Recorded in various spellings including Lay, Lie, Lei, Lye, and patronymics including Lays, Lias, Lies, Lis, Lys, Lyes, and probably others, this is an English surname. Like the more popular spellings of Lea, Lee, Leigh, Leas, and Lees, it is of residential origin from any of the many places in England and sometimes Scotland, called Lea, Lee, Leigh and Lye. All derive from the pre 7th century element "leah," and according to which part of the country the word or place is found, the meaning can be variously an open area in a forest cleared for agriculture, or a woodland glade, which may be the same thing, or a low lying meadow.Examples of the places include Lee in Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Essex, Kent and Shropshire, Lea in Cheshire, Lincolnshire, and Wiltshire, and Leigh in Lancashire. The surname is not surprisingly ancient being amonst the first ever recorded. These early recordings include Turqod de la Lea in the Pipe Rolls of Warwickshire in 1193, and Richard de la Lee in the Hundred Rolls of Wiltshire in 1273. Other recordings taken from early surviving church registers include Ales Lea who was christened at Bebington, in Cheshire on January 27th 1563, Road Lies who married William Anderson at the church of St Gregory's by St Pauls Cathedral, in the city of London, on April 13th 1627, and Mary Lyes who married Philip Lambe at St Leonards Shoreditch, on July 24th 1780. Amongst the famous name holders was Benjamin Lay (1677-1759), a Quaker of Philadelphia, who opposed slavery in the West Indies. A coat of arms associated with the name has the blazon of a red field, a silver chevron charged with three torteaux, and a crest of a gold escallop with a red saltire. The first recorded spelling of the family name is believed to be that of Ailric de la Leie. This was dated 1148, in the charters of Northamptonshire, during the reign of King Stephen of England, 1135 - 1154. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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