The Origin of Yeltz
Here's an summary from the excellent Yeltzmen book that's the best explanation we have! ...
What better way to kickstart our series of historical articles than with one of Halesowen’s biggest mysteries: the origin of the nickname ‘Yeltz’. Over the years, many theories have been proposed, but each have their own unique problems. Here, I attempt not to convince you of any one theory, but instead to present the facts and let you choose for yourself. So, it’s up to you: where did the word ‘Yeltz’ come from?
Theory One: ‘Yalas’ to ‘Yeltz’ Theory
One of the most popular and plausible theories is an evolutionary one. Halesowen used to be called Hales Owen. Before that, Hales, and before that, Halas. Because the Black Country accent tends to change ‘H’ sounds into ‘Y’ sounds (i.e., “on yer yed son” rather than “on your head son,”) Halas became ‘Yalas’ which eventually became ‘Yeltz’.
This theory owes its origin to local historian Frank Somers whose 1932 book Halas, Hales, Hales Owen first traced the town’s name back to the Domesday Book. A 1969 article in the Birmingham Daily Post adds to Somers’ theory by arguing that ‘Yalas’ went through a series of transformations, including ‘Yeles’ and ‘Yelz’, before reaching ‘Yeltz’ as we know it today. This would certainly help explain the rather large jump between ‘Yalas’ and ‘Yeltz’ that goes otherwise unexplained.
However, this theory is not perfect. The biggest issue is that the changes Somers talks about happened almost a millennium ago. Given that ‘Yeltz’ only came into prominent use during the 19th century, there is no explanation for the 800 years of missing etymological history. Therefore, the idea that the word ‘Yeltz’ sprang fully formed into the Black Country dialect during the industrial revolution seems, at best, optimistic. What’s more, this explanation is heavy, long-winded, and fails to take into account the fact that language changes fairly slowly.
Ye Earls Theory
Another similar, but less popular, explanation is the Ye Earls theory. During the 19th century, the Earl of Dudley owned much of the land surrounding Halesowen. This land became known to residents as Ye Earls’ land, meaning “belonging to the Earl.” Eventually, Ye Earls became ‘Yeltz’, a far simpler and more direct etymological explanation that actually could have taken place during the 19th century.
But this theory too is not without its flaws. For one, there is only one written report of this account, that of a 1969 article in the Birmingham Daily Post. And while it is certainly a more easily digestible theory than the ‘Yalas’ to ‘Yeltz’ saga, it too suffers with a certain etymological optimism. It is perhaps for this reason that so few have heard of this origin story.
In March 2019, Black Country Bugle writer John Workman published an often-cited article titled “Reviving the possible origins of the word Yeltz.” Workman’s theory was that the James Grove Button company, which operated from a factory on the Stourbr*dge Road from 1866 until 2012, created the name ‘Yeltz’ (originally spelt ‘Yelts’) for one its buttons. The button featured the head of a buffalo with ‘Yelts Brand’ written around it.
Once again, however, this origin story immediately runs into problems. Mainly, simple correlation does not equal causation. It seems most probable that Mr. Grove did not invent the name ‘Yeltz’ but simply appropriated it for use on his buttons. Even if this were not the case, Workman is unable to provide a compelling reason why Mr. Grove would have come up with such a name in the first place. His best explanation is that factory workers would shout “I yet doing it” and, over the noise of loud machinery, “yet” eventually became ‘Yeltz’. But just like the Ye Earls theory, there seems to be no other evidence in support of this story, and, like the other theories, the etymological logic just does not seem to add up.
There are dozens of other theories, from Hungarian superstar Pungus Catfich to the name being a variant of “Up the Yellows.” But while some theories seem more plausible than others, each has at least one fundamental flaw. So, what is the answer? That, I’m afraid, is for you to figure out for yourself. A more detailed version of this article is soon to be published, so keep your eyes on Halesowen’s social media channels for that. In the meantime, enjoy today’s game, and if you have your own Yeltz theory, please feel free to email it to us: firstname.lastname@example.org.