This English surname may be borne in Ireland by some descendants of English settlers of that name, but most O'HEARN families will be of Irish descent, their forefathers having adopted this English surname as an anglicized form of the Irish O'hEachthigheirn or O'hEachthighearna, more widely anglicized in Ireland as Ahearne or Aherne. Hearn is the form widely favoured in County Waterford, where it is still well represented. Ireland was one of the earliest countries to evolve a system of hereditary surnames. They came into being generally in the 11th century, and indeed some were formed before the year 1000. In England HEARN was a locational name 'the dweller at the herne' from residence in a nook or corner. Local names usually denoted where a man held his land. Early records of the name mention Henry en le Hurne, 1273 County Bedfordshire. Thomas in the Hurne, was listed in the Yorkshire Poll tax of 1379. William Crossland married Mary Hurne, at St. George's, Hanover Square, London in 1773. The name is also spelt as HEARNE, HURN, HURNE and HERNE. When the sparse Irish population began to increase it became necessary to broaden the base of personal identification by moving from single names to a more definite nomenclature. The prefix MAC was given to the father's christian name, or O to that of a grandfather or even earlier ancestor. At first the coat of arms was a practical matter which served a function on the battlefield and in tournaments. With his helmet covering his face and armour encasing the knight from head to foot, the only means of identification for his followers, was the insignia painted on his shield and embroidered on his surcoat, the draped and flowing garment worn over the armour. A notable member of the name was Samuel HEARNE (1745-92) the English explorer of northern Canada, born in London. He served in the Royal Navy, and then joined the Hudson's Bay Company, who sent him to Canada to Fort Prince of Wales in 1769. During a journey in search of copper in 1770 he became the first European to travel overland by canoe and sled to the Arctic Ocean. In 1774 he set up the first interior trading post for the company at Cumberland House, and then became governor of Fort Prince of Wales, where he was captured and taken to France in 1782. There his release was negotiated on condition he published an account of his travels.
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