1 English: topographic name for someone who lived by a clump of bushes or by a patch of bracken. Brake ‘thicket’ and brake ‘bracken’ were homonyms in Middle English. The first is from Old English bracu; the second is by folk etymology from northern Middle English braken, -en being taken as a plural ending. After the words had fallen together, their senses also became confused.2 North German: habitational name from any of several places so named, notably the town on the Weser, or a topographic name from Middle Low German brāk ‘clearing’, ‘coppice’.
Dictionary of American Family Names © Patrick Hanks 2003, 2006.