This surname derives from the Middle English and Old French "joli(f)", merry, lively, happy, and was originally given as a nickname to one of cheerful disposition. Perhaps the ultimate origin of the word lies in the Old Norse "jol", the midwinter festival when people celebrated the gradual lengthening of the days. This festival was later appropriated by the Christian Church for celebration of the birth of Christ. The creation of surnames from nicknames was a common practice in the Middle Ages, and Jolliffe is found recorded all over the British Isles as would be expected of a soubriquet handed down as being complimentary. Early examples of the surname include: Walter Jolyf, (Bedfordshire, 1281); Henry Jolyffe, (London, circa 1300), and Alicia Jolyff, (Yorkshire, 1379). In the modern idiom the name has at least eight spelling forms, including; Joliff, Jolliffe, Juliff, Jolly, Jolley, Jollie, Joly and Jollye, themselves a confirmation of the original popularity of the personal form. The recordings include as follows; Henry Julett, a witness at the christening of his daughter Sara, at Ruardean, Gloucester, on March 18th 1700, whilst William Juliffe was a witness at Morrice Street Wesleyan Church, Devenport, Plymouth, on July 2nd 1832. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of John Jolyf, 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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