This ancient and distinguished surname, recorded in the spellings of Bray, Braye, Brea, and Bree, and having no less than twenty-one Coats of Arms, and several notable entries in the "National Biography", has four distinct possible sources, each with its own history and derivation. Firstly, the name may be of Anglo-Saxon origin, and a locational name from the villages thus called in East Berkshire or Devonshire. Recorded as "Brai" in the Domesday Book of 1086, the villages were named from the Olde English pre 7th Century "breg", or the Welsh, Cornish "bre", meaning hill. Ralph de Bray was noted in the 1225 Curia Regis Rolls of Devonshire, Parnella Brea in the register of St Martins in the Field, Westminster, on February 10th 1565, and Underhill Bree in the register of St Botolphs without Aldgate, London, on March 13th 1669. Secondly the name may have originated as a nickname for one of great and noble bearing, from the Cornish "bregh", meaning fine or brave. Examples from this source include: Roger le Bray (Northamptonshire, 1202), and William le Brey (Somerset, circa 1314). The third possibility is of Scottish origin, and locational from one or other of the places called Brae. Godfredus de Bra was juror on an inquisition in Aberdeen in the year 1400. Finally, it may be of Irish origin, and an Anglicized form of the Old Gaelic "O'Breaghdha" indicating a native of Bregia, an ancient territory in Co. Meath. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Alnod de Braio, which was dated 1086, in the Domesday Book of Devonshire, during the reign of King William 1, known as "William the Conqueror", 1066 - 1087. 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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