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Origin Of The Surname WARNE
By Leonard Warne

In the early 1990's, it was estimated that there were about 3600 Warne households world-wide - some 1800 in Great Britain, 980 in the United States, 660 in Australia, 160 in Canada, and a handful in other countries.

As of about 1000 a.d., surnames were not in use in England. However, they had become the custom in France and, after the Norman invasion of 1066, the custom was adopted in Britain. As in France, most of the surnames were derived either from the person's occupation or place of origin. This meant that surnames were often duplicated among totally-unrelated families. It also meant that surnames evolved not only in English, but in Irish, Welsh, Gaelic in Scotland, and Cornish in Cornwall. Also in the mix were the names which the Normans brought with them.

It was not until about 1400 that surnames were universal, and it was only in the 1500's that there was any systematic recording of the names of ordinary people, when the parish churches began recording the names of children christened, couples married, and parishioners buried.

The Cornish frequently named places using combinations of simple words for landscape features and the like. Examples of some of the most common words that were used in this way are:
  • pol - a pool or pond
  • pen - a headland
  • ruan - river
  • ros(e) - heath or moor (sometimes a promontory)
  • lan - church or monastery
  • tre(v) - house, farmstead or village
  • bod, bos, boj - dwelling
The result was a pattern of Cornish place names with a unique, Arthurian flavor:

Madron, Polruan, Lostwithiel, Pentillie, Polperro, Lanreath, Penzance, Trewithen, Tregony, Lanhydrock, Penkevil, Trelissick, Penryn, Wendron, Trevelyan, Gwithian, Penrose, Roscarrock ........

In turn, the same words or roots were also used frequently as surnames or parts of surnames.

The Cornish word for "swamp" or "alders" (a tree prevalent in marshy land) was warne (from the earlier Cornish word (g)weren). In Cornwall, place-names such as Penwarne (an old manor near Megavissey), Trewarnevas Cliffs (on the northeast coast) and Rosewarne (a village near St. Agnes) are found. Similarly, Warne became a surname, and from the 1500's on, Warne families are found in parish records from various parts of Cornwall. References from the late 1500's include the families of William, John and Barnard Warne.

It should be noted that there is no general agreement about the Cornish origin of the Warne name. Several other theories have been put forward. Some authorities associate the name with a region near Tavistock in Devonshire, just east of the Cornwall-Devonshire border. Just a few miles northeast of Tavistock, in Mary Tavy parish, there are farms called North and South (or Upper and Lower) Warne. According to these authorities, "warne" evolved from an Old English (i.e., Anglo-Saxon) word "wag(h)efen(ne)" meaning "quaking bog". (Some part, or all of, the farm is sometimes referred to as Higher and Lower Marsh). Warne might therefore be a word, and name, which was carried into Cornwall with the Anglo-Saxon incursions into the eastern parts of the county in the ninth and tenth centuries.

Some authorities believe that Warne is a variant of Warren, which seems to have a French origin. Warren may have come from the Old French "waren", meaning "keeper of a game preserve", or from the La Varenne region of France - the de Warenne family became nobility in England after the Norman invasion.

There are other, less commonly-held theories. In favor of the Cornish origin, it seems to me, is the typical use of the word in Cornwall with classic Cornish prefixes, as described in the previous text. As well, Penwarne and Rosewarne lie in the western part of Cornwall, where Anglo-Saxon incursion was slight and the great majority of place-names are Cornish in origin.

Perhaps the "earliest" Warnes were Celtic in origin, with centuries-old roots in Cornwall. Perhaps their origins were among the Angles or Saxons who migrated to Cornwall following the invasion of those races. Perhaps the origins are Norman. For that matter, unrelated families may have acquired the name in different ways. Most likely the family roots were a complicated and untraceable mixture even before the advent of surnames.
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