This is a locational surname, which almost certainly derives from the (former) village of Balham in Surrey, but possibly Baylham in Suffolk. The name means 'the farm (hamm) of Bealgh', the latter being a pre 7th century personal name, translating as 'round or smooth', and may have applied to somebody who was either rather large or rather bald! The Anglo-Saxons were very fond of nicknames, and usually the ruder or cruder the better! There is a second suggestion that the name could mean 'the farm on the ridge', and this is equally possible. The earliest recordings pre-date the 1086 Domesday Book by many years 'Beaglenham' appearing in the 'Cartularium Saxonicum' of 957 a.d. The Domesday Book gives the recording of Belgeham, whilst the Assize Court Rolls of 1315 get near to the modern form with 'Balaham'. The surname is probably 16th century, earlier recordings may exist but if so we have not been able to trace them. What is certain is that the name is found in the spellings of Balham, Billham, Billam, Bilam, Byllam and Belham, and all are found in London from the mid Elizabethan period. Examples of the recording include Dorothy Billam, the daughter of Richard Billam, christened at St Peters Church, Cornhill, on September 25th 1570, Thomas Billam, whose daughter Hester was christened at the famous church of St Dunstans in the East, Stepney, on April 22nd 1576, and Elizabeth Billham, daughter of John and Sarah Billham, christened at St Margarets, Westminster, on March 18th, 1716, in the first year of the reign of King George 1st of Hanover. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Elysabeth Byllam, which was dated January 5th 1568, christened at St Peters Church, Cornhill, London, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st, known as 'Good Queen Bess', 1558 - 1603. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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