Recorded as Ley, Leys, Lea, Lea, Lye and others, this is usually a very early English surname. It is or was residential, and given either to a person who lived near a meadow or pasture, or who came from one of the various places called Lee, Lea, Leigh or Leah. These include the villages of Lee in Essex, Kent, Hampshire and Shropshire, and Lea in Cheshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire and Wiltshire. Ley may also be German. This has a different origin being from the Latin word "eligere", meaning to elect. It was popularized by a 6th century Christian saint who came to be venerated as the patron of smiths and horses. Early examples of the recordings in England include Liffild de Lega of the county of Essex in 1176, Turgod de la Lea of Warwickshire in 1193, and Philip de Lye of Wiltshire in 1198. Henry Ley, a captain of foot soldiers who served in the army of King Henry V111 in 1547, was descended from William de Leigh who lived in 1295. In Germany we have the example of Antony Ley who married Maria Kappen in Mayschoss, Rheinland, on January 13th 1687. A coat of arms associated with the surname has the blazon of a silver shield charged with a black chevron between three black bears' heads. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Ailric de la Leie. This was dated 1148, in the lists of early charters of the county of Northamptonshire, during the reign of King Stephen of England, 1135 - 1154. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was sometimes known as the 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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