Recorded in many spelling forms including the French and English Abba, Abbay, Abbe, Abbate, Abbatt, Labbe, Labbey, Labey, Abade, the Scottish Abbie and Abbe, and the Italian Abbattini, Dell'Abate or Degli Abbati, this most interesting and unusual surname is of Olde French pre 10th century origins. It derives from the word "abet" which usually means a priest, but may have also, particularly in Italy, have referrred to a local chief or an official master of ceremonies. This indicates that several origins are possible, including a nickname for one who was thought to be rather "priestly" in his characteristics, or an occupational or status name for a local chief or official, or that it may be theatrical and a "casting" name for an actor, one who played the part of a priest in the famous travelling theatres of the medieval period. Despite the first recording shown below the name is unlikely, as a hereditary surname, to have originated from an actual abbe or priest. These members of the clergy since the 11th century, have been expected to be unmarried and celibate. Whether they were or not is open to some discussion, particulary as occasionally this surname is recorded as a patronymic or diminutive, indicating the "son of the abbe!". The surname is first recorded in any form anywhere in the world in England in 1177, when Ralph Le Abbe appears in the charters of London during the reign of King Henry 11 (1154 - 1189). 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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