Cl barn, pl. barneʒ, barnes; Pat pl. barneʒ

'child' (Modern English bairn)


The form and sense of this word may be explained perfectly adequately by straightforward descent from OE bearn ‘offspring, descendant, child’ (cp. Go barn, OIcel barn, OFris bern, OS, OHG barn); and some authorities (e.g. MED) are content with OE as the source. But the predominantly N/EM survival of the word from the late ME period onwards has tempted some commentators to regard it as ‘as much of Old Norse as of Old English origin’ (OED), with Bj. notably arguing for reinforcement from ON.

PGmc Ancestor


Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

barn 'child'
(ONP barn (sb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Far barn, Icel barn, Norw barn, Dan barn, Sw barn

OE Cognate

bearn ‘offspring, descendant, child’

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



Widespread for most of the ME period, though by the later 14c. it is found mainly in alliterative verse (incl. WP and PP) and in N/EM texts. Kaiser (1937: 180–1) lists it as a ‘northern’ word.

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 2320; Pe 426, 712, 1040; Cl 329, 378, 502, etc.; Pat 510


MED bā̆rn (n.) , OED bairn (n.) , HTOED , Dance barne, Bj. 230–1, de Vries barn, Mag. barn, Orel *ƀarnan, Kroonen *barna-, Bj-L. barn, Bammesberger 73, , AEW bearn, DOE bearn, VEPN barn