Select Bernard/Barnard Genealogy

The root of the Bernard and Barnard surnames is the Germanic personal name Bernhard, meaning “hardy bear” as it was comprised of the elements bern meaning “bear” and hard meaning “hardy” or “brave.”

The name was popular among Old Frisian speakers along the German/Dutch coastline.  In the 13th and 14th centuries it vied with Arnold as the most popular personal name in the Netherlands and northern Germany.  Bernhard then spread in different spellings across Europe.

As Bernard the name became particularly widespread in France, largely because of the popularity of two 11th century saints – St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the founder of the Cistercian monastery at Clairvaux, and St. Bernard of Menthon, the founder of Alpine hospices and the patron saint of mountaineers.  

Bernard and Barnard are the principal surname spellings in the English speaking-world.

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Select Bernard/Barnard Ancestry

Bernard is the second most common surname in France after Martin, with numbers around 65,000 today.  It is spread widely across the country.  Bernard was brought by the Normans to England after 1066 and by the French to Canada in the 17th century.

Barnard also came to England and later to America and South Africa.  The origins here were Dutch and, in some cases, Jewish.  One Dutch Barnard family began with the marriage of Izaak Barnard and Johanna Vogelenzang in Scheveningen, Holland in 1751.  Barnard is the 30th most common surname of European origin in South Africa today.

England.  In England Bernards, perhaps because of their French Norman connections, have the older history.

Bernards.   A Bernard family dates from the mid-13th century, and parhaps earlier, at Wansford in the East Riding of Yorkshire where they were landowners.  By the late 14th century these Bernards had settled at Abington in Northamptonshire and they were to remain there until Sir John Bernard sold Abington Hall in 1669.

“Sir John had married as his second wife Elizabeth Hall of Stratford, the last of William Shakespeare’s direct descendants, in 1649.”

Sir Robert Bernard, who grew up at nearby Kingsthorpe, was an MP for Huntingdon and made a baronet in 1662.  Sir Francis Bernard, the unpopular Governor of Massachusetts in the 1760’s, was a descendant.  He too was made a baronet.  The family history was recounted in Napier Higgins’ 1904 book The Bernards of Abington and Nether Winchendon.

The Charles Bernard, a theater manager who had married the actress Annie Allen in London in 1880, was the forebear of a remarkable Bernard family.  After he died in 1896 at the young age of 36, his son Oliver was able to make his mark in the interwar years as an architect and interior designer.  He had three remarkable sons:

  • Oliver Bernard, poet and translator of Rimbaud’s verse into English  
  • Bruce Bernard, photographer and art critic   
  • and Jeffrey Bernard, Soho resident and long-term writer of the column Low Life in the Spectator.

Barnards.  The Barnard name was mainly to be found in London and East Anglia.  Francis Barnard appeared in the Visitations of Essex of 1612.  John Barnard departed Ipswich for New England in 1634.  A later John Bernard started a shipbuilding business at Ipswich and Harwich in the mid-1700’s.  His son William continued his father’s shipbuilding at Deptford on the Thames.  Another William Barnard was a farmer at Harlowbury in Essex from 1807 to 1823.  His diary of those years has been preserved. 

One family of Anglican ministers began with George Barnard who was rector of West Heslerton in Yorkshire from 1615 to 1639.  His grandson William was appointed Bishop of Derry in Ireland.  William’s son Thomas was the Bishop of Limerick and his grandson Andrew an early Governor of Cape Colony, South Africa around the year 1800.

Another line of Anglican ministers – five in this case – began with the Rev. Thomas Barnard, born around 1765, who was the vicar of Great Amwell in Hertfordshire.

There were Jewish Barnards as well.  The first recorded was Philip Barnard, son of Solomon, who was born in Rochford, Essex in 1766.  Many Barnards have descended from Rabbi Daniel Barnard of Canterbury in the early 1800’s. 

Ireland.  The Bernards in county Cork had originally come from Essex in England and first appeared at Bandon in 1659.  Francis Bernard, who became the first Earl of Bandon, demolished the old O’Mahony castle at Bandon in 1788 and built a castellated mansion instead on the site.  The fourth Earl, nicknamed Buckshot Bandon, had this home burnt by the IRA in 1921.

One line of these Bernards settled in London in the late 1700’s and was active in British colonial service.  Francis James Bernard was a founding pioneer of the colony of Singapore.  He left in 1827, abandoning his native-born wife and five children there.  He died sixteen years later in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).

America.  Early English arrivals tended to be Barnards:

  • John Barnard and his family from Ipswich in Suffolk who came to New England on the Elizabeth in 1634 and settled in
    Watertown, Massachusetts.  
  • Robert and Thomas Barnard, brothers from Lowestoft in Suffolk, who came to New England in the 1640’s.  Both met unfortunate ends.  But their lines continued.  
  • Francis Barnard, the maltster from Hadleigh in Suffolk who was one of the first settlers of Hartford, Connecticut in the early 1640’s.
  • while Richard Barnard was a Quaker from Yorkshire who came to Chester later Delaware county, Pennsylvania in 1680.

Robert and Thomas’s descendants, many of whom were whalers, stayed on Nantucket until 1773.  There was then an exit of Barnard families to Guilford county, North Carolina.

Francis’s descendants were to be found in Hadley and Deerfield, Massachusetts.  One line extended to Sheffield, Massachusetts where Frederick Barnard, later President of Columbia University, and John Barnard, a Union general during the Civil War, were born. Some were Loyalists who crossed the border into Canada.

Bernards.   Some early Bernards in America were Huguenot.  Peter and Mary Bernard came to Virginia around the year 1700.  Their son John made his home in Albemarle county.  Later Bernards of this family migrated to Kentucky, Indiana, and Texas.

The next Bernards came to Louisiana from Acadia in French Canada.  The forebears here were two Bernard brothers – Michel and Pierre – who arrived around 1765, although separately with different parties.  These Bernards became a major presence in south Louisiana.  They were joined, in the period until the Civil War, by Bernards from France and elsewhere who had arrived at the port of New Orleans.  Louis Bernard from Brittany, for instance, who had fallen in love with an Acadian girl came in 1785 and stayed.

Canada.  The first Bernard in Canada was probably Andre Bernard, a mason from Poitou who went to work for the French Governor at his fort on Riviere St. Jean in 1641.  Rene Bernard may or may not
have been his son.  Rene made his home at Chignecto in what is now Nova Scotia.  From him the Acadian Bernards were mostly descended.  They were still mainly in the Chignecto area in 1765 when the forced evacuation to Louisiana began.

Acadian Bernards also resettled in Prince Edward Island.  Three Bernard families were reported there in 1828.  Samuel Bernard from a Huguenot family was a Loyalist in New York who had come to Canada in 1787 and later settled in PEI.  His son John became an inn keeper in Wilmot Creek.

Canada had some Barnards.  One line were Loyalists from America, descendants of Francis Barnard.  They established themselves in Quebec City and then moved, in 1859, to British Columbia.  Frank Barnard founded the Barnard’s Express freighting company there in the 1870’s.  His son, Frank Barnard Jr, became the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.

South Africa
.  Several Barnards came to South Africa, including a few from England.  But the most numerous have been the Barnard descendants of Johannes Bernardt of Cologne in Germany.  He had come to the Cape colony in 1708 and farmed in the Mossel Bay area.  The line from his son Adam and Adam’s son Hendrik extended to Dr. Christiaan Barnard, the man who performed the world’s first human heart transplant in 1967

Select Bernard/Barnard Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Select Bernard/Barnard Names

Sir Francis Bernard was the colonial Governor of Massachusetts in the 1760’s.  His attempt to impose new taxes on the colonists was largely responsible for the American Revolution that resulted.
Lady Anne Barnard
was a travel writer and artist.  She is best known as the author of the ballad Auld Robin Gray and of the letters she wrote home while in residence in Cape Town around the year 1800.
Frederick Barnard
was appointed President of Columbia University in New York in 1864.  Columbia’s sister college of Barnard was named after him.

Christian Barnard
was the South African doctor who performed the world’s first human heart transplant in 1967.
Jeffrey Bernard
who died in 1997 was a British journalist best known for his weekly column Low Life in The Spectator that covered his chaotic career and life of alcohol abuse.

Select Bernards/Barnards Today

  • 28,000 in the UK (most numerous in Surrey)
  • 26,000 in America (most numerous in Louisiana)
  • 48,000 elsewhere (most numerous in South Africa)


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