This name is of English locational origin from a place thus called in Lancashire, also in Hertfordshire (near Bishops Stortford) and on the Isle of Wight. The name derives from the Old English pre 7th Century "porn" meaning thorn(bush), plus "leah", a wood. Hence, "a thorny leah". The surname is first recorded in the latter half of the 16th Century (see below). The marriage of one, Thomas Thorneley and a Johanna Longe appears in London Marriage Licence Records, dated 1588. The prevalence of the name in Derbyshire Church Registers from the late 16th Century onwards leads one to believe that the name may be topographic from that area.On October 31st 1591, the marriage of one, Alice Thornley and a Francis Callow appears on Chesterfield registers and in November 1604 a Henrici Thornley or Thornelye was christened in Bolsover. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of John Thornelie, of Cheshire, which was dated 1581, The Oxford University Register, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1, "Good Queen Bess", 1558 - 1603. 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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