This Dutch and German surname of BEHRENS was of the baptismal group of surnames meaning 'the son of Bernhard'. The popularity of this given name among the Normans in the centuries immediately following the Conquest of 1066, was greatly increased by virtue of its having been borne by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (circa 1090-1153) founder and abbott of the Cistercian Monastery at Clairvaux, and in Holland and Germany it vied with Arnold as the most popular given name during the 13th and 14th centuries. Another sanctified bearer of the name was St. Bernard of Menthin (923-1008) founder of Alpine hospices and patron saint of mountaineers, whose cult accounts for the frequency of the name in Alpine regions. It has long been a matter of doubt when the bearing of coats of arms first became hereditary and it was not until the Crusades that Heraldry came into general use. Men went into battle heavily armed and were difficult to recognise. It became the custom for them to adorn their helmets with distinctive crests, and to paint their shields with animals and the like. Coats of arms accompanied the development of surnames, becoming hereditary in the same way. The Dutch language is most closely related to Low German, and its surnames have been influenced both by German and French naming practices. The preposition 'van' is found especially with habitation names, and the 'de' mainly with nicknames. The name is also spelt Behrend, Behring and Behringer. A notable member of the name was Emil Von BEHRING (1854-1917) the German bacteriologist and pioneer in immunology, born in Hansdorf, West Prussia. He was professor of hygiene at Halle (1894-95) and at Marburg from 1895. He was awarded the first Nobel prize for physiology or medicine in 1901. The first hereditary surnames on German soil are found in the second half of the 12th century, slightly later than in England and France. However, it was not until the 16th century that they became stabilized. The practice of adopting hereditary surnames began in the southern areas of Germany, and gradually spread northwards during the Middle Ages.
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