How Did The Barn Owl Get Its Name? Origin and Meaning

Written by Angie Menjivar
Updated: October 6, 2023
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These ghost-faced creatures are mysterious, flying silently through the night and resting in quietude during the day. But how did the barn owl get its name? Learn about this secretive bird, including how it got its name, what other names it has had, and what its symbolism and meaning are!

What Is a Barn Owl?

Barn owls (scientific name: Tyto alba) are a type of owl recognized by their pale faces and whitish chests and bellies. This is a nocturnal owl that inhabits grassland environments and nests near buildings. When the sun is out, this owl remains hidden and quiet. Once nightfall arrives, they soar through meadows and fields in search of prey. Their diet is made up of rodents primarily, but they also snack on lizards, small birds, and insects. Their appearance isn’t the only distinctive aspect of them. Unlike other owls, barn owls have a raspy call that could send a chill down your spine if it’s your first time hearing it in the dark.

Animals That Stay Up All Night - Barn Owl

Not only is the barn owl fully nocturnal, but it can also see up to 100 times better than humans in the dark.

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How Did the Barn Owl Get Its Name?

The barn owl gravitates to man-made structures like old buildings and barns. Old barns provide barn owls with a quiet shelter that remains mostly undisturbed. This allows barn owls to rest comfortably and safely. Since the barn owl declared its preference on its own, “barn owl” naturally became its name over time. Despite their name, however, they also roost in other types of man-made buildings as well as natural cavities.

What Was the Barn Owl Previously Called Before Barns?

The barn owl has had a host of names throughout time, depending on the region. For instance, it was often called a “screech owl” in some areas of Europe because of its unique, high-pitched call. Other names include:

  • Straw Owl
  • Monkey-faced Owl
  • Hissing Owl
  • Hobby Owl
  • Death Owl
  • Church Owl
  • Rat Owl
  • Night Owl
  • Silver Owl
  • Golden Owl
  • White Owl
a barn owl, center frame, looking at the camera. Only the frony of the bird id visible and s white, except for the owl's eyes, which are dark and round. A star beak that is light gray is at the low center of the owl's face. The owl is perched in the hollow of a tree. The tree's bark fills in frames left and right, with a bit of green visible at the edge of frame right.

The nocturnal barn owl symbolizes hidden knowledge and the afterlife.

© Walker

Symbolism and Meaning of the Barn Owl

Since it’s nocturnal, there is a mysterious quality to the barn owl. It symbolizes hidden knowledge and the afterlife. It’s an elusive creature with an eerie call that points to future journeys. In spiritual practices, a barn owl sighting is powerful. It highlights contact with spirit and clairvoyance—it’s a sign that you are about to receive powerful, previously inaccessible knowledge.

Barn owls are messengers, linking your mental experience with your intuitive knowing. The ultimate meaning of a barn owl depends on where you are in life and what your personal beliefs are. If a barn owl appears as your spirit animal, it’s telling you of your unique ability to uncover the truth. It points to wisdom and a keen perception that allows you to clearly assess what’s behind the curtain regarding events and other people’s motives.

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©

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About the Author

Angie Menjivar is a writer at A-Z-Animals primarily covering pets, wildlife, and the human spirit. She has 14 years of experience, holds a Bachelor's degree in psychology, and continues her studies into human behavior, working as a copywriter in the mental health space. She resides in North Carolina, where she's fallen in love with thunderstorms and uses them as an excuse to get extra cuddles from her three cats.

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