Recorded as Greest, Grice, Gris, Griss, and the rare diminutives Grassettt, Grissett, Grissitt, and Grossett, this interesting surname is of early medieval English. It is an example of the sizeable group of early European surnames that were gradually created from the habitual use of nicknames. These nicknames were given with reference to occupation or physical or mental characteristics, including resemblance to an animal's or bird, or even to habits of dress. In this instance the surname has two possible sources. Firstly it may derive from the Old French word "gris", meaning grey, and would have been a nickname for a grey-haired person, at a time when few lived old enough to become grey. Secondly, it may have been given to a pig keeper or swineherd, with as an example Robert le Gris in the tax rolls known as the Feet of Fines for the county of Norfolk in 1198; whilst Leticia Grise is listed in the Assize Rolls of Kent in 1317; and Richard Grice is noted as a Freeman of York in 1413. A later recording of the diminutive is that of George Gresett and his wife Jane at St Andrews Holborn, on July 13th 1780. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Richard Gris. This was dated 1176, in the Pipe Rolls of Northumberland, during the reign of King Henry 11nd of England, known as "The Builder of Churches", 1154 - 1189. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was sometimes known as the 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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