This picturesque and unusual surname is of Scottish and Anglo-Saxon origin and has two possible meanings, the first being a remodelling by folk etymology of the Old Norse personal name "Barnvarthr", which is composed of the elements "barn", a warrior, or hero, with "varthr", a gward. Alternatively, this may also be a variant spelling of the nickname surname "Bairnsfather", given to the alleged father of a child born out of wedlock. The derivation in this instance is from the Old English pre 7th Century "bearn", child, with "faeder", father. The following examples illustrate the name development after 1246 (see below) Henry Barnefathir (1392, Yorkshire), Adam Barnisfader (1502, Kelsop Scotland). In St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster, one Robert Barnfather married Mary Humphreys on January 16th 1717. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of William Barnefader, which was dated 1246, Assize Rolls of Lancashire, during the reign of King Henry 111, "The Frenchman", 1216 - 1272. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

Surnames reference. 2013.

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