Recorded as Litly, Littley, Litley, Lettley, Letley and possibly others, this is an English surname. It is clearly locational from some place, although no such place in any other of the known surname spellings is recorded in the gazetters of the Brish Isles, or those from two centuries past. This suggests that this surname originates either from a 'lost' medieval village, or possibly as a transposition of some similar sounding name such as Littlesea in the county of Dorset, near the area called Studland. Today Littlesea is just a small lake, but in former centuries it is understood that a village did stand nearby. Some three thousand surnames of the British Isles are believed to originate from 'now' lost villages, so whilst unusual, it is not a unique phenomena. As to why villages disappeared in such numbers has been the subject of several books. In brief this can be put down to changes in agricultural practices, drainage of the fen lands, plague, which played a big part in the late medieval period, civil war and even coastal erosion. The surname as spelt seems to mean 'The little farm' from the Olde English pre 7th century 'Little-leah', but 'Little-eg', meaning Little Island would have been equally logical as would of course 'Little sea'. In the surviving early registers of the diocese of Greater London we have the recordings of Marye Littley, at All Hallows, London Wall, on May 7th 1570, and Ann Litlee, the daughter of Edmund Littlee, at St Mary Whitechapel, Southwark, on January 29th 1698.
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