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The Börlin Family Name

Borlin Family

Background Information About Switzerland:

Missouri / Switzerland OverlaySince the Borlin surname originated in north-central Switzerland and has existed there many hundreds of years, it seems appropriate to acquaint the readers with a basic knowledge of that country. Modern Switzerland is bordered by: Italy to the South, France to the West, Germany to the North, and Austria, and Liechtenstein to the East. Most of the Swiss residents speak Italian, French, or German, although a few still speak Romansh (a derivative of Latin from the days of the Roman invasion). With an area of just under 16,000 square miles, it would cover slightly less than one fourth of the state of Missouri. The Alps mountain range occupies nearly 60 per cent of the area of Switzerland, with about 100 peaks higher than 13,000 feet.

PHOTO: Outline of Switzerland Overlaid on an Outline of the State of Missouri

 Map of Swiss Cantons
Much of the Borlin population has historically been concentrated in the Cantons of Basel and Basel-Landschaft. The Basel Canton is basically the city proper, while Basel-Landschaft is the region surrounding the city. These two cantons combined cover an area of just over 100 square miles. Refer to Fig. 2-2 to see the relative location of these two cantons.

The country of Switzerland is currently made up of 26 Cantons (corresponding to US states), some of which were once independent sovereign nations. The current Swiss federal government was formed in 1848. The latest change to the Switzerland map occurred in 1979, when the Canton of Jura was carved out of the Canton of Bern.

Fig 2-2 Map of Swiss Cantons 2-1

The Origin of Surnames:

Prior to the 12th Century, most common European residents were illiterate and lived in small farming communities. Within that environment, a single given or calling name was perfectly adequate for daily life. The Catholic Church had outlawed pagan names in 325 A.D. and so Biblical names became the norm. Between the 10th and 14th centuries it gradually became more common to use a family or "surname" to distinguish between individuals with the same given name. Because most of the common population could neither read nor write, surnames tended to change from time to time since church and government officials recorded names "as they heard them". By about 1450 most people of all social rank had a fixed, hereditary surname to facilitate taxation and military service. Middle names were first introduced in the 15th century and did not become common until the 18th century.

Swiss Locations where Börlin Surname Existed
The Borlin Surname

The earliest known record of the Borlin surname involved a Johannes Börli, mentioned in a 1293 parchment at the convent of St. Leonhard at Basel, Switzerland 2-2. The spelling of the name varies over the years between Börli, Börlj, and Börlin, with American variations of Borlin and Boerlin. The name itself means "little bear", based upon a German rendition of the Latin. The Börlin family was eventually distributed within the north-central region of Switzerland, with members recorded in Basel, Sissach, Bennwil, Bubendorf, and Oltingen, though never in large numbers.

Fig. 2-3 shows the relative location of Swiss villages identified in historical literature where the surname of Börlin was found between the 13th and 19th centuries. To put this in perspective, this map indicates that for nearly 600 years the Börlin surname could be found largely only in and around the city of Basel and in an area within the current Canton of Basel-Landschaft of about 16 square miles, or roughly half the current size of Chesterfield, Missouri.

Borlins Around the World

A modern Internet search on Borlins outside of Switzerland yields a small number in Sweden, Japan, Brazil and the United States. Analysis of census data in the United States indicates that there are now less than 100 individuals in the country with the surname of Borlin or Boerlin (100 being the smallest bracket listed).

Ireland today boasts a "Borlin Valley" and a "Borlin Polka" while the Scottish island of Skye once had a small village of Borlin and the Fife region of Scotland had a town by the name of Borland. However, there are no records of anyone by the name of Borlin actually living in this part of the world. Upon further investigation, it turns out that "borlin" in the old Gaelic language meant "most beautiful".

The Börlin Family Name in America

There is no exact character or sound in the English language that corresponds to the German language "ö". Therefore, when someone with the surname of Börlin immigrates to the United States there are two options for how to deal with the spelling – simply drop the umlaut from the "ö" and spell it Borlin or Americanize the "ö" to "oe" and spell it Boerlin. Either way, early census data and legal documents will often list the immigrants as Berlin because the German pronunciation is still used by the immigrant (the census taker hears "burr-lin"). Even today, if one is careful to say "bore-lin", the vast majority of the population will hear the name and still misspell it since they have never met someone with that surname.

Opinions and Footnotes:

"Borlin" has always been one of the least common and least researched surnames in the Judeo-Christian world, even though it has been around for more than 700 years. With that record, it is likely that anyone in the United States with a surname of Borlin or Boerlin is somehow related.


2-2 -- Early surname information was taken from a "Family Chronicle" developed in 1946 by Dr. Walter Börlin, Dr. Alfred Börlin, and Dr. Paul-Henry Börlin in Basel, Switzerland. In 2003, Johannes Börlin, grandson of one of the authors, gave a copy of this chronicle to Lynn Boerlin Darney. Unfortunately, recent attempts to contact Johannes have been unsuccessful and his current address is unknown.

2-3 -- Data used to construct this map is a combination of information collected to support this document and records found on the Mormon web site, www.familysearch.com