A bourne is an intermittent stream, flowing from a spring. Frequent in chalk and limestone country where the rock becomes saturated with winter rain, that slowly drains away until the rock becomes dry, when the stream ceases.[1] The word is from the Anglo-Saxon language of England.

The word can be found in northern England in placenames such as: Redbourne and Legbourne but is commonly in used in southern England (particularly Dorset) as a name for a small river, particularly in compound names such as winterbourne. A winterbourne is a stream or river that is dry through the summer months.

Bourne is used as a place name or as a part of a place name, usually in chalk downland countryside. Alternative forms are bourn or borne or born. The apparent variant, borne found in the placename: Camborne, arises from the Cornish language and is in fact a false friend: it refers to a hill (Cornish: bronn, from Common Brythonic *brunda; compare Welsh bryn). Born/borne in German also means fount, or spring, and is related to the Indo-European root, *bhreu. That born/borne appears throughout Europe as a placename is also an important clue that this spelling is an etymological precursor to the Middle English bourne/burn.

Cf. Burn (landform), in common use in Scotland and North East England especially, but also found (in placenames) elsewhere in England such as: Blackburn, Gisburn, Woburn, Kilburn, Winkburn, and so forth.

For rivers and places named Bourne or having this word as part of the name, see Bourne (disambiguation).


  1. ^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bourne". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 332–333.