Garner Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Garner Surname Meaning

There are French explanations, more than one, for the English surname Garner.  

The name could have derived from the French word gernier meaning “granary” (and describe someone who was in charge of a grain storehouse); or from the personal name Garnier brought by the Normans; or be a contraction of the Gardiner surname.

The Gardiner-to-Garner contraction might well have accounted for many of these Garners, but may have occurred at a later date. Gardiner, derived from the northern French word gardin, was an occupational name for the person responsible for cultivating the food from the garden. It was in the 16th and 17th centuries that the Gardiner name started being shortened to Gardner and, in some cases, to Garner.

Garner Surname Resources on The Internet

Garner Surname Ancestry

  • from England (West Midlands and Northwest)
  • to America, New Zealand and Australia

England. Some early sightings of the Garner name were in East Anglia. Geoffrey Gerner was recorded in Essex in 1272.

However, the later concentration of the name was to be found further north in a westward arc of the country – from Leicestershire in the Midlands onto Staffordshire and Cheshire and then to Lancashire. These four counties accounted for 45% of all the Garners in the country in the 1881 census.

LeicestershireThe Garner name was cropping up in the 18th century in villages around the county – in Burbage near Hinckley, Hoby near Melton Mowbray, and Fleckney near Harborough. Three prominent figures in Primitive Methodism – the Revs. John, William, and James Garner – grew up in the early 1800’s in the village of East Leake near Loughborough.

Staffordshire.  The Garners of Lane End were a notable family in Stoke during the 18th and 19th centuries. A large tomb in the grounds of the Church of St. Peter Ad Vincula commemorated members of the family who died in 1789 and 1837. Robert Garner and his son Robert had been prominent potters in nearby Longton.

Cheshire.  Garners, according to the writer Alan Garner, have been living at Alderley Edge near Macclesfield since the late 16th century. They were stonemasons and blacksmiths. Their local knowledge fed Alan Garner’s imagination and he created a fantasy world of the area in his award-winning novels.

Lancashire. Garners have been more numerous in Lancashire but less conspicuous. The name was to be found in the early/mid 1700’s in Northenden and Timperley, now suburbs of Manchester.

America. John Garner is thought to have arrived in Virginia as a young lad from Shrewsbury in England possibly around 1650. He married Susanna Keene in 1660 and they settled in the Northern Neck of Virginia in Westmoreland county where John was a tobacco planter. His line was covered in the 1972 book The Garner-Keene Families of Northern Neck by Ruth Ritchie and Sudie Rucker Wood.

One line through a grandson John Garner, also a tobacco farmer, led in the 1760’s to the Garners of Moore and Randolph county, North Carolina. The Garner House in Moore county, still standing, was built by either John or his son Lewis.

However, the main line remained in Virginia until after the Revolutionary War. Afterwards there was a scattering, some heading west to Tennessee and Texas and others south to the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama.

One Gardiner line that had come to Maryland became Garner in the early 1700’s. From John Garner, a planter in Charles county, came Captain Hezekiah Garner who fought in the Second Seminole War and died in Florida of yellow fever in 1841.

Texas. Sam Houston had made the move from Tennessee to Texas and so did Garners. There were Garners involved in the battle of Texas independence. John Garner helped Deaf Smith blow up the bridge at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836.

The Garner family from Rutherford, Tennessee came to Texas in 1851.

“In 1851 John Nance Garner was just six when he made the long 700-mile trip with his widowed mother and two brothers and three sisters to Blossom Prairie, Texas in a covered wagon.”  

John subsequently fought as a cavalryman on the Confederate side in the Civil War. His son John Nance Garner, born in 1868, became the US Vice President under Roosevelt in 1933. This story was recounted in Bascom Timmons’ 1948 book Garner of Texas.

German. German names such as Gartner and Baumgartner could become Garner in America.

Henry Gartner from Luxemburg came with his family to North Carolina in the 1740’s, becoming Henry Garner there. His grandson David, born in 1768, lived to be 104. He and his wife Jane followed their sons to Illinois in the 1830’s where they encountered the Mormons and joined the Mormon Brigade. They departed for Iowa rather than Utah, however, and were among the first settlers of Pottawattamie county where Garner township was named in their honor.

Peter Baumgartner, probably from the Rhine Palatinate, came as Bumgarner, also in the 1740’s, and settled in North Carolina as well. The line from Woodford Bumgarner, three generations later, went first to Georgia and then to Arkansas and Oklahoma. It was only in the 1950’s that Bumgarner became Garner – in the case of those well-known brother actors Jack and James Garner.

New ZealandJohn Garner from Thetford in Norfolk departed London for Wellington on the Oriental in 1840 and settled in Wanganui a year later. He was one of the earliest Europeans in the area and has been called the father of Wanganui.

Australia.  Two later Garner immigrant arrivals to Australia were:

  • James Garner and his family from London who came in 1856 and settled in Sydney.
  • and Hezekiah Garner and his family from Yorkshire who arrived on the Alfred a year later.

Garner Surname Miscellany

Garner as a Contraction of Gardiner or Gardner.  Charles Bardsley in his 1896 book A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames gave the following examples of Gardiner or Gardner to Garner spellings:

In Lancashire wills (in present-day Cumbria)

  • Christopher Garner at Urswick, 1575
  • Christopher Gardiner or Garner at Richmond, 1584
  • John Gardiner or Garner at Aldingham, 1584.

In Ulverston church records (in present-day Cumbria)

  • Elizabeth, daughter of Mathew Gardner, baptized in 1706
  • Margaret, daughter of Matthew Garner, baptized in 1709.

The Garner Memorial in East Leake, Leicestershire.  Three Garner brothers – John, William and James Garner – were Primitive Methodist preachers in the Loughborough circuit of Leicestershire. After their deaths and that of their mother Elizabeth the following memorial was erected in East Leake, the Leicestershire village in which they grew up.

“In loving memory of Elizabeth Garner, fifty years a member of the Wesleyan Methodist Society, who departed this life on December 25th, 1857 in the eighty-seventh year of her age and the forty-first of her widowhood.

And of three of her sons, the Revs. John, William, and James Garner, Presidents of the Primitive Methodist Conference. These all having served their generation fell asleep in sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection.” 

Alan Garner’s Mystic Cheshire Landscape.  Alan Garner is a writer who has sought the fantastical within the ordinary, finding magic and menace in the local landscapes and folklore of the Cheshire plains.  Having embedded himself in Alderley Edge, a village near Macclesfield in eastern Cheshire, Garner has come to embody the spirit of place with his unmatched knowledge of the area’s folklore, archaeology and history.

His father’s family had been craftsmen there and lived in the same house in the Hough area of Alderley Edge without a break of tenancy for centuries.   He can in fact date his family’s links to Alderley Edge back at least to the late 16th century.

He has said that it was his great great grandfather Robert Garner, a stonemason in the early 1800’s, who created the Druid’s Circle folly and the Wizhard’s Well wizard carving. His grandfather would tell him stories of the legends in the area and these fed his fertile imagination.

Alan’s first novel The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, published in 1960, was a fantasy tale based on a local legend of sleeping knights ready to awake to save the world. Alderley Edge was the main setting for this and for others of his award-winning books.

Garners in the 1881 Census

County Numbers (000’s) Percent
Western Arc
Lancashire    1.8    19
Cheshire    1.1    12
Staffordshire    0.5     6
Leicestershire    0.7     8
Sub-Total    4.1    45
Rest of
Yorkshire    0.7     8
London    0.9     9
Elsewhere    3.7    38
Total    9.4 100

The Garner House in Moore County, North Carolina.  Moore county stands in central North Carolina and John Garner bought the land there where the Garner House now stands in 1764.  His son Lewis was born on the property. Family members believe that it was Lewis who built the house in the early 1800’s, although it is possible that it was built by his father earlier.

John and Lewis were tobacco planters and probably the wealthiest men in the district.  John was listed as a planter in 1780 owning 580 acres and twenty slaves.

The house is unaltered and intact today and is one of the finest examples of the typical rural homes of early Moore county that remains today. It is distinguished by wide heart-pine paneling with fine quality moldings at the windows and doors.  The original hand-forged hinges and posts are still there.

The walls of the three rooms on the ground floor are of unpainted, hand-planed pine boards which glow with the original patina.  The interior doors have early cast hinges in contrast to the forged hardware on the exterior doors.  A corner stairway with winders leads to the second floor, which features exposed log construction and a fireplace with hand-made brick.

The first floor features the original pegged mantels with early blue paint.  Much of the furniture is original to the house, including the two painted cupboards and the scrub-top table.  The painted sash is also original and some of the original glass remains on the front of the building.

John Nance Garner.  John Nance Garner succeeded Sam Houston as Texas’ most colorful politician.

He acquired the nickname of Cactus Jack as a state representative when he championed the prickly pear blossom over the bluebonnet for state flower. During his run for county judge in 1893, one of his most vocal opponents was a young lady named Mariette Rheiner.  He won the race – and her hand – and she worked as his secretary for the next fifty-three years.

In 1932 he ran for president and easily won the Texas and California primaries.  For shifting his support to Franklin D. Roosevelt, he was rewarded with the vice-presidential slot.  However, he and Roosevelt split angrily over New Deal policies and in 1940, after a futile run against two-termer FDR, he retired back to Texas.

His most widely reported wisecrack was that the vice presidency “isn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit.”  In fact the exact phrase he used was “a pitcher of warm piss,” and he complained that “those pantywaist writers wouldn’t print it the way I said it.”

Despite suffering from tuberculosis as a youth, he smoked cigars all his life and lived to be ninety-eight. He also enjoyed whiskey, averring, “I’m living a good Christian life. I don’t get drunk but once a day.

John Garner, Father of Wanganui.  John Garner has been called the father of Wanganui, it being generally agreed that he was one of the first Europeans to set foot there.

He was at that time in the employ of the New Zealand Company, but his trade was that of a butcher.  For many years John Garner and his two stalwart sons carried on the butchering business in Wanganui, doing their own slaughtering and supplying the British Government for the troops stationed here.

He served as a local judge and contested the election in 1866 (although he came third out of three in the result).

He was remembered in later life as follows:

“Old John Garner was well and favorably known by everyone in the place, from the Colonel commanding down to the small boys and girls of the town.  His cheery laugh, and sunny, happy disposition made him a favorite with all.  He lived to a green old age, eighty I think, and lies at rest in the Wanganui cemetery where many more of the old identities are buried.”

There was one tragedy in his later life.  In January 1869 his grandson Tyrrell, aged nine, went with other boys to bathe in the Wanganui river.  Two days later his body was discovered.  It was taken to the Steam Packet Hotel where an inquest was held.  The jury returned a verdict of “accidentally drowned.”

Garner Names

  • Margaret Garner was an enslaved African American woman in pre-Civil War America who was notorious – or celebrated – for killing her own daughter rather than allowing the child to be returned to slavery. 
  • John Nance Garner was the US Vice President from 1933 to 1941. 
  • Erroll Garner was an American jazz pianist and composer known for his swing playing and ballads. 
  • James Garner, born James Bumgarner, became well-known as an American TV and film actor during the 1950’s and 1960’s. 
  • Alan Garner has been a popular English writer of fantasy fiction, based on the legends and stories in his native Cheshire. 
  • Joel Garner was a fast bowler in the highly regarded West Indies cricket teams of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Garner Numbers Today

  • 19,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 27,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)





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Written by Colin Shelley

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