WREN FAMILY HISTORY
SOME NOTES ON THE POSSIBLE ORIGINS OF THE SURNAME WREN
believe that the surname Wren arose as a diminutive - a surname used to describe
someone 'as small or busy as a wren' from the Old English wraenna.
Others have suggested a link to Ralph de Raines, who was apparently granted lands in County Durham by William, Duke of Albany. However, no evidence has so far surfaced of any descendants of this individual in County Durham, with the only known lines in Essex and Yorkshire, and no evidence appears to exist for the evolution of the name in this manner.
Another possibility which has been raised is of a link to the de Warenne family. William (I) de Warenne arrived in England from Normandy with William the Conqueror, and his family flourished in their new home, intermarrying with many members of the new Anglo-Norman nobility. His granddaughter Ada de Warenne married into the Scottish royal house, and was mother to Malcolm IV and William I, Kings of Scotland. However, again, there is no known evidence for the presence of this family in Country Durham nor of the evolution of the name in this direction.
More recently, David Wren has suggested the possibility that the name could have its origins in the nickname 'wraen' apparently attached to Eadbert in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC). Because of the similarity in appearance of the Anglo-Saxon rune wynn (equating to a modern w) to the Roman letter p, this additional name is apparently transcribed as 'praen' in many versions of the ASC, but in its correct runic form in the Worcester Chronicle. The meaning of 'wraen' in Anglo-Saxon may have been 'little king' - a title attached to the bird of the same name (the king of birds in the Germanic tradition) but also to Eadbert (as an exile in France, to distinguish him from his older contemporary Eadbert, King of Northumbria). There is no obvious evidence for a continuity of use of the Wren nickname from Eadbert's time, but this analysis provides an interesting alternative etymology for the name, and comments are welcome.
If anyone has any other insights in this area, or any documentary evidence to support the evolution of the name in County Durham, it would be very interesting to incorporate some further notes here. The earliest currently known use of the name in the north-east was at the beginning of the 14th century, with reasonable evidence of continuity of use after that date.
Any inquiries relating to this page should be addressed to Ian Hall.
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