Where did we Fearnleys get our name?
or for that matter our
Coat of Arms?
One suggestion, contributed by Ken Fearnley in NZ is below. Unfortunately,
due to a computer crash Ken can't tell us where this came from. Personally
I have my doubts about some this since surnames didn't come into general
use until after the Norman conquest in 1066 and even then only slowly,
In Anglo/Saxon times in England about the year at 380 A.D. emerging
from the mists of time was the ancient posterity of Fearnley, and the
distinguished history of this surname is closely interwoven into the
majestic fabric of the ancient chronicles of England.
Many different spelling versions are found. Our name, Fearnley,
occurred in many manuscripts and from time to time this surname included
the spelling of Fernley, Fernlie Fernley, , and these variations in
spelling frequently occurred, even between father and son. Frequently
a person was born with one spelling, married with another, and died
with another. Scribes and church officials spelled the name as it was
told to them.
The family name is believed to be descended originally from the
ancient Anglo/Saxon race. This founding race, a fair skinned people
led by general/commanders Hingis and Horsa, settled in England from
about the year 400 A.D. They came from Northern Germany, as far south
and west as the Rhine Valley and settled first in Kent on the South
East Coast. Gradually, they probed north and westward from Kent and
during the next 400 years forced the ancient Britain's back into Wales
and Cornwall to the West, and the won territories as far south as Lancashire
and Yorkshire pushing the ancient Britain's into Cumbria and southern
Scotland. The Angles, on the other hand occupied the East Coast, the
South folk in Suffolk, the north folk in Norfolk. (could this be the
Norfolk family heritage?) The Angles sometimes invaded as far north
as Northumbria and the Scottish border, the Anglo-Saxon five century
rule was an uncertain time, and the nation divided into five separate
kingdoms, a high king being elected as supreme ruler, ,Alfred the Great
emerged in the 9th century as the Saxon leader.
The family name Fearnley emerged as a notable English family name
in the county of Lancashire where they were recorded as a family of
great antiquity seated at Fernley, with Manor and estates in that Shire
they later branch to Hetton in Northumberland, and Sutton come Lound
in Northamptonshire, and at West Creting in Suffolk, but the main family
stem remained in Lancashire. In North America, included amongst the
first migrants the surname Fearnley or one of variable spelling of that
family name was Thomas Fernley who settled in Virginia in 1623, James,
John and Thomas Fernley all arrived in Philadelphia between 1840 and
On the port of entry many settlers made their way West, joining
the wagon trains to the prairies or to the West Coast. Many loyalists
made their way north to Canada about 1790, and became known as the United
Empire loyalists. They were granted lands along the banks of the St.
Lawrence River and in the Niagara Peninsular. Contemporary nobles of
the surname firmly, included many distinguished contributors John Fearnley,
You can find Ken's original here.
How many other spellings are there? Mine is officially "Fearnley" but
over the years I've had all the usual versions plus a few that were plainly
typed as the result of a bad phone line!
At least two contributors* to the site and or/my genealogy research have
suggested that the name originates from the Yorkshire place-names of Farnley:
There is Farnley on the outskirts of Leeds
which has a Farnley
Hall - ancient seat of the Fearnleys perhaps? There is also the hamlet
close to Farnely Lake and also close to an Historic Hall - Farnley Hall
perhaps, on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. These two seem to be possible
candidates when you look at the mapped distribution
of the Fearnley surname in 1881.
There is also a Farnley farm
in what looks like an idylic spot on a hill overlooking a bend in the
river Wear, and a group of houses (a hamlet?) close to Hadrians
Wall though this is much too far off to be a likely origin.
(* Bob Fearnley, Vancouver Canada and Yvonne Fearnley, Winchester UK
- thanks guys!)
You can see maps showing the distibution of the Fearnley name in 1881
and 1998 on this site here and you can
generate maps showing the same data for your own surname here.
Any more thoughts or suggestions anyone?
The Family Crest
You can see the family crest here.