This unusual surname is of early medieval English origin, and is a good example of that sizeable group of early European surnames that were gradually created from the habitual use of nicknames. These nicknames were originally given with reference to a variety of personal characteristics, such as physical attributes or peculiarities, mental and moral characteristics, and to habits of dress and behaviour. The derivation, in this instance, is rom the Middle English and Old French "joli(f)", merry, lively, happy, used to denote someone of a cheerful disposition. Perhaps the ultimate origin of the word is the Old Norse "jol", the pagan midwinter festival when people celebrated the gradual lengthening of the days. This festival was later appropriated by the Christian Church as "Yule" for celebration of the birth of Christ. Early examples of the surname include: Henry Jolyffe (London, circa 1300), and Alicia Jolyff (Yorkshire, 1379). In the modern idiom the surname has a variety of forms ranging from Jolliff, Jolliffe, Juliff(e) and Juleff, to Jolley, Jollie and Jolly(e). The forms Juliff(e) and Jul(e)ff are most widespread in Cornwall. Recordings from Cornish Church Registers include: the marriage of John Julff to Jane Rossell at Camborne, on November 7th 1568, and the marriage of James Juleff to Jane Broad at St. Neot, on June 5th 1749. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of John Jolif, which was dated 1273, in the "Hundred Rolls of Huntingdonshire", during the reign of King Edward 1, known as "The Hammer of the Scots", 1272 - 1307. 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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