This uncommon and intriguing name is of Old Norse origin, and is found chiefly in the north western counties of England, reflecting the dense settlement of Scandinavian peoples in those areas. The surname is locational, from places such as Aira Beck or Aira Force near Ullswater in Cumberland, or some other minor or unrecorded place also named with the Old Norse term "eyrara", meaning "gravel-bank stream or river". The surname may also be topographical in origin, denoting residence by such a gravel- bank. Locational surnames were used particularly as a means of identification by those who left their birthplace to settle elsewhere, and regional dialectal differences as well as varying standards of literacy frequently led to the formation of variant forms of the original name. In this instance, the modern surname forms range from Airey, Airy, Ayre(e) and Aery, to Erie, Eyre(e), Errey, Earie and Earey. Early examples include: Clemens Erie (1576, Lancashire); Robert Erye (1584, ibid.); Thomas Eray (1591, Cumberland); and William Earee (1685, London). Among the recordings of the name in Church Registers are the christening of Anges Earay in Dacre, Cumberland, on September 19th 1633, and the marriage of Mary Earey and Benjamin Buskin on October 2nd 1726, at St. Bartholomew the Great, London. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Robert de Hayra, which was dated 1301, in the "Inquisitiones Post Mortem", of Lancashire (for Westmoreland), during the reign of King Edward 1, known as "The Hammer of the Scots", 1272 - 1307. 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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