Word Origin & History
O.E. ðegn "military follower," also "servant, attendant," from P.Gmc. *thegnas (cf. O.S. thegan "follower, warrior, boy," O.N. þegn "thane, freeman," O.H.G. thegan, Ger. Degen "thane, warrior, hero"), from PIE *tek-no- (cf. Skt. takman "descendant, child," Gk. teknon "child"), from base *tek-
"to beget, give birth to" (cf. Gk. tekos "child, the young of animals," tokos "childbirth, offspring, produce of money, interest"). Also used in O.E. for "disciple of Christ." Specific sense of "man who ranks between an earl and a freeman" is c.1470. The modern spelling is from Scottish, where c.1220 it came to mean "chief of a clan, king's baron," and probably predominated in Eng. due to influence of "Macbeth;" normal orthographic changes from O.E. ðegn would have produced Mod.Eng. *thain. Some historians now use thegn to distinguish Anglo-Saxon thanes from Scottish thanes.