With winter’s hoary advent drawing near, I present a blizzard of frosty vocables. And here is one more lexical snowball for your winter word fort. A winterbourne is a stream that flows only in winter.

British writer about games, sports and nature Richard Jefferies in Wild Life in a Southern County published in CE 1879 gives this clear explanation: “The villages on the downs are generally on a bourne, or winter water-course . . . In summer it is a broad winding trench along whose bed you may stroll dryshod . . . In winter, the bourne often has the appearance of a broad brook.”

Barn-Born or Burn-Borne?
The second root in the word winterbourne is Old English burn ‘a stream,’ whose fellow Germanic reflexes include modern Dutch born, modern poetic German Born, and the Vikings’ Old Norse brunnr. In all these languages, the root is an old and frequent part of surnames like Kaltenbrunner and Burnham and sometimes Burns ‘lives beside a well or small stream.’ The Viking root lies, hidden by time’s insistent metamorphoses, in English surnames like Brumby, a dwelling name from a place in Lincolnshire, Brumby, from the Old Norse brunnr ‘well’ ‘stream’+ býr ‘farmstead.’

Found as localities throughout Wiltshire and Dorset with one or two popping up on the maps of Berkshire and Gloucestershire, Winterbourne or its variants are common place names. My country of Canada has its Winterbourne too. It’s a small village in the province of Ontario north of Kitchener-Waterloo. Founding ancestors of English families who lived in or near these communities took their surnames from such places.


A Surname Too
Winterbourne is a locative surname. It is NOT modern. It is more than 800 years old as an English surname. As a last name, Winterbourne locates the residence or farm of the founding ancestor of the family whose dwellings perhaps bordered these winter-wet watercourses. Locative surnames by themselves account for tens of thousands of English family names.

The Master of English Surnames
The authoritative source on British surnames is Wilson’s edition of Reaney’s A Dictionary of English Surnames, which gives this date under the name “Henry de Winterburna,” 1175 A.D. !

Thus have I fully accounted for the provenance of this word winterbourne as a noun and a surname.

Bill Casselman, November 27, 2016

Text Copyright 2016 William Gordon Casselman

If you would like to email me a correction or suggestions, please return to the home page of this website and kindly complete the contact form.


Sample My Brand-New Book! Just Published!
If you like these word essays, my new book "At the Wording Desk" contains 94 new essays never-before published.
400 pages, paperback under $18.00 USD

Check it out at Trafford Publishing.
Just click

Go to the bookstore and type in the title of my book in the upper right-hand search box: "At the Wording Desk."

Sample 4 chapters free at amazon.com

does NOT offer any free chapters to read.

At Amazon, type the title of my book into the search box at the top of the page, that is "At the Wording Desk."

Bill Casselman

Winter Words

Increase your English vocabulary with words that refer to winter in various modes

At the Wording Desk