This distinguished name is of Old French origin, introduced into England after the Norman Conquest of 1066. It is one of that sizeable group of early European surnames that were gradually created from the habitual use of nicknames, given in the first instance with reference to such characteristics as personal appearance or to habits of dress. The name derives from the Old French "burnete, brunette", a diminutive of "brun", brown, or dark-brown, used of a person's complexion or hair-colour, or in some cases of a particular type of cloth. "Burnete" was used in the Middle Ages of a wool-dyed cloth of superior quality, originally of dark-brown colour, and the surname may in some cases denote a maker or seller of such a material. Early examples of the surname include: Richard Bornet (1279, Buckinghamshire), and Cristina Burnete (1365, London). One Andrew Burnet is listed in the University of Oxford Register of 1546, at Jesus College, and John Burnett was an early emigrant to the American Colonies, leaving London on the "Abraham" in November 1635, bound for Virginia. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Robert Burnet, which was dated 1219, witness in the "Assize Court Rolls of Yorkshire", during the reign of King Henry 111, known as "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.
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