This interesting and most curious surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a locational name from Irlam, an urban district and parish at the confluence of the Irwell and Mersey, south of Manchester, which was recorded as "Urwilham, Urwelham", circa 1190 in the Cockersand Chartulary, and as "Irwelham" in the Lancashire Assize Rolls of 1259. The placename means the "settlement on the River Irwell", from the Olde English pre 7th Century "ham", settlement, village, and the river name "Irwell", which means "winding stream", derived from the Olde English "irre, eorre", angry, originally "straying, wandering", plus "wella", a stream. During the Middle Ages, when migration for the purpose of job-seeking was becoming more common, people often used their former village name as a means of identification, resulting in a wide dispersal of the name. Early examples include: the marriage of Margaret Irlam to Thomas Byrtels on July 24th 1569, at Prestbury, Cheshire; the christening of Alexander Erlame on September 16th 1571, at Eccles, Lancashire; and the christening of Peter Earlam son of Anthony Earlam of St Helens, on August 15th 1740. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Rodger Erlame, which was dated June 20th 1565, marriage to Gynet Awen, at Eccles, Lancashire, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1, known as "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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