Recorded in the spellings of Kern, Kerne,Kerner, Kernes, and Kearns, this is a surname of multiple national origins. Confusingly it can be German, or English-Cornish, and sometimes Irish. Equally it has multiple meanings and derivations. If German and hence Anglo-Saxon (English) it probably derives from the pre 7th century word "gern" meaning desire, and usually found in the early personal names "Gernwin and Kernwin". However the surname can also be locational from the town of Kern in Germany. If Irish and possibly Cornish, the derivation is from the pre 10th century Gaelic personal name "Ceirin" which translates as "The little black one".As such it was a name given to the first chief of the clan, who was presumably dark haired or of dark complexion. Early examples of the surname recording taken from authentic charters of the medieval period include: Hainrich Kerne of Runstall near Villingen, Germany, in 1255, and Johannes Kerner of Markdorf, in 1276. A family called Kerne have been recorded in Truro, Cornwall, since at least the 16th century, whilst in Ireland the clan were in about the year 1420, in possession of the greater part of the present barony of Costello in County Mayo. An inquisition of 1609 describes them as erenaghs or hereditary holders of church property, of Killaghtee in the diocese of Raphoe, and in the census of 1659 they are also located in County Sligo. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop," often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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