I have been exploring the various ancestries in my family and all of them can be traced quite far back, except for one. My grandmother's ancestry can be traced no further back than the late 1800s, and her surname only dates back to 1875. In fact, it is impossible for her surname to have been founded any earlier than 1875, because the word itself was not introduced to the dictionary until 1875, and the object my grandmother's surname is named after did not exist before 1875. Obviously my grandmother's family changed their surname sometime in the late 1800s.

I suspect that the reason for the change of surname may be because my grandmother's ancestors on her father's side were not originally British. However I can't be 100% certain that this is the reason. Does anyone know of a valid reason why her ancestors might have changed their family surname towards the end of the 1800's? Was it a common occurrence back then?

The surname in question is "Carbarns".

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    There’s no obligation to provide it but I suspect mentioning the surname might attract more potential answerers than a question in the abstract.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 20:38
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    I think it’s only possible to give you any meaningful advice if you provide specific details of your grandmothers name, date and place of birth etc. Otherwise it’s just guesswork. Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 21:53
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    This question could be improved if we knew more about the basis for your assertion that "her surname only dates back to 1875" and the other assumptions you've made in this question. Without knowing what research you've already done, which search terms you've used, what spelling variations you've considered, etc. we can't make specific suggestions. You don't list which source materials you've collected for the family.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 0:30
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    I have updated the question and provided the surname Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 7:36
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    Generally speaking, "names are based on other words" is a very unsafe assumption. Names like "Smith" are less frequent than names that are just names, as far as I'm aware. Though of course that could vary based on language/region/etc. Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 20:14

5 Answers 5


I think your apparent assumption of the etymology of "Carbarns" as a barn for cars is probably incorrect. "Car" could come from Caer, Carr, Coir, Coire, Curr, ... and "barns" could come from bairns, burns, etc. Also, the name "Carbarns" is older than 1875.

The Gazetteer for Scotland lists Upper and Lower Carbarns in Lanarkshire. This 1830 history of Glasgow quotes a 1751 publication that mentions "Carbarns, in the parish of Cam-busnethan."

The name also shows up in the Wednesday, January 28, 1784, issue of the Caledonian Mercury newspaper, in which a list of "Premiums for Flax-Raising" mentions John Gourlay from the farm of Carbarns in the parish of Cambusnethan.

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    Yes, exactly. I thought Carbarns meant Car Warehouse Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 15:36
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    @JohnStrachan Even if that was the correct origin, you would be incorrect to date it to the 19th Century. The word car has existed throughout the history of English, and goes back at least to Latin, referring to a horse-drawn vehicle. "Horseless carriages" would have been, and still sometimes are, distinguished as "motor cars". So the "Carbarns" the place could conceivably be named after the storage of horse-drawn vehicles, although place etymologies are rarely as transparent as that.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 21:15

From George Black's "The surnames of Scotland: their origin, meaning, and history" (pub 1946) accessed on URL Hathi Trust copy, p.133

CARBARNS;. Now a very rare surname. Ninian Carbarnes, cordiner, was burgess of Hamilton in 1625 (Campsie), Thomas Carnbarnis was reidare at Douglas, Lanarkshire, 1574 (RMR.), and Thomas Carbarnes, writer in Hamilton, was retoured heir of James Carbarnes in Hamilton, his father, in 1692 (Retours, Lanark, 399). The surname recorded in Edinburgh, 1940. From the small place called Carbarns near Wishaw, Lanarkshire.

Several Scottish terms in there - hopefully they can be interpreted elsewhere but cordiner = cordwainer and writer = solicitor.

Derivations of surnames is, in my personal view, a minefield. In the first place, records seldom exist of when and where they were first seen (as distinct from earliest recorded). Secondly, people tend to produce analyses of the word with no consideration of the evidence of where the name has been seen. For instance, IIRC, "Greenwood" is usally explained as someone who lived in a Green Wood (there are other sorts?) which takes no acount of the fact that the evidence shows that the name came from a very restricted area of England. It might still have the green wood derivation but in that case, why isn't it more common?

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    Spelling was less rigid in the past. My paternal grandfather's name is spelled "Crase" on his birth certificate, but "Craze" (which is the more common spelling in Cornwall) on his birth certificate. My former professor at university told us once that the spelling of his name was non-standard because his grandfather had been semi-literate. Prof was born before 1920, so his grandfather would have lived in the 19th century. Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 21:33

I think your assumption is plain wrong. There are people called Carbarns living in the New Monkland Workhouse in 1852. (e.g. Jean Carbarns, b. 1842).

And I find this birth in Scotland's People:





647/ 10 56 Hamilton


If you look at ScotlandsPeople, you will find records of the name much further back than 1875 ( the earliest birth record they list is 1658), and that doesn't include looking for any potential spelling variations.


I think you have received quite a lot of evidence that the name itself is not that new, but even if it were, one has to consider that in general names were spelled the way the recorder chose to spell them. Thus in one family I researched, a Songhurst was saddled with the legal name Longhurst and had to develop a signature which could be either name, and in my own tree, my four greats grandmother's name was given as "Georey" on her marriage record, a name which seems not to exist. Due to her being born in a tiny village with very few inhabitants, I discovered the name was actually Geary, a much less rare name which does exist.

If you are struggling to locate the earlier records for your family, I recommend that you try all the variations which might be thrown up if someone heard the name, most particularly if your family moved from their original location and were heard or misheard by a registrar or vicar in a different part of the country. This was the case for a friend's missing grandfather Pidsley, whose record was filed under Pidgley.

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