Recorded in several spellings including Greenly, Greenley, Greenleaf and Greenlee, this is an English surname. It has two possible origins and meanings. The first is that it is locational from either Greenlee in Northumberland or just possibly Greenlea in Dumfries, Scotland, or that it is a dialectal variant of Grindley in Staffordshire. In all case the derivation is from the Old English pre 7th Century words 'gren', meaning green and 'leah', a fenced enclosure in a forest. Greenleaf may also be a nickname surname for an actor character in the medieval pageants. These men dressed in a costume of green leaves played a prominent part in these public dramas, and the honour of this position was then handed down to the next generation, hence creating a hereditary surname. The name, through early emigration is also well recorded in America,the earliest known example and one of the first colonists, being that of Robert Greenleafe who settled at "Charles Cittie" in the colony of Virginia in the year 1610. Other early examples of the surname recordings include: Francis Greenlie who was christened at the church of St Mary Aldermary, in the city of London on April 12th 1609, John Greenley, a witness at St Giles Cripplegate, on November 18th 1666, and William Greenly, a witness at St Sepulchre church, on March 19th 1694, all in the city of London. The first recorded spelling of the family name is probably that of Johannes de Grenelef. This was dated 1379, in the Poll Tax rolls of the county of Yorkshire, during the reign of King Richard 11 of England, 1377 - 1399. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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