Barnes Surname Meaning, History & Origin

 Select Barnes Meaning

The most obvious source for the surname Barnes is locational, describing someone who lives by a barn.  However, Barnes may have earlier and very different Saxon or Norman origins.  The Saxon word broon, meaning “warrior,” or the Norse personal name bjorn, meaning “bear” or “warrior,” gave rise to early forms of the name such as Barn, Barne, and Berne that were prevalent in pre-Domesday times.

The Barnes surname probably had different origins, depending on where it occurred in England.

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England.  The place-name Barnes near London appeared as Berne in the Domesday Book and gave rise to some early Barnes surnames:

  • John Barnes was a London mercer and Lord Mayor of London in 1371.  This John Barnes “gave a chest with three locks and one thousand marks therein, to be lent to poor young men.”
  • while George Barne was a London haberdasher around the year 1500.  His son George was one of the merchant adventurers of his age and Lord Mayor of London in 1552, as
    was his son George in 1586.

The Barnes name also cropped up at an early time in Essex – at Writtle near Chelmsford and Thoby and also at Barking.  William Barnes of Thoby prospered at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530’s. He held land from Henry VIII in the royal forest of Tillingham on the Essex coast.

Henry Barnes was a cloth-maker in London in the 1700’s whose grandson Thomas Barnes became the editor of The Times in 1817 and established its reputation as a newspaper.  Meanwhile one family history recounts the Barnes who were farm workers near Heckfield in Hampshire in the late 17th century and moved to London in the 1860’s.  By the time of the 1881 English census, an estimated 35% of the Barnes in England was in London and the southeast.

Roughly the same share was to be found in the north, mainly in
Lancashire. Richard Barnes, born at Bold near St. Helens in Lancashire in 1532, became the Anglican bishop of Durham. His sister Catherine married Francis Bold of Bold Hall.  His son Barnabe, a poet, was a contemporary of Shakespeare in

From a later generation came James Rothwell Barnes who was influential in the growth of Farnworth as an industrial town in Lancashire in the 19th century.  He built Farnworth’s first steam weaving mill and in 1832 introduced cotton spinning there.  In the 1881 census the Barnes name was particularly prevalent in Haslingden and in Accrington, towns some 20 miles north of Manchester.

. The Barnes clan in Aberdeenshire derived its name from the Gaelic word bearn meaning “gap.”  The Barnes name also cropped up in Dundee.  Some believed that the Scots Barnes have Viking heritage.

Ireland.  Barnes in Ireland probably came originally from either England or Scotland.  The Barnes name has occurred in Ulster and in Offaly and Waterford.

America.  The earliest Barnes in America were called Thomas Barnes, whether he were Thomas of Hartford, Thomas of New Haven, or Thomas of Hingham, Massachusetts.  Thomas of New Haven who came as a boy has left probably the largest number of Barnes descendants in America.

Meanwhile three Barnes brothers were in Long Island by the late 1640’s.  Joshua Barnes is seen as one of the founders of Southampton, Long Island.  From another line came Richard Barnes, one of the East Greenwich, Connecticut.

Abraham Barnes from Surrey came to America around 1700 and settled in St. Mary’s county, Maryland.  It was said that he brought with him a portrait of Colonel John Barnes of the British army who was probably an ancestor.  His descendants became prominent in Maryland society.  The Barnes home in Leonardtown, now styled Tudor Hall, was completed in 1745.

Their home in Leonardtown, now styled Tudor Hall, was completed in 1745.

Some Scots Irish Barnes were early settlers in Kentucky.  Brinsley Barnes, born in Dublin, was one of the heroes of the Revolutionary War. His descendants through Edward Barnes were to be found in Estill county:

“The defining characteristic of these Barnes has been the ‘Barnes temper.’  This peculiarly Barnes trait, believed to have been inherited through Viking blood, has caused the demise of more than a few family members. The tendency for male members of the clan to ‘die with their boots on’ has continued into the modern era.”

.  J.B. Barnes, according to family lore, came to Newfoundland from Waterford in Ireland in the 1760’s. J.B. Barnes and Company became prominent shipbuilders in St. John’s.  His grandson Richard was active in local politics in the 1840’s, but died at a young age.  William Morris Barnes was a sea captain who later wrote an autobiography entitled When Ships Were Ships.

In 1866 William Barnes ran away from home in Somerset at the age of fourteen and ended up in Newfoundland as a fisherman for Newman and Company at Head Bay d”Espoir.  His descendants held a family reunion there in 2013.

John Barnes was among the Loyalists that had come by ship from New York to Shelburne, Nova Scotia in 1783.  He had been a distiller in Trenton, New Jersey and the last colonial sheriff of Hunterdon county.


Select Barnes Miscellany

The Barnes of Writtle.  The Barnes of Writtle near Chelmsford in Essex were originally Berners and were said to have been descended from Hugh de Berners whose name had appeared in the 1086 Domesday Book.

The first of these Berners was probably Thomas Berners, born in Writtle around the year 1360.  The family held the manor of Turges or Sturgeons.  John Berners or Barnes of Turges died in Writtle in 1525.His son John Barnes sold the estate soon afterwards and moved to Hertfordshire.  John’s brother William prospered at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries and was able to acquire for himself lands in Essex and elsewhere.

Barnes in Haslingden.  Haslingden is a town in what was once the forest of Rossendale some twenty miles north of Manchester.  The Barnes name first appeared there in 1557 when Ralph, Isabel and William Barnes were recorded as letting 21 acres to farm.  Barnes were yeoman farmers in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Joseph Barnes is thought to have left Haslingden for New England around the year 1694.

By the late 18th century, handloom weaving had become an important occupation in that area and for Barnes.  For example:

  • Richard Barnes of Haslingden specified in his will of 1788 that “I do hereby order my executors that they give and deliver to Henry Barnes, son of John Barnes, one pair of woollen looms with the implements thereof belonging and to remain his and his heirs forever.”
  • while James Barnes in the 1798 rate survey at Haslingden Grane was recorded as a weaver at his cottage there.

The 19th century found a Barnes family as inn-keepers in Haslingden, first in 1809 and later, at the New Black Dog Inn, in 1868.  By the time of the 1881 census the town of Haslingden had the highest concentration of the Barnes name in England.

The Barnes Memorial in Farnworth.  James Rothwell Barnes from Bolton had established one of the first cotton mills in the nearby village of Farnworth in 1828 and it was his son, Thomas, who took over and further expanded the business after his father’s death in 1849.

In 1860 Thomas announced his intention of providing a park for the community.  The park was built and handed over in 1864 in a ceremony that would have been a red-letter day in a town the size of Liverpool or Manchester, let alone a small village with a population of just 8,000.  The platform contained some of Lancashire’s most powerful and influential figures who had all come to see Gladstone open the park and, of course, speak.

In 1895 Thomas Barnes was still alive and the local authorities decided to honor him with a bronze statue depicting him at the time of the park’s opening.

Barnes in Long Island.  William Barnes of East Winch in Norfolk was reported to have had eighteen children by two wives. A tradition handed down by Barnes descendants is that three of the sons and two of the daughters by his second wife came to New England sometime in the 1630’s.  The sons were said to have been Joshua, Charles and William.  The daughters have not been traced. The three Barnes brothers eventually made their way to Long Island.  Joshua was first recorded there in 1649, arriving in Southampton from Cape Cod by boat.  He made his home in Southampton and died there sometime in the 1690’s.

Charles and William were clearly brothers (although some have disputed whether Joshua was in fact their brother).  Charles was the first school teacher in East Hampton.  William had a less happy time.  He and his wife were divorced in 1648 (an almost unheard-of matter in those days) and he also fell out with Charles.  He returned to England in 1658 and died three years later.  Charles and his family later settled in Middletown, Connecticut.

Colonel Barnes at Leonardtown.  The Georgian-style Tudor Hall mansion overlooks Breton Bay in Maryland.  It was built by Colonel Abraham Barnes on a 1,100 acre Tidewater plantation that shared boundaries with the port and county seat of Leonardtown.

The house, started sometime before 1744, was small with a central hall and a room on either side.  The second floor had dormered bedrooms and there were outhouses, typical of plantation homes at that time, containing a kitchen, laundry unit, a garden house, and slave quarters.

Colonel Barnes was active in defending the port of Leonardtown against English attacks in 1775 but died later on in the Revolutionary War.  His estate was bequeathed to his youngest son Richard. Tudor Hall was sold to the Key family in 1817.  It now houses the St. Mary’s Historical Society. 

Captain William Morris Barnes.  Captain William Morris Barnes was born in 1850 into a shipowning family in St Johns, Newfoundland.  He first went to sea when he was only eleven.  His career seemed predestined and by the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a Liverpool company, serving in their sailing ships working a triangular passage to St Johns, the Brazils and back to Liverpool.

He tried to ‘swallow the anchor’ when he married.  But running a grocery store was too mundane and he soon went back to sea, transferring his skills to the now dominant steamships.

At the outbreak of the First World War, even though he was 64, he promptly volunteered for service.  The authorities told him to go home as he was too old.  But he kept pestering them until they eventually gave in.   During his war he was mined or torpedoed three times.  On the last occasion he was badly injured and spent three days adrift in an open boat.

His various adventures were the subject of an autobiography When Ships Were Ships, written by Hilda Renbold Wortman from Barnes’s own stories and recollections when he was 79.  The book came out in 1930. Their collaboration became the inspiration for Denys Wortman’s popular cartoon character of the Depression era, Mopey Dick.   Barnes himself died four years later in 1934 in New York.

Misfortune followed the Barnes family after his death.  Everything was lost during the Depression and the Barnes boys were sent away to an orphanage.  One Barnes ran away at 14 and joined the US Merchant Marine as a cabin boy. History obviously repeating itself!


Select Barnes Names

Robert Barnes  was a Protestant reformer who was burnt at the stake for his beliefs in 1540.
Thomas Barnes was editor of The Times from 1817 to 1841 and made it a newspaper of repute.
Sydney Barnes from Staffordshire is regarded as one of the best cricket bowlers who has ever lived.
William Barnes joined forces with Clifford Noble in New York in 1917 to start the Barnes & Noble book chain.
Clive Barnes was the renowned theater critic for the New York Times from 1978 until his death in 2008.
John Barnes was a Jamaican-born footballer who played for England in the 1980’s.

Select Barnes Numbers Today

  • 64,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 84,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 37,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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