This is a medieval English surname, but of Norse-Viking pre 8th century origins. Mainly recorded in the modern spellings of Sawrey, Sowray, Sowrey, and Sowrah, the surname is locational from a hamlet called Far Sawrey near Hawkshead, on the west shore of Lake Windermere. This place is recorded as "Sourer" in the Coucher Book of Furness Abbey in 1336, a word which described a wild or uncultivated area of marshes. The north western counties of England were intensively settled by the Norse invaders, who often came from Norway via Ireland and the Isle of Man, whilst at the same time the eastern counties, such as Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, were largely populated by Danes.In both cases their influence is shown by the large numbers of placenames and hence later surnames, derived from their languages. Locational surnames, such as this one, were a medieval phenomena. At this time, changing social and agricultural practices, particularly those associated with the developing textile industries, created a greater flexibility of labour. As any easy form of identification, people who left their original birthplace to settle elsewhere, were usually called by their new neighbours or workmates, after the place from whence they came. Spelling being at best indifferent, and local dialects very thick, lead to the development of alternative spellings. Examples of the early surname recordings found in the surviving church registers include: William Sowraie of Ulverston, in Lancashire, on July 25th 1551, James Sowrey and Jennett Wilkinson, who were married at the church known as St. Crus, in the city of York, on January 27th 1552; and the christening of Robart Sowray at St. Denis church, also York, on September 15th 1613. The blazon of the coat of arms granted in York in 1666 during the reign of King Charles 11 (1660 - 1685) is: argent, six lions rampant sable, with a canton or. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop", often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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