This unusual surname derives either from the Old English pre 7th Century "Cleofian" meaning a crevice in a rock, or from "clif", an equally old english word for a steep slope. Either way the name is habitational for one who lived by a crevice or a cliff. As "Vs" and "Fs" are largely interchangeable in Medieval English, it is probable that this spelling is a developed form of "Cleave", also found as the surnames "Cleft of Clift". The records suggest that "Cleife" is a South-South West variant, certainly it is very rare or non existent outside of Sussex, Hampshire and Dorset, and then only from the 18th Century these recordings include Joseph Cleif, also recorded as below at Portsea Meeting House, on November 28th 1811, and Jane Cleife who married at St. Mary's, Portsea, on May 14th 1820. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Christopher Cleife, which was dated February 17th 1796, a witness at Alley Baptist Meeting House Portsea, during the reign of King George 111, "Farmer George", 1760 - 1820. 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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