This most interesting and ancient surname, with its long association with the British nobility, has three possible origins. It may be Olde English and derive from the pre 8th century word 'cleare' which translates as 'bright or clear' and as such was applied to various rivers and a Manor in the county of Suffolk. A second possibility is French, from a place called Clere in Normandy and first recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book of England, whilst the third is baptismal from the French 'Claire' or the Latin 'Clara' which themselves translate as 'bright of fair'. What is certain is that whether locational in England or France, or baptismal, the name has the same meaning. The original spelling forms were Clere, Clarae, Clara, Clare, and Clair(e), and these spellings seem to have come down through the ages almost unchanged. There is some confusion in that in the early days the surnames were almost always proceeded by the French preposition 'de', although by the 16th century its use had almost died out. Irish nameholders also trace their heritage from the same sources, Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, and better known as 'Strongbow' was the great leader of the Anglo-Norman Invasion of Ireland in 1170. The primary source of the surname is probably the Clare family of Clare in Suffolk, who received the Dukedom of Clarence in 1362. Early examples of the surname include Bogo de Clare of Oxford in the 1273 Kings Rolls, Goditha Clare of Kent in 1317, and Thomas Clair of St Giles Cripplegate, London on January 19th 1664. The 'first' Clare/Clair(e) into the New American Colonies of King James 1 was probably Mr Clare, Master of the Ship 'Gods Gift' of London. Unfortunately he was dead when he 'arrived' at Elizabeth City on or about February 16th 1623. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Richard de Clare, which was dated 1086, The Domesday Book for County Suffolk, England, during the reign of King William 1, known as '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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