This interesting surname, with the variant spellings Eeley, Eely, Heley and Ely, can be either a patronymic, or of locational origin. As a patronymic name, it derives from the medieval given name "Elis" or the vernacular form of "Elijah". This name was borne by a biblical prophet and was a popular name among Christians in the Middle Ages, being the name of a 7th Century bishop of Syracuse. The surname from this source was first recorded as William Heli in Documents relating to the Danelaw for Nottinghamshire in 1154 A.D.The second origin is locational from the Isle of Ely in Cambridgeshire. This name itself derives from "El-ge", Olde English elements which translate as "the eel island". The famous English historian and author of "Historia Ecclesiastica", the venerable Bede (673 - 735) refers to the extraordinary number of eels caught at "Elge". The name recordings include John Elye of Cambridge in 1327, and Alice Eley of Clerkenwell, London, who married William Goodower, on June 1st 1604. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Huna de Ely, which was dated 1086, in the "Ancient Charters of Cambridgeshire", 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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