Origin of the Barnett Name
The following is the view of James T. Barnett concerning the origin of the name Barnett.
The former town of Barnet, England, was located some fifteen miles north of old London and dates back to the 12th century. In 1965 it, along with several other towns and communities, became one of thirty-two boroughs of Greater London. The Borough of Barnet now (1980) has a population of more than 300,000.
Shortly following the Norman Conquest (1066 A.D.), a large rural area around the yet to be named villages was extensively cleared of forests preparatory to the cultivation of hay grasses and grain, namely barley. The area rapidly became a heavy producer of barley which was the primary ingredient of bread, ale and livestock feed. It is not certain as to the exact date that the Barnet name was applied to the village(s) that soon developed. Actually, there were several early villages within this rural area whose name incorporated the word "Barnet", East Barnet and Chipping Barnet are examples. Chipping is an Old English (OE - prior to 1066 A.D.) word for "market place"; thus Chipping Barnet translates into "barley market". The Chipping Barnet Church dates back to 1250 and is still in use, or at least was in 1943. It looked as though it was good for another millennium.
The word "barnet" breaks down into two parts, "barn" and the suffix "et". "Barn" derives from the Anglo-Saxon "berern" which, in turn, is derived from "bere", the OE word for "barley". The last two letters "rn" in "berern" are derived from the OE "aern" which translates into something like "close place" or "place". Thus, "barn" translates as "barley place" or the name of a place to store barley. A bit later, "barn" was also used to denote a structure for the storage of other agrarian needs. The spelling of the word has evolved, as has most. Chaucer wrote of the "bernes and dayeries" in the early 1400s and Shakespeare spelled it "barne" some 200 years later. The final "e" disappeared in the next several decades.
In order to differentiate between the large rather loosely built barns for the storage of bulky hay, etc., and the smaller tightly built storage units for the threshed barley, the newly fashionable French prefix "et" was added, giving what was then spelled "barn'et". "Et", "ett", "ette" and rarely "it", are all diminutive suffixes of French origin which are frequently found in both Middle and Modern English but not in OE. All mean something akin to "small". "Ett" is a later form than "et", in French both are masculine; add the "e" and the masculine become feminine. When the name is spelled "Barnette", it is assumed that there is a dominant female somewhere upstream! Definitively, a barnet became the name of a store-house for threshed barley and it was much larger than a bread box but smaller than a hay barn. The sturdy barnets were usually constructed within the village itself, largely for security reasons, as grain was valuable not only as a food staple, but as a unit of barter and trade as well. So, it was natural for these new villages to become known by the name Barnet.
If this hypothesis has credence, Barnet was probably a place name for perhaps two centuries before it was adopted as a surname by people. Students of the question as to when the adoption of family names became prevalent in England appear to favor the late 1400s. Following this period, the later spelling, Barnett as a family name, appears to have become popular.
Evidence suggests that the environs of Barnet, England formed the major origin of the Barnett family name. The proximity to populous London lends credence to larger numbers. There were, of course, other barnets and Barnets. One intriguing one is Barnetby le Wold (barley place by the woods), a small eastern village near the mouth of the Humber. The French in its name reflects the influence of William the Conqueror. The Irish Barnetts were the next most populous group. The word "were" is used, since most all of them seem to have ended up in America. In at least one document that can be recalled, they claimed to be older in name than, and even the progenitors of, the English Barnetts. But then, one must take into account that stone of theirs! The genesis of the Irish Barnett name might differ from the English one, however, there is most probably a migratory mixing of the two. But what about the Cornish Barnits, also "ett" and "ard" suffixes? Oh well, there weren't so many of them and they talked funny; perhaps we can deal with them at another time
The abve is the conclusion of James' view of the origin of the name Barnett, and, inferentially, the point of origin for the ancestors of the Barnett family in America. In May of 1995, a visit was made to the Borough of Barnet (as it is now spelled), by way of the London Underground, Northern Line, exiting at the end of the line, High Barnet.
Walking along High Street in Barnet, one's attention is drawn to two things: the parish church of St. John The Baptist, and, nearby, Barnet College. The interior of the Catheral was not visited, but some time was spent on the campus of Barnet College, in the process of which a Prospectus, Student Handbook, and other written materials were gathered.
One of the principal buildings on the campus is Tudor Hall, concerning which a short history, summarized below, has been published. In 1573, Queen Elizabeth I, at the request of Robert Earl, of Leiscester, a Knight of the Order of the Garter, granted a charter for the building of a grammar school "which shall be called the Free Grammar School of Queen Elizabeth". The school was to be in or near the town of Barnet, and was to be for the purpose of the education and instruction of boys. It was to continue forever and twenty-four discreet honest men, called governors, were placed in charge of the school. The word "free" here refers to freedom from church or ecclesiastical control. The school was mentioned by Chauncey, Clutterbuck and Cass. Present Barnet College is believed to be an outgrowth of that school.
The Queen evidently provided nothing more than a charter and there is a difference of opinion as to when and by whom the school was built. One theory is that Edward Underne, Rector of the Parish since 1567, raised the money for the first building and probably negotiated the provision of a site. The land on which Tudor Hall now stands was originally in the hands of Anthony Maynard of South Mimms, who transferred it to the Governors in 1597.
By 1700 the school was described as "a fair pile of brick". Evidently, the principal or only structure was the building now known as Tudor Hall. It faced the parish church (St. John The Baptist, mentioned above), had a turret at either end of the front, and measured about 55 feet long and 21 feet wide. There are photographs and wood-cuts of the building and its interior in the History mentioned above, and additional photographs were taken from the same angle in order to show the changes which have taken place. Later, a Headmaster's house was built, but it was later torn down and administrative offices now occupy that site.
Today, Barnet College has about 1500 students and appears to be a thriving institution. Additional information is available, but will not be set forth here.