Recorded as Sai, Say, Saye, Sey, and probably others, this intriguing name is of French origins, of which it may have at least two. The first is locational from a place called Sai in the departement of Orne, or from Say, in the region of France known as Indre. These places were originally named after an early 5th century Gallic invader called Saius. It is likely that the personal name was introduced into the British Isles with the Norman Conquest of 1066, although it does not seem to appear in the famous Domesday Book of 1086. The second possibility is that this is a metonymic occupational surname for a maker or dealer in a particularly finely textured cloth called in England 'say'. Again the true origin is French from the word 'saie' and the earlier Latin 'saga'. Records show that Giles Say lived at Stokesay Castle, near Ludlow, Shropshire, in the 14th century, and there is a brass sepulchral tablet of Lady Elizabeth Say, the daughter of Sir John Say, dated 1473, in Broxbourne Vicarage, Hertfordshire, whilst James Sey was recorded at St Dunstans in the East, Stepney, on January 30th 1593. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Jordan de Sai. This was dated 1161, in the Eynsham Cartulary, Oxfordshire, during the reign of King Henry 11nd of England, and known as 'The Builder of Churches', 1154 -1189. 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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