Introduction: Payne/Paine

Larry Pearce

The inspiration for this article began one sleepless night after I uncovered additional ancestors of my Austen family on one of my many electronic genealogical research sites. I was delighted to see that Grandfather John Payne’s (b.1641) surname could also be spelled “Paine.” I immediately imagined that I could be related to the famous American patriot and founding father, Thomas Paine (1737-1809) . I was a bit taken aback, however, to learn that his surname was originally spelled “Pain.” Even worse, the Latin origin, “Paganus,” literally means “son of pagan.” Incredibly, it was believed way back then that a person who lived in the country must be a heathen. After morphing into the spelling “Paien” in Old French, its use continued to suggest rudeness or backwardness of that person, not unlike the surnames Savage or Wildman. Other possible origins are the Italian word for “fountain in the country” or even the French word for “peacock.” We hasten to say that there is a locale in Normandy called Payne, from where family historians believe our earliest ancestors lived before moving across the Channel to County Sussex in England.

Over the millennia, other English spellings have included: Payn, Paynee, and Paynne. In German one may find: Pein, Pinn, or Penert; in Norse, Peini; French, Peigne or Pineau; Flemish, Pien or Payen; and Dutch, Pen or Penn. The surname is not the most popular one in the U.S., ranking 183 in use, according to the 2000 Census. British author H.B. Guppy wrote in 1890, in his book Homes of Family Names“Payne, Paine, and Pain are mostly crowded together in the south-eastern quarter of England, especially in Essex, Kent, Sussex, Hants, Cambridgeshire, and Bucks.”

The English Domesday survey of 1086, ordered by William the Conquerer, lists an Edmund filius (son of) Pagen of Somerset County. In 1185, Reginoldus filius Pain was recorded as a member of the Knights Templars in the Crusades. The frequency of our name continued in most every English census and genealogy, but historians seem to agree that the progenitor was Thibault de Payen, a Frenchman born in 1001 AD. Now that’s family history! Perhaps the first Payne family to come to America were William and Anna with their four children in 1635. Possibly we are related to one of these New Englanders.

Burke’s General Armory of England, published in 1848, contains no less than 48 coats of arms for this family. Three mottos have been associated with our family:

  • Malo mori quam foedari – “I would die rather than be disgraced”
  • Playsyr vaut Payn – “Participating is worth the pain” and
  • (Latin unknown) – “Be just and fear not”

A search of famous persons with the Payne or Paine name, in addition to our Patriot mentioned above, reveals dozens of musicians, actors, and politicians from around the world, too many to mention here, but you can look for yourself.

In conclusion, our ancestor grandmother, Mary Payne (b. 1703), married into the Martin family, whose roots also stretched back to Sussex in southeast England. Did the two families know each other before coming to America? The Martins married into our Austen family mentioned above from adjacent Kent County They are probably related to famous British author Jane Austen. That’s what makes genealogy so rewarding: the possibility of being of the same bloodline as notable people of history. Our research continues. Who knows what another sleepless night will bring?


“Payne Surname Meaning, Origin, History, & Etymology.” Coat of Arms Database. 12/15/18

Last revised 12/23/18

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