This race and interesting name is of medieval English origin and is a dialectal variant of the locational name Lee or Leigh from various places named with the Old English pre 7th Century element 'leah' translating variously as 'an open place in a wood, a glade or low - lying meadow'. Examples are Lee in Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Essex, Kent and Shropshire, also Lea in Cheshire, Lincolnshire, Wiltshire etc.. The name may also be topographic for someone who dwelled by a pasture or clearing. The surname is first recorded in the mid 12th Century, (see below).One, Turqod de la Lea appears in the 1193 'Pipe Rolls of Warwickshire' and a Richard de la Lee in the 1273 'Hundred Rolls of Wiltshire'. In the modern idiom the variants include Lea, Laye, Ley, Lye, Layhe, and one Michael Layhe married Birdget Sullivan on August 24th 1835 at St. James, Paddington. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Ailric de la Leie, which was dated circa 1148 - 'Early Northamptonshire Charters', during the reign of King Stephen, 'Count of Blois', 1135 - 1154. 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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