This interesting and long-established surname is of early medieval Germanic origin. It is a short form of the pre 7th century male given name "Bernhard", a compound of the elements "ber(n)", a bear, and "hard", brave, hardy, strong. The cult of St. Bernard of Menthon, patron saint of mountaineers, accounts for the frequency of the name in Alpine regions, and during the 13th and 14th Centuries Bernard vied with Arnold (from the German elements "arn", eagle, and "wald", rule), as the most popular given name in Holland and northern Germany. Cuonrad filius Bernhardi was noted in medieval records of Speyer, Germany, dated 1223, and the name as Behr and the diminutive Behren, and the patronymics Behrens was recorded in documents pertaining to Stralsunder Stadtbuch, circa 1300. The modern forms of the suname include Barendt, Behrend, Behr, Behrens, Berens, and the Italian Bernhardi. Recordings of the surname from German church registers include the marriage of Anna Behrs to Joannes Winchess at Heinsberg, Rheinland, on November 5th 1641, whilst twenty-five people bearing the name Behrens appear on a list of German emigrants bound from Bremen to New York (1863 - 1867). A coat of arms granted to the family is recorded heraldically in Rietstap's "Armorial General", and depicts, on a silver shield, a black bear rampant against the trunk (sinister side) of a green tree. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Hinrik Berndes, which was dated 1387, in "Early Medieval Records of Greifswald", Germany, during the reign of Wenceslas of Bohemia, 1378 - 1400. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation.
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