Select Wren Surname Genealogy

The root of the surname Wren is the old English wrenna for the bird wren.  The name probably strted out as a nickname for someone of wren-like characteristics, a small, busy and quick-moving person.  The wren is also seen as wily, as the tale of the wren boys of Cork suggests.  There are two spellings of the name, Wren and Wrenn.  Wrenn was probably more common until the 17th century. Although Wrenn has persisted, Wren is more usual now.

In Ireland, the Wren name may have come from England.  It is also the anglicized form of ther Gaelic O'Rinn, from the personal name Rinn.

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Select Wren Ancestry

England.  Family tradition has it that the Wrens of Durham came originally from Denmark and settled in an area along the Wear river sometime in the 14th century. 

Durham  The main line started at Binchester and William Wren at Billy Hall.  The Wren name appeared frequently in the early recorded marriages at Witton-le-Wear.  One branch of the Durham Wrens migrated to Cambridgeshire and thence to Ireland.  Another line came to London. 

The pedigree of Sir Christopher Wren, the famous architect of St. Paul's Cathedral, dates back to Geoffrey Wren of Sherburn House (the will of his widow Margery Wren in Durham has survived). Christopher's grandfather Francis came to London and was said to have kept, as a haberdasher, "the corner stall next unto Cheap Cross."  He prospered as a mercer.  Descendants of Sir Christopher are numerous, with many of them to be found, from his son Christopher, in Wroxall, Warwickshire.

While the early Wrens may have come from Durham, there is little trace of that name there today. 

Cumbria  More Wrens are to be found west in Cumbria.  There were Wrens in the village of Crosthwaite just outside Keswick from the 1600's and the name later cropped up in Kendal, Cockermouth, and the Newlands valley. 

Elsewhere   However, the main Wren presence has on fact been in the south of England.

One cluster of Wrens was in Hertfordshire, particularly in villages in the eastern part of the county:
  • Joseph Wren was a yeoman farmer in Standon in the 1670's
  • another Joseph Wren was a farmer in Sawbridgeworth
  • and a Joseph Wren again a wheelwright in Wheathampstead in the mid/late 1700's. 
A Wren cluster was also to be found in the southeast.  Felbridge on the Surrey/Sussex border has had a Wren family since the early 1700's.  They were village blacksmiths who later took over Golards Farmhouse.   Local newspapers recounted the tales of two Wren unfortunates.
Ireland.  Captain Thomas Wren came with Cromwell from Cambridgeshire to Meath in Ireland in the 1640's and was later said to have appropriated for himself Littor House in county Kerry.  Later Wrens were High Sheriffs of Kerry in the 18th century.  There were said to be 118 Wren families in Ireland in the mid 19th century, of which 42 came from Kerry. 

The Gaelic O'Rinn name, found in west Cork and Roscommon, sometimes anglicized itself to Wrynn (as with a Wrynn family in Bantry) and to Wrenn and Wren. 

America.  Nicholas Wren was an early settler in Virginia, first recorded as marrying Margaret Bell in Lancaster county in 1670.  Then there was William Wren, probably his son, who married Elizabeth Steptoe in the same county in 1698.  They were the forebears of many of the Wrens in America.  Their history is recounted in John Howard Wren's 1992 book A History of the Wrens of Virginia and its sequel.

Wrens in South Carolina in the early 1800's moved onto Henry county, Tennessee and to Dallas county, Alabama.  Nicholas Wren left Tennessee after a split with his family and joined Sam Houston and his cause in Texas.

"Sam Houston suspended Lieutenant Wren.  But we all liked him and knew that no power on earth could have held those terror stricken animals after the Indians had made their dash.  So we unanimously petitioned the President to reinstate him, a petition which was granted.  There was no braver or better man in the service than Lieutenant Nicholas Wren.  When his term expired he left and we never knew where he went."

William Wren was a cattle rancher and sheriff in Lampasas county, Texas in the 1870's.  He got embroiled in the notorious Horrell-Higgins family feuds of that time.

Irish Wrens  A sizeable number of Wrens in America are of Irish origin.  The most prominent of these Irish immigrants was probably Edward Wren from Littur in county Kerry.  He came to Springfield, Ohio in 1874, started a dry goods store, and later opened Springfield's first department store.  At the other end of the economic pile were Patrick Wren and his wife Ann from county Leitrim.  They had fled the famine in Ireland and made it to New York in 1850.

Australia.  John and Margaret Wren were poor Irish immigrants in Melbourne in the 1860's.  Two sons came to nothing, one a drunkard and the other sentenced to flogging and imprisonment for aiding and abetting a rape.  But a third son John Wren made a fortune in gambling and developed a range of sporting enterprises. His rags-to-riches story was the basis of Frank Hardy's 1950 best-seller Power Without Glory.  John Wren died in 1953 and, as with many self-made men, he left a feuding family.

Select Wren Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Wren Names

Matthew Wren was a Royalist bishop, a supporter of Archbishop Laud who was imprisoned in the Tower yet survived.  He was uncle to Sir Christopher Wren.
Sir Christopher Wren is acclaimed as one of the best English architects of all time.  He was responsible for the rebuilding of London churches after the Great Fire of 1666.  His masterpiece was St. Paul's Cathedral, completed in 1710.
John Wren made it big as an Australian businessman in the early 1900's from a poor Irish immigrant background.  .

Select Wrens Today
  • 8,000 in the UK (most numerous in Kent)
  • 5,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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