How did we get this surname?

There are at least three ways that people ended up with the surname Warland:

Warland in the Domesday Book

According to Paul Vinogradoff, in an essay on Villainage in England 'It is not difficult to draw the inference (that) the etymological connexion for 'wara' is to be sought in the German word for defence -- 'wehre.' The manor defends itself or answers to the king for seven hides. (Paul Vinogradoff, English society in the eleventh century: essays in English medieval history(1908)).

Folio 160v of the Domesday Book states that LEOFWINE holds CHINNOR, 13 hides, of the king. [There is] land for 11 ploughs. In demesne are 2 [ploughs], and 4 slaves; and 26 villans with 2 bordars have 8 ploughs. There are 20 acres of meadow, [and] woodland 5 furlongs long and 3 furlongs broad. It was worth 6l now 10l.


The Domesday reference to 'warland'

It goes on to state that: The same man holds COWLEY of the king. There are 4 hides. [There is] land for 10 ploughs. There is 1 hide of warland in demesne (lordship), and 1 plough, and 2 slaves; and 20 villans with 5 bordars have 8 ploughs. There is a mill rendering 40s, and 2 fisheries [rendering] 8s , and 10 acres of meadow, [and] a grove 4 furlongs long and 2 furlongs broad. It was and is worth 100s. The same Leofwine held these lands freely TRE. (see below for further discussion about Cowley).


The term 'wara' occurs just eight times in Great Domesday, all but one of them in the so-called circuit three (Bedford, Buckingham, Cambridge Hertford, Middlesex), in the counties of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire. The one exception occurs in south Lincolnshire. This does not mean that the term was not used in other locations, just that it was noted in these locations - see below.

Cowley, a manor in medieval times, is located about 3 miles southeast of Oxford and is around 5 - 7 miles south of areas of Oxford with known Warland populations in 1600, so it makes sense that peasants who lived in this vicinity took on the word as a surname - e.g., 'John of Warland'. For a brief summary of the area around Cowley from around 1000 AD, see this page. For more detailed information on Cowley see

Warlands on warland

It seems quite likely that peasants who lived on and worked that land took on that word as their surname, in much the same way other English surnames derive from a craft ('smith') or occupation ('farmer') and so on. But, aside from the common spelling, is there anything else to connect the word with the surname? If we examine the origins of the name and where it was commonly found in Britain, and where the Warland families are found, the connection seems quite possible, although the use of the word as a name does not appear to have been as widespread as the word itself.

According to A history of the County of Oxford: Volume 1 by L. F. Salzman (editor), published 1939, 'warland' is the opposite of 'inland': In contrast to inland, the lord's demesne, exempt from geld, early Norman records sometimes use the word warland to denote the peasant holdings on which this burden fell. The word, which is one of many compounds formed from the Old English waru, 'defence', is much rarer than inland, and few examples of it occur in Domesday Book. In the Oxfordshire survey it is used in the description of a manor in Cowley held by the king's English minister Lewin. The passage runs: Ibi sunt iiii hidae et dimidia. Terra x carucis. Ibi i hida de warland in dominio. It is clear that there is nothing but a difference of phrasing between this passage and words which state less concisely that a lord has taken so much land into demesne de terra villanorum. In either case, the point which the Domesday clerks wished to make was the possible reduction of the geldable area of a manor by the addition of peasant holdings to an exempt demesne.

In the book 'The Defence of Wessex: The Burghal Hidage and Anlgo-Saxon Fortifications' (David Hill and Alexander R Rumble, Manchester University Press, 1996), the authors note that the Old English word 'waru' occurs in the first clause of the Burghal Hidage Calculation with a basic meaning of 'defence' or 'protection'. It is cognate with the Old English verbs werian and gewerian (to protect, defend) and the Old English noun weard (guard, protector). The verb werian also has the meaning of 'to be answerable for an amount of tax or dues'. Examples of Old English phrases are provided in this book.

The book 'Ecclesiatical Lordship, Seigneurial Power and the Commercialization of Milling' (Adam Lucas, University of Wollongong, 2004) notes that in seventh-century Wessex (where the Dorset Warland family can be traced back to the late 1400s and as peasants living on a manor from 1600 to 1800), the core or inland of a land holding was known as the 'worthy'; the worthy was surrounded by an outer ring of hamlets, all of which were managed by a single ecclesiastical lord. The inner core was free of taxes or dues (geld) while the outer territories - 'outland' or 'warland' - were not. This model was adopted by William I; the land surrounding the core was surrounded by manors consisting of newly settled taxpaying tenants. (Page 50).

A key concept in the Anglo-Saxon period (410 - 1066) and beyond is 'hide', a pre-defined area of land usually described as the amount of land sufficient to support a household, or around 120 acres. In the Domesday Book of 1086, all land was geldable (that is, for which tax or dues were owed), but hides were not the only measure of assessment; some land (such as forrests and more remote areas) had never been 'hidated'. Warland was included in the hides or land for which taxes or dues were payable.

An excellent and often quoted source of information about 'warland' as a type of land is Chapter 4 ('Warland') of Dr Rosamond Faith's excellent book 'The English Peasantry and the Growth of Lordship (London and Washington, 1997). Dr Faith's chapter explores the origins and application of the word in Anglo Saxon England. She notes (in line with Lucas, above) that 'warland' was usually the land on the outer part of an estate, and was also known as 'outland' or 'utware' (and sometimes 'sokeland'), while the inner part of the estate was known as 'inland' or 'inware'. Dr Faith notes (page 91) that warland appears to have originated in a much earlier organisation of society. Peasants who lived on the outer warland appear to have had more freedom during the Anglo-Saxon period and 'were a much more socially diverse class, compared with their inland counterparts'. Another author noted that peasants who lived on inland were 'bound to their estates, unable to seek new lords and fresh opportunities', while warland peasants while possibly being more independent were nevertheless still responsible for a range of public obligations including building and defence. Dr Faith notes that this distinction appears to have eroded over time.

According to Dr Faith's research, warland appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 more frequently in the so-called Scandinavian parts of England that were subject to Danelaw (east and north east). It was often found in those areas in the form of 'scattered outlying areas - whole swarms of smaller settlements', not necessarily under a single manor. This may help to explain the origin of the Oxford Warland family (which has Scandinavian-origin DNA) and also possibly the Cambridgeshire Worland family. On the other hand, in Wessex (where the Dorset Warland family appears to have originated), the situation as described in the Domesday Book was a bit different and the peasants were more closely connected with the manor and its structure rather than living in independent outlying settlements. Dr Faith, however, notes that the way the Domesday Book portrayed the Danelaw area needs to be read carefully; in Wessex and Mercia, kings had established a strong network of well-founded centres where inlands were more common and so more noticeable in the Domesday Book in those areas. She also noted that 'outside the Danelaw many free people went unrecorded'. In other words, the peasants on warland in the non-Danelaw areas may simply have not been recorded in the Domesday Book, or were noted as 'villani' (Latin 'villanus', farm worker or bondman).

It seems quite credible that the peasants who lived on outlying settlements in both the Danelaw and Wessex areas (and perhaps others) independently took, as their family name, the type of land they lived on.

Norwegian Warlands/Vardeland

The surname Warland also appears in Norway. According to some Norwegian Warlands, the name means 'land of cairns'. The word 'cairn' is varde in Norwegian; land is 'land', so land of cairns would be vardeland, which is not quite the same as Warland - and in any case there is no 'W' in Norwegian.

The Norwegian word 'varde' comes from the Viking word varda (pronounced vartha), which is also related to the Germanic word 'warte'. Icelandic uses the same word 'varda', meaning 'a beacon or a pile of stones'. (The Norwegian word, on the other hand,for 'weir' is 'dam', the origin of the English word). In 2003 the mystery of the origins of the Warland name in Norway was solved - the name was made up based on the town they were living in, and it stuck. For more information see the information on Norwegian Warlands

Other variations on the name

Weirs and Wars

According to Harrison's Surnames of the UK, Warland "... is a dweller at the weirland, usually given to that area of a river or estuary which used to be fished...". This link to the word 'weir' is also found in place names such as Wareham ('homestead at the weir'), and Warleigh ('clearing/wood by the weir'). The weir/war connection is found mostly in the Dorset/Devon/Kent and Hertfordshire areas of Britain.

The Oxford English Dictionary complete version notes 'war' as an obsolete version of the word 'weir'. There are a number of other English surnames with links to 'war', including Anschil de Waras (1066), John de Ware (1276), and William de la War (1194), all apparently linked to the old English word 'waer', meaning 'weir'. They may also be related to the original word 'wara'.

Isle of Wight - Waleran Land

One possible alternative source for the name appearing in Dorset is linked to the Isle of Wight. The family of Walerans, an Arminger family, moved to Dorset some time after 1000. Waleran Venetor, a huntsman, held Ferndown, possessing four hides of land. The landowners' names were Waleran, Warenger, and Warmund; these names were apparently the origin of the name Walrond. The name Waleran appears in the Domesday book under 'Land of Waleran'. It is possible that the name Walrond changed in Dorset over a couple of centuries and with local dialectical differences and eventually became Warland.

Created 1985, updated 8 April 2020 Copyright Andrew Warland.