Scholes Family Website


From a Place Name

It is generally accepted that Scholes derives from Old Norse. There are two possibilities.

·         From the word skŕli, meaning hut or shed, or rough shelter, a building however primitive that would serve as a landmark, or as an outlying building of a farm. Over time some shelters became permanent and formed the nucleus of a settlement. Other interpretations are ‘dweller by a hut or shed’, and also ‘shieling’, that is, a pasture to which cattle or sheep are driven for summer grazing.

Skali is one of a number of Scandinavian place-name elements that provide evidence of the clearing of marginal land. 

·         From scala, meaning skull and used for a ‘cwm or hollow in the mountains where a glacier starts’ or a 'hut high up a hill' providing a temporary shelter from the weather. Summer shielings were located around the snow line and hence the word became to be used for a shepherd’s hut.

Scholes is strongly related to scales, which also derived from skali or scala. In fact, the name Scales may well have developed from Scholes with the vowel rounded. It is debatable whether Scholes is a variant of Scales, or vice versa. 

Scholes is both a topographical surname derived from features of the landscape, and a locative surname from the names of specific places. There were three ways in which a surname might have derived from a place name.

·         Where a person lived or was a tenant; when he or she left the village for another place, the name of the village of origin often served local people as an adequate description for the ‘incomer’.

·         A person often adopted the name of a place where he or she owned land.

·         A person could bear the name of the place where he was born.

There are five places of significant size and several hamlets and smaller places in Northern England called Scholes. While there are no definitive records it seems likely that some of these were settled long before anyone in England acquired a surname.

The great majority of villages in England are listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 but the coverage of northern counties is relatively sparse largely because at the time of the survey much of the land was unsuitable for use as agricultural use or as a result of the depredation caused by the Wars in the North in the 20 years following the Norman Conquest. None of the places called Scholes is listed.

The surname Scholes and its variants first appear In Lancashire in registers of 1285 and in late 13th century tax returns, and in Yorkshire in the Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield. The period 1250-1350 was the period during which hereditary surnames were beginning to be adopted in England by land-owning families and some other social classes; many of these early surnames were derived from the place where the family lived. In the West Riding, most family names became hereditary during the period 1275-1425 (Redmonds 1973).


From Other Sources

Contrary to the generally accepted Norse origin, Bardsley (1980) suggests that Scholes may have derived from ‘at the school or ‘schooles’. In fact, the Old English word scol  comes from the Latin schola (school). This seems dubious and a Scandinavian origin seems much more likely, especially in the north of England. 

Another suggestion is that the name originates from scule or scula, which in turn derive from the Old Norse skuli and Old Danish skule.

One other possibility is that Scholes is of Norman origin, with the surname Scoles having derived from Scoville, a family from the village of Escoville or Echoville, near Caen, some members of which came over with William the Conqueror. In England the ‘E’ was dropped and the name took the form of Scoville. This family acquired land in the parish of Corfe Castle in Dorset the 13th century.  The family flourished in the County until the early 18th century although the estate of ‘Scowles’ passed out of their possession at the time of Henry IV. Scowles Farm, 2 miles south of Corfe Castle, is known today as Scoles Manor and has the remains of a medieval chapel probably from the original homestead. It is a listed Grade 2 building and, according to Peter Bell, the present owner, is reputed to have a ghost! 

Sco(w)les Farm is mentioned extensively by H W Brainard in his Survey of Scovils or Scovills in England and America; this book was privately published in 1915 and is being transcribed by Winston Scoville of London, Ontario for web publication. However, there is no reference to the usage of ‘Scoles’ and it seems likely that ‘Scoles’ is simply a corruption of Scowles quite unrelated to the locative surname Scoles or Scholes.


By Adoption

Immigrants to the United States (and to a lesser extent the UK) often assimilated their surnames by a phonetic rendering or by adopting a similar sounding English name. The names Scholes and Scoles were adopted mainly by settlers from Germany and The Netherlands with surnames such as Scholl, Scholles, Schols, Scholsz, Scholtz, Scholz, Schollass and so on.


Spelling Variations

Scoles, Scoales and Schoales were at one time common variants of Scholes. Of these surnames Scoles is the one that occurs most frequently today (especially in the USA) with few occurrences of the other names. Bardsley (1980) suggests that Schoales is an American variant.

There are many less-familiar variants in the International Genealogical Index (IGI). These surnames were probably dialect variations, phonetic spellings or simply misspellings in parish registers and other documents. They include:

Schols, Scholas, Schooles, Scholle(s), Scholl(e)s, Scholer, Scolus, Scolas, Scoole, Scolis, Scolys, Scols, Scolls, Scoyles, Shols, Shole, Sholes, and Skoles.

The archaic variants have largely disappeared in England having been replaced in the mid 19th century by ‘Scholes’ or ‘Scoles’.


Related Surnames      

A number of other names with a similar derivation are related to Scholes.


This name bears the strongest relationship to Scholes and has already been mentioned. There are a number of places called Scales in north-western English counties; and it is also a fairly common element of other place-names. Scales is also found in Norfolk and it was common in the county as far back as the 13th century

Wainwright (1975) lists two early references to place names: Eschales c.1185, and Scales 1268 mentioned in The Chartulary of Cockerstand Abbey. The adoption of Scales as a surname dates back to the same period and, like Scholes, it comes from the Old Norse, skali  and scala, words that passed into Middle English as scale.

Reaney (1961) groups together Scale and Scales with Schoales, Scholes and Scoles as a family of surnames. In medieval sources different spellings are often used for the same individual. For example, William del Scholes of Pentwortham (near Preston), an early 14th century landowner, is also referred to as William del Schales (McKinley 1982). There are some examples in the IGI of Scholes being wrongly entered as Scales, and Boyd’s Marriage Index transposes Scholes as Skales in some cases.

Variants include Scale, Scailes, Scayles, Skale, Skales, Skayles and Skailes.


A surname derived from skali and the Old English erg, probably ‘dweller by the shieling with a hut’. Variants include Scholer, Schollar, Scholler, Scouler and Scouller.


A common surname in Lancashire and Yorkshire, Schofield comes from skali and the Old English feld, probably ‘dweller by a field with a hut’. Variants include Schoefield, Scholefield, Scholfield, Scolfield, Scofield.


Another common surname in Yorkshire, which comes from skali and the Old English eg, probably ‘dweller by the low lying land with a hut’. Variants include Schooley, Scolay, Scoley, Scholay and Scholaye, some of which developed in the 16-17th centuries into Scholes or Scoles.


This relatively uncommon name may have derived from Scoles via Scoyles, but it is more likely to be a quite distinct name that came over to Norfolk with the Danes (Skoyles 1994). Many Skoyles have resided in the Yarmouth area of Norfolk since the 16th century. However, Redmonds (1973) has suggested that the name is a dialect variation of Scholes.

Edward Skoyles has researched Skoyles and also Skoils, Scoles and Skayles. His suggestion is that Skoyles (and possibly Scholes) came from the ancient names Scule, Skule or Scula, or from Escul(e) mentioned in Domesday. In fact, Reaney (1976) suggests that the late 13th century name Scowle or Scoule may have come from Scule. These names are all from the Old Norse skuli and Old Danish skule, probably from skyla, ‘to protect’. There are references to Scule dating back to 930-947; and Earl Sculle ruled in Wicklow during the reign of King Edgar. 

The surnames Scowle and Scoule in 13th century registers may be spelling variants of Scule/Skule; other spellings such as Scoule(s) and Schoule(s) are found in the International Genealogical Index (IGI).

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