This is an interesting name of Medieval English origin and is a dialectal variant of the name Rye. It has two distinct possible sources, the first being that it is a topographical name for someone who lived on an island or a patch of marsh ground which is surrounded by marshland or fens. The derivation of this source is from a misdivision of the Middle English 12th Century phrase 'alter ye', meaning at the island. Alternately it is possible that it is a topographical name for a person living at a place where Rye was grown, or even an occupational name for someone who grew it, and is a derivation of the Old English pre 7th Century 'Ryge', meaning Rye: In the modern idiom the variants include Rey, Rye, Reay, Ray, R(a)yman, Raiman, Reaman and Reeman.One John Rea (died 1681) a nursery gardener who published 'Flora, or a complete Florilege', is listed in the National Biography. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of William atte Rea, which was dated 1327, in the Subsidy Rolls Sussex, during the reign of King Edward 11, known as 'The Father of the Navy, 1327 - 1377. 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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