Surname Name Meaning, Origin, and Etymology
This is a well-known European surname, that traces back to at least the 400s AD, derives from the old Germanic personal (first) name Bernhard or Bernard that was popularized due to the fact that it was the borne by St. Beranrd of Clairvaux (1090-1143) who was the founder of the Cistercian monastery. There was also another well-known Catholic saint bearing this personal name: St. Bernard Menthon (923-1108 AD) who founded Alpine hospices. Bernard is a masculine given name that is likely of West Germanic origin and was particulary popular among Old Frisian speakers.
The name is French, English, Dutch, Poland, Czech, and Slovenian. It is a baptismal surname meaning “the son of Bernard”. It derives from the words bearn or bairn (child) and the Teutonic word ard (nature or disposition). Hence the name literally translates to a person with a child-like disposition. Another source states it derives from the word beorn (heart), meaning one of stout heart. Another source claims the root word bern means bear and hard means hardy, brave, or strong.
Common spelling variants and names with similar etymological origins include, but are not limited to, the following: Bernards, Barbard, Bernardson, Barnett, Berners, Bernhardt, Bernucci, Bietatowicz, Benthy, Bernat, Burnard, Bernarde, and Bairnard.
Popularity & Geographic Distribution
The last name ranks Bernard ranks 864th in popularity in terms in the United Status as of the 2000 Census. The name is particularly common in Louisiana, Maine, and New Hampshire. The name is much more common in France, where it ranks 3rd in terms of popularity. The last name Bernard ranks 188th in Canada, 1,557th in England (most common is Lancashire), and 1,151th in Germany.
Early Bearers of the Surname
The earliest known bearer was Hugo Bernard who was documented in the Pipe Rolls of Lincoln, England in 1130 AD. A one Walter filius Bernardi was recorded in the Pipe Tolls, or Sheriffs’ Annual Accounts for the Counties of Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Durham in 1214 AD. The Hundred Rolls of 1273 AD, a census of Wales and England, known in Latin as Rotuli Hundredorum, documents two people bearing this surname: Walter filius Bernard and Beranrd Coronator. A one Thomas Bernhard was recorded in 1260 AD in Cambridge, England. The Register of The University of Oxford in 1581 records one Abel Bernardi in county Oxford. In 1595, the same register records one Benjamin Bernarde (or Barnarde) in London. An early marriage involving this surname was Francis Bernard to Sara Bleamire in 1753 at St. George’s Chapel Mayfair. The Domesday Book of 1086, which was a census of England and Wales dictated by William the Conqueror, documents one person named Bernard.
History, Genealogy, and Ancestry
One source claims the family was first found in Provence, a town on the lower Rhone river in southeastern France, where they held seat in medieval times. In Germany, they were first located in the state of Prussia. The name also was popular in Ireland where Strongbow brought the Norman naming convention. In England, it was fist found in Westmorland, where the family received propery from William the Conqueror for their assistance furnished to him at the famous Battle of Hastings in 1066 AD. Sir Theophilius was a Knight who accompanied him, and his son, Sir Dorbard, assumed the surname Bernard, and his ancestors established themselves in Acornbank, Westmorland. King Henry II, who invaded Ireland in 1172 AD, took Robert Fitz Bernard with him, and gave him dominion over Wexford and Waterford counties.
The famous genealogist Bernard Burke’s book “The Landed Gentry” discusses one branch of this family: Bernard of Castle Bernard. It begins with a mention of Thomas Bernard, Esq. of Castle Bernard in King’s County, who was born in 1816 and succeeded his father if May of 1834. He was Lord-Lieutenant and Custos Rotulorum of that counry, as well as High Sheriff in 1837. He was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the arm in the late 12th Lancers and Colonel of King’s County Militia. Burke traces the lineage back to Thomas Bernard, Esq. of Oldtown and Clonmulsh county in Carlow, and was High Sheriff in 1708. He married Deborah, sister of John Sheppard of Derrvowles and widow of Richard Humphreys. He left three sons: Charles (High Sheriff of Carlow in 1718), Franks (of Castletown), and Joseph. His third son Joseph was born in 1694 and in 1717, he married Mary, daughter of John Edwards of Old Court in county Wicklow, who has five daughters and three sons. H was succeeded by his eldest son, Thomas, who married Jane Armstrong, daughter and co-heiress of Adam Mitchell of Rathgibbon. He left a daughter named Grace (who married Philip Going) and a son named Thomas Bernard. He was born in 1769 and was a Colonel in King’s County militia for a little over three decades, as well as a Member of Parliament for said county. In 1800, he married Elizabeth, daughter of Henry, 1st Lord Dunalley, but did not have issue with her. In 1814 he married Lady Catherine-Henrietta Hely-Hutchinson, sister of John, 3rd Early of Conoughmore, had had six issue with her: Thomas (mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph), Francis (born 1818), John-Henry-Scrope (born 1820 and was a Lieutenant in the 18th Royal Irish regiment that fought in Crimea), Richard-Wellesley (an Officer in the army at the battles of Alma, Balakava, and Inkerman), Francis Margaret (married S.H. Goold-Adams), and Marguerite (d. 1834). He passed away in May of 1834. The family is seated at Castle Bernard in Kinnitty, King’s County.
Hilaire Bernard was born in France in 1639. He married Marie Madeleine Voyer and had a son named Jacques who was born in 1704 in Quebec, Canada. He married Charlotte Duret in 1725 and had a son named Jacques. This Jacques was born in 1732 in Quebec. In 1754 in Notre-Dame, Montreal, he married Marie-Jospehe Quimet. They had a son also named Jacques Bernard. He was born in 1757 and later married Marie-Charlotte (Gogly) Comtois. They had a son name Louis.
Thomas Fitz Bernard was born in 1205 in Wansford Nafferton East Riding, Yorkshire. He married Eugenia Root and they had a son named Godfrey. Godfrey was born in 1245 and had a son named William. William was born in 1270 in the same city, married Catherine Saunston, and had a son named Gilbert. Gilbert was born in in 1290 in Wanford, England. He married a woman named Claricia and they had a son named William. William was born in 1327 in Isleham. He married a woman names Agnes and they had a son named Robert Bernard. Robert was born in 1376 and married Elizabeth Lillyng. He had two sons: John and Thomas. John was born in 1370 (and bore an arms: Argent a bear rampant sable muzzled or) and married Ellen Mallory. They had the following issue: Margaret (Peyton), Katherine (Jermyn)), Mary (Strange), and Grace.
Early American and New World Settlers
Early settlers to colonial America include William Bernard (who came to Virginia aboard the ship America in June of 1635), John Bernard (came in 1634 aboard the Francis from Ipswich), 3) John Bernard (who came in 1634 at age 30 aboard the Elizabeth from Ipswich). A one Muschchiell Bernard of bacombe Clothier in the county of Somersett, 24 years old, came aboard the Waymouth bound for New England in 1635, as did his wife (Mary, age 28) and son (John, age 3). A Samuel Bernard came to New England in 1634 at the age of 1. David Bernard came to Jamestown, Virginia in 1700. Later immigrants include Joseph , Claude, and Pierre Bernard, who came to Louisiana in the early eighteenth century.
One of the earliest Canadian settlers with this name were John (or Johann?) Peter Bernard who came in 1750 to Nova Scotia. A one Nathaniel Bernard came to St. Christopher’s aboard the William & John in September of 1635.
The name is discussed at some length in the book “Pocohantas and Her Descendants” published in 1887. It mentions numerous early bearers of this surname, including, but not limited to: 1) Cyrus Bernard ( a midshipman in the U.S. Navy) who was a prisoner of war at Algiers and killed in a duel in Havana, Cuba in 1821, 2) Christopher Bernard (Sergeant of Richmond volunteers in the War of 1812 who was grandfather of Cyrus A. Branch, a prominent lawyer, 3) John H. Bernard (who married Anne Gay Roberton) who was a member of the Senate in Virginia, and 4) Daniel Bernard who married Caroline Flemings.
The Bernard family motto can be any of the following, depending on the specific branch of the family: 1) Bear and Forbear, 2) Virtus probata florebit (Tried virtue will flourish), 3) Honneur et tout pour honneur (Honour and all for honour), 4) Fortitudo et consuetudo (Fortitude and custom), 5) Sonat ad astra (Sing to the stars) 6) Et pace et bello (In peace and war), 7) Forti fide (Fortified), and 8) Nisi Dominus frustra (Unless he obeys, he commands).
Elvin’s Family Mottoes states the following regarding the Bear and forebear motto: “This motto in the case of the families of Bear and Bernard has an evident allusion to the name and crest, which is a bear’s head, but was assumed by the family of Bircham under the following circumstances:—
An ancestor of this family purchased a brewery at Reepham, in 1756, and shortly after settling there was invited to dine with the Recto, the Rev. St. John Priest, when Mr. Bircham asked him to suggest a motto for his adoption. A friend at the table submitted that it would be well to decide at once upon “Bear for ever” to which Mr. Priest rejoined, “If our friend Bircham would do well to adopt your suggestion, I am decidedly of opinion that he would do far better to let it be “Bear and Forebear” and it was determined that this latter should be the motto, which has continued to be used by his family.”
We have 105 coats of arms for the Bernard surname depicted here. The first 99 are from Johannes Baptista Riestap’s well-known book Armorial General, published in 1861, which is a comprehensive book of blazons for Europe (particularly Germany, Netherlands, France, Denmark, and Spain). He was a famous Dutch genealogist and heraldry expert. The last 6 coats of arms are from Bernard Burke’s book The General Armory of England, Ireland, and Scotland, which was published in 1848. The bottom of this page contains the blazons in both English and French, and in many instances contains some historical, geographical, and genealogical about where coat of arms was found and who bore it.
Famous people with this last name include: 1) Catherine Bernard (1662-1712) who was a French novelist, playwright, and poet whose works are known for their psychological nature, 2) Claude Bernard (1813-1878) who was a French physiologist (study of living things) associated with pioneering the term homeostasis, 3) Henry Boyle Bernard (1812-1895) who was a member of the House of Commons in county Cork and a Member of Parlaiment for Bandon, 4) Emile Henri Berard (1868-1941) who was a French Post-Impressionist and friend of van Gogh, and 5) William Bernard who was an nineteenth century sailor and minor that lived in San Francisco and was known as Barnacle Bill in American lore.