This name, with variant spellings Cowley and Kewley, has two distinct possible origins, the first being a dialectal variant of the placename Cowley found in Buckinghamshire, Devonshire, Oxfordshire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Cloucestershire and Middlesex. The second element of the name i.e. "ley" derives, in all cases, from the Old English pre 7th Century "leah", a wood or clearing, and the first element "cow" may be either the Old English "cufl", a log or stump; "cu", a cow; or "col", charcoal. Early recordings of the surname from locational sources include Osbert de Couela, (Oxfordshire, 1167) and William de Colley, (Derbyshire, 1327). The second possibility is that the name is a Manx contraction of the Gaelic (Scots and Irish) MacAuley, itself coming from the Old Gaelic personal byname "Amhalghaidy" meaning "like unto a willow withe", or from MacAmhlaibh i.e. "son of Amlaib", from the Norse personal name "Anleif" meaning "god-relic". The names Cowley, Cawley and Kewley are particularly widespread in the Isle of Man, Cheshire and Lancashire. A famous Cawley was William Cawley (1602-1667), founder of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, Chichester, 1626, and one of the judges of King Charles 1. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of William Cawley, (christening), which was dated March 3rd 1571, St. John the Baptist, Chester, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1, "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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