[ bairn; Scots beyrn ]
/ bɛərn; Scots beɪrn /
Save This Word!

noun Scot. and North England.
a child; son or daughter.
Smoothly step over to these common grammar mistakes that trip many people up. Good luck!
Question 1 of 7
Fill in the blank: I can’t figure out _____ gave me this gift.

Origin of bairn

before 900; Middle English bern, barn,Old English bearn; cognate with Gothic, Old Norse, Old High German, Old Saxon, barn,Old Frisian bern,Middle Dutch baren,Albanian me barrë pregnant; akin to Lithuanian bérnas boy, fellow, bear1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does bairn mean?

Bairn is a Scottish or Northern English word for child.

Where does bairn come from?

The word bairn comes from the Old English word bearn, a “descendant,” and is related to the verb bear, as in bearing children. A bairn can be either a male or female child. It can also refer more generally to childhood.

Bairn has been closely associated with northern England and Scotland throughout its existence, although it was a general English word before 1700. Since 1700, its use has been more limited to northern England and Scotland.

Bairn appears, for instance, in the incredibly charming work, Nine Hundred and Forty Scottish Proverbs (1667) several times. One proverb reads: “A bairn must creep ere he gang,” or “A child must crawl before he walks.”

Since at least the early 1880s, figuratively describing someone as a bairn meant they were childlike or, more pejoratively, childish, e.g., He’s nothing but a bairn and has no sense. However, bairn can also sometimes carry a positive connotation in its figurative uses.

How is bairn used in real life?

The word bairn, for a literal or figurative “child,” remains in use in contemporary Scotland and Northern England. It is considered a more regional term than child.

English speakers across the pond or down under—that is, Americans, Canadians, or Australians—may have encountered bairn in the popular television show Outlander, which follows a woman who time travels back to 1743 Scotland. There’s a lot of bairn-mama drama in the show, to put it mildly.


The Scottish football (soccer) team Falkirk F.C. are nicknamed The Bairns, a reference to the natives of Falkirk and their town motto: “Better meddle wi’ the de’il [devil] than the Bairns o’Fa’kirk [of Falkrik].”


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use bairn in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for bairn

/ (bɛən, Scottish bern) /

Scot and Northern English a child

Word Origin for bairn

Old English bearn; related to bearm lap, Old Norse, Old High German barn child
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012