Wren Surname Genealogy

The root of the surname Wren is the old English wrenna for the bird wren.  The name probably started out as a nickname for someone of wren-like characteristics, a small, busy and quick-moving person.  The wren is also seen as wily, as the tale of the wren boys of Cork suggests.
There are two spellings of the name, Wren and Wrenn.  Wrenn was probably more common until the 17th century. Although Wrenn has persisted, Wren is more usual now.
In Ireland, the Wren name may have come from England.  It is also the anglicized form of the Gaelic O’Rinn, from the personal name Rinn.

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Wren Ancestry

Family tradition has it that the Wrens of Durham came originally from
Denmark and settled in an area along the Wear river sometime
in the 14th century.

Durham  The main
line started at Binchester and
William Wren at Billy Hall.  The Wren name appeared frequently
in the early recorded marriages at Witton-le-Wear.
One branch of the Durham Wrens migrated to Cambridgeshire and thence to
Ireland.  Another line came to London.

The pedigree of Sir Christopher Wren, the famous architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral, dates back to Geoffrey Wren of Sherburn House (the will of his widow Margery Wren in Durham has survived).  Christopher’s grandfather Francis came to London and was said to have kept, as a haberdasher, “the corner stall next unto Cheap Cross.”  He prospered as a mercer.  Descendants of Sir Christopher are numerous, with many of them to be found, from his son Christopher, in Wroxall, Warwickshire.

While the early Wrens may have come from Durham, there is little trace of that name there today.

Cumbria  More Wrens are to be found west in Cumbria.  There were Wrens in the village of Crosthwaite just outside Keswick from the 1600’s and the name later cropped up in Kendal, Cockermouth, and the Newlands valley.

Elsewhere  However, the main Wren presence has on fact been in the south of England.

One cluster of Wrens was in Hertfordshire, particularly in villages in the eastern part of the county:

  • Joseph Wren was a yeoman farmer in Standon in the 1670’s
  • another Joseph Wren was a farmer in Sawbridgeworth
  • and a Joseph Wren again a wheelwright in Wheathampstead in the mid/late 1700’s.

A Wren cluster was also to be found in the southeast.  Felbridge on the Surrey/Sussex border has had a Wren family since the early 1700’s.  They were village blacksmiths who later took over Golards Farmhouse.   Local newspapers recounted the tales of two Wren unfortunates.

Ireland.  Captain Thomas
Wren came with Cromwell from Cambridgeshire to Meath in Ireland in the
1640’s and
was later said to have appropriated for himself
Littor House in county Kerry.  Later Wrens were High Sheriffs of
Kerry in the 18th century.  There were said to be 118 Wren
families in Ireland in the mid 19th century, of which 42 came from

The Gaelic O’Rinn name, found in west Cork and Roscommon, sometimes
anglicized itself to Wrynn (as with a Wrynn family in Bantry) and to
Wrenn and Wren.

America.  Nicholas Wren
was an early settler in Virginia, first recorded as marrying Margaret
Bell in Lancaster county in 1670.  Then there was William Wren,
probably his son, who married Elizabeth Steptoe in the same county in
1698.  They were the forebears of many of the Wrens in
America.  Their history is recounted in John Howard Wren’s 1992 book A History of the Wrens of Virginia
and its sequel.

Wrens in South Carolina in the early 1800’s moved onto Henry county,
Tennessee and to Dallas county, Alabama.  Nicholas Wren left
Tennessee after a split with his family and joined Sam Houston and his
cause in Texas.

“Sam Houston suspended Lieutenant
Wren.  But we all liked him and knew that no power on earth could
have held those terror stricken animals after the Indians had made
their dash.  So we unanimously petitioned the President to
reinstate him, a petition which was granted.  There was no braver
or better man in the service than Lieutenant Nicholas Wren.  When
his term expired he left and we never knew where he went.”

William Wren was a cattle rancher and sheriff in Lampasas county, Texas
in the 1870’s.  He got embroiled in the notorious Horrell-Higgins
family feuds of that time.

Irish Wrens  A
sizeable number of Wrens in America are of Irish origin.  The
most prominent of these Irish immigrants was probably Edward Wren from
Littur in county Kerry.  He came to Springfield, Ohio in 1874,
started a dry goods store, and later opened Springfield’s first
department store.  At the other end of the economic pile were
Patrick Wren and his wife Ann from county Leitrim.  They had fled
the famine in Ireland and
made it to New York in 1850.

Australia.  John and
Margaret Wren were poor Irish immigrants in Melbourne in the 1860’s.  Two sons came to nothing,
one a drunkard and the other sentenced to flogging and imprisonment for
aiding and abetting a rape.  But a third son John Wren made a fortune in
gambling and developed a range of sporting enterprises. His
rags-to-riches story was the basis of Frank Hardy’s 1950 best-seller Power Without Glory.  John
Wren died in 1953 and, as with many self-made men, he left a feuding

Wren Miscellany

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

Select Wren Names

Matthew Wren was a Royalist bishop,
a supporter of Archbishop Laud who was imprisoned in the Tower yet
survived.  He was uncle to Sir Christopher Wren.
Sir Christopher Wren is
acclaimed as one of the best English architects of all time.  He
was responsible for the rebuilding of London churches after the Great
Fire of 1666.  His masterpiece was St. Paul’s Cathedral, completed
in 1710.
John Wren made it big as an
Australian businessman in the early 1900’s from a poor Irish immigrant
background.  .

Select Wrens

  • 8,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Kent)
  • 5,000 in America (most numerous
    in Texas)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).




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