the family names are set out on the left hand side below. Not all of the possible combinations occur and some only occur as single examples. The most common combinations are Fairholm and Fairholme. In addition, there are Scottish contractions and extensions - for example Fairholm to Fairm and back again. However, we have to be careful in our research because some of the variations of our name are valid names for other families - particularly Fairham. Spellings adopted by the English and Scottish families did not settle down until the end of the nineteenth century, when the distinction between Fairholm and Fairholme became consistently separate - although there has still been the occasional slip-up in the registers of births, marriages and deaths.


Meaning of the surnames
According to the Dictionary of British Surnames, the names Fairholm and Fairholme mean dweller by the fair island. In the old Scandinavian languages holm, holmr, holmi and holmber were the words for a small island or for raised land in a marsh or in a meadow liable to flooding. They represent one of the commonest Scandinavian topographical terms in England and the Central Lowlands of Scotland. Fägerholm and Fairgerholm are still surnames and place names in modern Scandinavia.

The Scandinavian languages were brought to the British Isles by waves of invaders, traders and settlers from Scandinavia and north - central Europe. The Scandinavian languages had a significant effect on the development of the English language. Many basic words have later Scandinavian origins, for example, anger, sky, sister and egg.

During the period of Scandinavian invasion and settlement (and for a long time afterwards) the landscape of the British Isles would have looked very different compared to today. Much has changed with drainage and the expansion of cultivation. Originally, many areas of higher land would have existed within fen or marshland. Some of these may have appeared to be fair or pleasant.



There was not a single invasion of "vikings", but a series of raids, invasions, conquests and settlements by people from Scandinavia and north - central Europe. The later people were mainly from Norway and Denmark (which included southern Sweden). Sometimes they came direct from their homelands and sometimes from their new lands within the British Isles; previously established areas were re-invaded. By the end of the Scandinavian era there was a complex pattern of ethnic groups in which the terms Norwegian, Dane and Anglo-Saxon had become relative. The map shows a very simplistic version of the invasions and main areas of settlement. It does not include areas of influence, tribute and raiding, political control or the extent of the original inhabitants (Britons, Irish, Scots and Picts).

Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded around 450 AD following the departure of the Romans. They established seven kingdoms. The Britons were either absorbed or displaced to Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and Brittany. Danes pillaged the coast from the late 700s. Later they settled. Danelaw was established over a large part of England north of a line from Chester to London. The Danes established their Five Boroughs at Nottingham, Derby, Lincoln, Stamford and Leicester. York was also a major centre. Political control of Danelaw was fluid - switching between local rulers and Anglo-Saxon kings seeking a unified country.

Further Danish invasions led to Sven Forkbeard securing the whole of England in 1013. His son, Cnut re-conquered it and was crowned King in 1016. England formed part of his North Sea Empire.  Danish control continued until 1042. England returned to Anglo-Saxon rule and a Norwegian attempt to seize the country in 1066 was defeated by Harold II. Nineteen days later Harold was defeated by the Normans - themselves partly descended from Danish Vikings - at Hastings. Danish attacks continued until 1075 in support of English rebels and Danish claims to the crown.

Norwegians settled the Orkneys, the Shetlands, the Faeroes, the Hebrides, Cumbria and parts of mainland Scotland, Wales and Ireland. There was a large migration of Irish Norwegians to Scotland and Cumbria around 900 AD and several attempts were made to link the possessions around Dublin with the latter. Norwegian raids continued to at least 1153 with local raids from the Scottish islands until the thirteenth century. It took until the fifteenth century for all the Scottish islands to come under the control of the Kingdom of Scotland. The invasions of Ireland were less extensive and less long-lasting. Other invasions from Scandinavia secured the Faeroes, Iceland, Greenland, Normandy, Rus (Novgorod / Kiev) and areas around the Baltic and White Seas. There were attacks in the Mediterranean.  The Scandinavians invaded and settled large areas of Europe and beyond, but, apart from the previously uninhabited islands of Iceland, Greenland and the Faeroes, they were quickly absorbed by the local populations. In England and Rus it took 150 years. In Normandy it was even quicker.


Sources of the surnames

Although the language of our name came from Scandinavia it does not prove that our family came to the British Isles on a Viking long boat. It is more likely that we picked the name up later, after Scandinavian words had become absorbed into English.

Hereditary surnames are a relatively recent development, particularly for ordinary people. Although surnames did exist in Anglo-Saxon times it wasn't until the late middle ages that they started to be become common - spreading outwards from the south east until nearly everyone had a surname by 1400. One of the most frequent types of surname was derived from where people lived. However, several people in a village could be named after the same thing and not be related - leading to all sorts of problems for genealogists. Given the meaning of our surname it is likely that our ancestors acquired it by either:

1. borrowing the name from land they worked, farmed or owned or lived nearby

2. borrowing the name from their lord or master, although this raises a further question of
    where the lord or master acquired the name.

Exactly why, when and where we gained the name is unknown. but it is most likely that our early ancestors where living next to a 'fair isle' and became associated with it (see Meaning above).  It is also possible that the surname started in many different locations, but this seems unlikely given the early concentration of the surname in just two areas - to the east of Nottingham and in Edinburgh.


England - Nottinghamshire - fields & bridge

The earliest known hereditary use of the family surnames in England occurs in the parish of Lowdham, which is located to the north east of Nottingham and, also, covers Caythorpe and Gunthorpe. With the large number of family members living in Nottinghamshire from the 1700s it is tempting to assume that the English version of the name started here.

In the small village of Caythorpe there were two fields called Fairholme Close or Upper Fairholme Close and Nether Fairholme Close.  Later, they formed part of Wolfe's Farm.  The fields were located between the road in the village and Dover Beck. Also, we have found reference to a ffearholme bridge in 1690. Fearholme is one of the alternative spellings of the surname. The bridge was on the road from Nottingham to Newark, somewhere near Gunthorpe, which is the village to the south west of Caythorpe. It is not obvious where the bridge was located or which river or stream it crossed.

Any relationship between the family, the field and the bridge is unclear at the moment.


Scotland - South Lanarkshire

The location of the source of the Scottish version of the surname is less clear, but in the parish of Larkhall, to the south east of Glasgow, is a house and an area of land called Fairholm. According to Burke's Landed Gentry a junior branch of the Hamilton family has held land called Fairholm from at least 1492. The house is the seat of, what is now, the Stevenson-Hamilton family. It is situated close to a sharp bend of the Avonwater which is a tributary of the Clyde. In Scotland, the finger of land in such a bend is often called a haugh or holm, hence part of the name of the house and the estate.

If the land was not actually named by the Scandinavians then its name was the result of their influence on language in the area - probably linked to their trade route from Dublin toYork via the Clyde and Forth rivers. There are a few other Scandinavian based place-names South of Glasgow including the hamlets of Crookedholm and Greenholm. There are Fairholms or Fairholmes in Scotland today. It is possible that their ancestors had lived on the Fairholm estate and some families, perhaps not even related to each other, may have taken the name, as was sometimes the custom in Scotland. They then moved to Edinburgh, which is where they are first found in parish records. However, this theory has not yet been substantiated.