This is an Old Scottish name, from the Gaelic personal name "Fionnlagh", which is composed of the elements "fionn", meaning "white, fair", with "laoch", warrior or hero. The name was early reinforced by the Old Norse personal name "Finnleikr", composed of the elements "Finn" as above, and "leikr", meaning "play, sport". As a personal name "Finlay" is first recorded in circa 1070 as "Fionnlaoich", and in the Book of Leinster, the name of MacBeth's father is spelled "Findlech" (1070); "Fynlai" was provost of Stirling in 1327.The modern surname has a number of forms, ranging from Finlay, Findlay, Finley and Findley, to Finlow and Findlow. In the Western Isle of Lewis, the fairies are called in Gaelic "Muinntir Fhionlaidh", Finlay's people. In Northumberland the name appears in 1609 as Phinley, one John Phinley marrying Isabell Simpson at St. Nicholas' Church, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, whilst on May 30th 1699, Joh: Finlay married Doro: Watson at St. John's Church, also in the City of Newcastle. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Andrew Fyndelai, Chaplain of Brechin, which was dated 1526, Register of the Church of Brechin, during the reign of King James V of Scotland, 1513 - 1542. 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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