Recorded as Northleigh, Northley, Norly and Norley, this is an English locational surname. It originates from either a 'lost' medieval village in the county of Kent called North Leigh, and near to the town of Elham, or a similar 'lost' village of North Leigh in Sufflk near Ipswich, or from Northleigh, a village in Devonshire, near to the town of Honition. This place has the interesting 'companions' of Goodleigh and Southleigh! Northleigh is first recorded in the famous Domesday Book of 1086 as 'Norlege' or just 'Lege,' whilst Southleigh is first recorded in 1291 as 'Suthlege'.The name means the north farm, or literally in pre 7th century Olde English 'The enclosure cleared for agriculture to the north.' As to what it was 'north' of is unclear, but may well be Honiton itself. Locational surnames are usually 'from' names. These were names given to people after they left their original homes to move somewhere else and were best identified by the name of the place from whence they came. Spelling being at best indifferent and local accents very thick, lead to the creation of 'sounds like' spellings. These early recordings include Robert Northleighe also recorded as Robert Northley, of Devonshire, and a student at Oxford University in 1602, and another Robert, this time Norly or perhaps Nortly, who was buried (quote) at ' 'ye east yeard, St. Peter Cornhill' in the city of London, in 1618.
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