This famous personal and later surname, is of pre 5th century German origins. Recorded in over one hundred different spellings ranging from Barnard, Benard, and Bernat, to Bernth, Bernucci, and Bieratowicz, it derives from the male personal name "Bernhard or Beornheard", comprising the elements "bern", meaning the bear, plus "hard", meaning brave, strong or hardy. Perhaps not surprisingly given the meaning of "Hardy bear" the name was always popular. The surname was first recorded in England in the 12th century.Here records were kept much earlier than was usual in other European countries, and England was the first country to adopt hereditary surnames as we know them today. The initial popularity of the name was also given a boost by the fame of two early saints. These were St. Bernard of Clairvaux (circa 1010 - 1153), the founder of the Cistercian monastery at Clairvaux, and St. Bernard of Menthon (923 - 1108), the founder of Alpine hospices and patron saint of mountaineers. Early examples of the surname recording include Thomas Bernhard of Cambridge, England, in the year 1260, Albertus Berenhardus of Schwenningen, Germany, in 1290, and Gregorius Bernhardt, christened at Chemnitz, Saxony, Germany, on January 18th 1549. The first recorded spelling of the family name is believed to be that of Hugo Bernard, which was dated 1130, in the "Pipe Rolls" of the city of Lincoln, England. This was during the reign of King Henry 1st, known as "The Lion of Justice", 1100 - 1135. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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