What does the word Satterly mean? Where does the word come from? Has it’s meaning changed over time? How are the variant spellings related to each other? I seek to answer those questions here.
There are many variant spellings, but likely only one name. Satterlee, Satterly, Satterley, and Saturley are the most common in that order. All of them are generally pronounced the same way. People with the name are most commonly found in the United States, England, Canada, and Australia.
I believe based on the research I have read the name either comes from either Satterleigh, Devon, England, or Satterley, Suffolk, England. I still have not found enough evidence to say which one.
If the name is from Devon the Satter is a bit of a mystery probably lost to time while the lee, ley, or ly means a clearing in the woods. If it is from Suffolk it means southern pasture. There are also other possibilities that are less likely, but just keep this quote in mind as you learn about the name.
In fact, the study of English surnames, being a region of knowledge which has never been scientifically explored, is a regular happy hunting-ground for the unauthorized amateur. Even men of learning, who should know how dangerous it is to stray from their own sphere of knowledge, occasionally trespass disastrously.
— Ernest Weekly †
Updated July 30, 2022
Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0
Satterly appears to be just one spelling of the same name. There are so many spellings, but the most common are Satterly, Satterley, and Satterlee. This list below is a compilation of all the variants by other researchers. I suspect some of these may not belong on the list, but I haven’t personally come across all of them yet.
The International Phonetic Alphabet allows us to write how a word sounds. That assumes you know IPA and that I know how to correctly write it. I only know one way to pronounce Satterly or the other variants correctly. To the best of my ability the IPA is /'sætɚliː/. Or in a plainer way it would be sat as in he sat down, tur as in turn, and lee.
Interviewers always introduce American author Tom Satterly the same way. Avid shooters talk about Scott Satterlee’s reloading method using the same pronunciation. Saturley is also the same.
The name appears to always be pronounced the same and it’s not just in the United States. The BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names lists Satterleigh as 'sætərlī. In Australia the real estate company Satterley puts out promotional videos with the same pronunciation, but with a bit of Australian twang.
Now, everyone reading this with the name I wish you luck in finding anyone who can pronounce it correctly on the first try. I typically hear Sutterlee and Slattery.
There are a few theories or guesses as to the origins of the Satterly surname. Some of them have more evidence than others. I will go through each one with supporting evidence along with it’s flaws.
Satterly is a local name of Satterleigh, Devon, England
Almost all contemporary surname dictionaries say the Satterly name is from Satterleigh, England. If they are right, the name is a locational surname or local name. Many Satterlys including the variant spellings can trace their genealogy back to Satterleigh in Devon, England.
That seems to be the extent of the evidence. People with a similar name lived in that place for hundreds of years. Long enough for the name to have originated there. Sounds reasonable except some believe there was a migration of Satterlee or Satterleys from Sotterley in Suffolk, England who came to Satterleigh after the Wars of the Roses. Some of those people include Herbert L. Satterlee, lawyer and once owner of Sotterley in Maryland; Goldie Satterlee-Moffatt, lifelong genealogist; and Henry Yates Satterlee, an Episcopal Bishop.
How old is the placename Satterleigh in Devon? No one seems to know the exact date. It does appear in the Domesday book of 1086. So the place name Satterleigh predates any supposed migration from Suffolk by several hundred years.
Satterly is a local name of Sotterley, Suffolk, England
Another claim is that Satterly is from Sotterley in Suffolk, England. The possibility of a Suffolk connection has come up for decades if not centuries. After backing the losing side in the Wars of the Roses the Satterlees or Satterleys of Sotterley in Suffolk, England, lost their land by order of the King. Later, a group of Satherlys in Devon were found using the same coat of arms as those in Suffolk. Based on that information one source made the assumption a migration from Sotterley to Satterleigh happened.
In the 1960s Reverend R. D. Thompson of Kent, England, did research into this and claims it is not true. He could find no evidence of migration of people from Sotterley to Satterleigh and believed any lines of a Sotterley or related surname died out.
The 1846 book The History and Antiquities of the County of Suffolk is at least partially the source of many of the claims to a Suffolk connection. But the author Alfred Suckling also thought the line died out. Maybe Suckling is also the real source to why Thompson said what he did. Making it even more confusing there are still others who disagree. There are genealogies and descriptions in several books showing or describing a direct line all the way back to Suffolk.
Satterly is from France
Some of the earliest usage of the name uses de for example, de Saterleye. In the 1200s the de meant from or from Saterleye. So if Satterly is a local name then maybe the name simply means someone from Satterleigh. At least two surname dictionaries say just that.
In the 1960s Reverend Elbert Elroi Satterlee believed the de means the name must have spent time in France. A French connection is interesting because in the early 1900s, John Charles Satterlee of Chicago, Illinois, said a group of people lived in the hills of France and that these hills were called Satterls and the valleys called lees. According to him those Satterlees followed Roger Williams to America.
Around the 1960s to 1970s genealogist Goldie Satterlee Moffatt desperately searched for John Satterlee’s work. She only came across bits and pieces pointing to its existence.
Today, despite the massive reach of internet I found nothing. Based on his odd writing style and grandiose claims I think the research never existed. I think instead he saw some another book called History and Antiquities of the County of Suffolk from 1846 and maybe some old surname dictionaries and ran with that information. But as the saying goes the absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.
Satterly is from Norway
Then there is a connection to Norway. According to Marion Pease Satterlee the name originates in Norway and came to England around 1000 AD. There isn’t much information in Moffatt’s book only some pamphlets and second hand accounts.
While there are some Saeterlis in Norway I don’t know of any connection to them. If it is true the connection would probably be to Sotterley as there is no evidence their influence made it as far west as Satterleigh. I’m not sure if Sotterley is older than Satterleigh.
Satterly is an English local name of either Satterleigh in Devon or Sotterley in Suffolk. But which one is it? I still seek to answer the question that has been asked for centuries.
Both places are made up of two words - satter and leah. Let us look at each of those words and what sources claim about their origins. Leah is the easiest one and all sources agree on its meaning for both place names. The problem is the first half so I will start there.
Satter in Satterleigh is the Anglo-Saxon god Sætere, Saetere, or Saetor
For the Anglo-Saxon god claim to work it first requires the existence of an Anglo-Saxon god named Sætere, Saetere, or Saetor. The earliest appearance of Saetere is in the 1492 book Cronecken der Sassen where he is called Krodo. Here is where the problems begin.
Many references say Saetere is an alias for the Norse god Loki. Looking at Scandinavian influence on place names in England it seems they probably never made it as far as Satterleigh in large numbers. Maybe the language influence made it that far, but the existence of Saetere itself is a problem.
Others link Saetere to Saturn and even claim Saturday was named after this god. A few doubted Saetere even existed and instead believed that Saturday was most likely Saturn’s Day.
Those researchers and authors turned out to be correct as Saturday is now accepted as being named after the god Saturn and not Saetere. It seems to me the most likely explanation is that the Anglo-Saxon god Saetere never existed and I think the Satter-Saetere link is just as unlikely. This connection is the most popular explanation of what Satter means in older books.
Satter or Sæter in Satterleigh is a given name
In 1858, Robert Ferguson in English Surnames and Their Place in the Teutonic Family doubted any connection to an Anglo-Saxon deity and instead suggests that Satter may be a man’s name. Ferguson says Satter How, England, is named after a man named Satter and that How is old Norse for grave-mound.
This one is probably not true. One of the documents for Satter How was a forgery and there was no one with the name Satter.
Satter in Satterleigh is the Old English word saetere, sǣtere, or saeterd meaning robber, waylayer, or spy
The Old English saetere, sǣtere, or saeterd does in fact mean robber, waylayer, or spy. This explanation has been copied countless times across many books. It will likely be the first and maybe the only explanation you will find elsewhere.
This one is little better than a guess based on a few places containing the name of a crime. It’s possible, but unlikely at least according to paper The Place-Name Satterleig.
Satter in Satterleigh is the Old English word seter an antecedent of the Middle English plant-name seter- "hellebore"
Carole Hough in the paper The Place-Name Satterleigh proposes satter might be from the Old English plant name for hellebore. She provides plenty of circumstantial support, but stresses it is only a suggestion and not fact. It may not matter, but there is a native species of hellebore named Helleborus foetidus that grows across Devon, England, and it can grow in wooded areas.
Satter in Satterleigh is the Old Norse word seter, setter, setr, or sætr meaning a dwelling, house, or seat
Maybe the Norse word seter was used in English place names, but according to The Place-Name Satterleigh this claim is unlikely since Scandinavian influence didn’t reach Satterleigh.
Satterly is Sotterley
Sotterley also spelled Satterley may be the origin of the name if the migration from Suffolk is true. What would the name mean then? The explanation given books is southern lea or southern pasture. Likely because Sotterley was south of somewhere important. They point to a place called Beccles which was only a few miles north of Sotterley.
Lea, leah, lege, leigh in Satterleigh and Sotterley
So there is quite a wide variety of interpretations for the first half, but what about leigh? There is a consensus that the second half of Satterly is lea, leah, lēah, leáh, lege, leigh, or ley which is an Old English word meaning woodland clearing, open place in a wood, or glade. In English topography the word is generally applied to an open field, meadow, or pasture.
More references can be found in Satterly references.
Weekly, Ernest. Surnames. page 5. 1916. https://archive.org/details/surnames00weekiala
Cronecken der Sassen. 1492. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Earliest_appearance_of_Krodo_Sachsenchronik_1492.jpg
Simon, Joan. Helleborus foetidus. 2016-02-06. Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike 2.0 Generic. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Helleborus_foetidus_(24851892731).jpg
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