The meaning of Fearnley?
My limited and somewhat amateur research of the Internet indicates that
Fearnley is Anglo-Saxon in origin. It comprises two parts: Fearn - Ley.
'Fearn' appears to have had two possible meanings: the fern or bracken
as we know it today and also the Alder tree.
'Ley' seems to have only one possible meaning: a clearing in a forest.
So we have two possible meanings:
- A fern filled clearing in a forest or wood.
- A clearing in an Alder wood.
The Common or 'Black' Alder grows in damp, boggy ground, the type of
ground common around Ashton in Lancashire where my Fearnleys came from.
The timber from this tree was used to make clogs and the folks of Lancashire
are famed for their wearing of clogs. Perhaps these 'clues' point to the
latter meaning for the name?
Much later I found this site which, if it can be believed, confirms what I found out for myself!
Some examples from my Internet research, each cell in the tables is taken
from a different website:
The Old English 'fearn' included what in the north was called 'bracken'.
Fearn refers to the fern and bracken of the land.
1. Any of several thousand species of flowerless feathery-leaved
plants that reproduce by spores (forming on the leaves or fronds)
rather than seeds.
Belonging or relating to, or resembling, a fern. Covered with or
full of ferns.
Etymology: Anglo-Saxon fearn.
Although this township is situated in a flat, low lying area which
only stands at 45 feet above sea-level, the name is derived from two
Old English elements "Fearn" and "heafod", meaning
fern and hill respectively. The name of Fearnhead therefore means
"a fernclad height".
........ On 18 March, this gives way to Fearn,
the alder month. This is a tree of protection against conflict.
The alder is a very ancient tree that has grown in the British Isles
for thousands of years. The January tree is easily recognized by
its regularly spaced branches and its conical shape. Like the willow,
it is a water-loving tree. The timber is oily and water-resistant,
and is often used for under-water foundations. Parts of Venice and
many medieval cathedrals were built on alder foundations.
The common alder (Alnus glutinosa (L.) Gaertner) is found along
lowland rivers, where it grows with aspens, poplars, and willows.
Like willows, alders sprout from stumps. This allows them to regenerate
after heavy flooding. In protected areas they may grow to 65 feet
tall. Alders are members of the birch family (Betulaceae).
"The French name Alder, type of
tree, is pronounced in Languedocien as Bergne, in Breton and Welsh as
Gwern, in Scottish and Irish as Fearn." The inference being that Fern
and Alder are somehow one and the same.
..... Similarly, anywhere that has a name ending
in -ham, -ton, or ley is Anglo-Saxon in origin.
LEY or FIELD means cleared forest
land for villages,e.g. Beorn's ley = Barnsley, Wacasfield= Wakefield,
Huddersfield= Huder's field.
The Anglo-Saxon word 'ley' was used to describe a clearing in a forest.
Leigh or Ley from the Anglo Saxon word Leah a clearing in a forest of cultivatable land.
Any clearer? - do you know better?
As a side note: There are people who liked the name and adopted it. I
have been in contact with a Benjamin Fearnley who tells me his immigrant
forebears adopted the name when they came to live in England a generation
or so ago.