The Origen and Meaning of Our Surname


The surname BARNHAM originated in England, and descendants of the immigrant ancestor in North America have also used the spellings BARNAM and BARNUM. The last of these is by far the most common in North America today, while BARNHAM continues to be the most common spelling in England.

Sir Francis Barnham, MP, (1576-1646) discussed in his journal the origin of the surname Barnham. He stated, “Our Name as we have it by tradition, strenghtened with probable circumstances, and some good records (which I have heard some of my friends say they have seene) was first gentilized, or at least advanced, by Sir Walter Barnham, a Baron of the Exchequer in the time of King Richard II, and soe continued in a flowrishinge estate (at a place called Barnham in Suffolke not far from Thetford, where divers descents of them lye now buried) till the time of King Henry VII, all which I have received from my grandmother, father, and uncles, whoe spake it with much confidence, as being delivered to them, by theire friends of the former age, and the truth of it assured by divers records, however it is not that which I will binde on as an infallible truth, because I my self have not seene that which may soe absolutly assure it, and because I for myne owne parte care not to fetch a pedegree farther then from the certaine memory of a grandfather that was rich and honest, and a father that was vertuous and wise;....”

Later research suggests that our surname probably originated with Godwin Halden, Lord Haylesdon, on or after the year 1070. After he was awarded the lordship of Haylesdon (Hellesdon) by William the Conquerer in 1070, Godwin resided at Bernham Manor, Norfolk, and took his surname from that place. Through the vagaries of medieval English spelling, the family name de Bernham appears to have given rise to that of Barnham by several centuries later. The village that grew up near Barnham Manor, originally called Bernham Rysks, is today known as Barnham Broom.

Godwin was an ancestor of William de Bernham (b. abt. 1154), of Walter de Bernham (abt. 1264-abt. 1327) and of their numerous descendants, probably including Sir Walter Barnham (abt. 1350-aft. 1399).


Our surname is a locational name for any of the towns or villages called Barnham in the English counties of Suffolk, Norfolk and Staffordshire. Locational surnames were derived from—and originally designated—the place of residence of the bearer. They were employed in France at an early date (e.g., La Porte “at the entrance to”) and were introduced into England by the Norman conquerors, many of whom were known by the titles of their estates.

Barnham in Suffolk is recorded as “Berneham” in the Domesday Book of 1086, while the two places in Norfolk and Staffordshire appear in the same source as “Bernham”. All of these places have the same derivation. That is: a combination of the pre-7th-Century Old English byname Beorn(a) [from Beorn (Old Norse barn), a warrior] with the Old English suffix “ham”, meaning homestead or village.

As mentioned above, Beorn is the Old English word for warrior (or freeman in Anglo-Saxon society), but was also a name used by some noblemen (since “nobleman” was an alternate meaning). It is related to the Scandinavian names Björn (Swedish) and Bjørn (Norwegian and Danish), meaning bear. The word baron also developed from Beorn.

The basic meaning of Barnham in Old English was thus “the homestead (-ham) of the family or followers of a man called Beorn”.


A Research Guide to the Genealogy of the Barnum/Barnam/Barnham Family in England and North America

The information on this site is developed and maintained by Patrick Barnum

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