Recorded as Clay, Claye, Claies, Clays, Clace, Clayce, Cleys, and others, this is an English surname. It has two origins. The first is residential either for a former inhabitant of a place called Clay, or topographical for someone who lived in an area of clay soil. The derivation being from the pre 7th century word "claeg", meaning clay. Such surnames were among the earliest created, since both natural and man-made features in the landscape provided easily recognisable distinguishing names in the small communities of the Middle Ages. Secondly it can be occupational for a worker in a clay pit, or who worked with clay as in building with wattle and daub. Job descriptive surnames became hereditary when a son followed his father into the same line of business. Early examples of recordings include Reginald de la Claie in the Pipe Rolls of Essex in the Year 1200, and Nicholas del Clay in the Subsidy Rolls of Yorkshire in 1302. A coat of arms granted to the family is per pale green and black, charged with an ermine lion rampant between three silver escallops. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Ralph de Clai, which was dated 1172, in the "Pipe Rolls of Suffolk", during the reign of King Henry 11, known as "The Builder of Churches", 1154 - 1189. 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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