This is a locational surname of Olde English pre 7th century origins. It dervies from the various villages of the same name in the counties of Berkshire, Cheshire, Northumberland, Wiltshire, Warwickshire and Yorkshire, or from residence at 'a clearing (leah) in a 'white' (hwit) wood'. The meaning of 'white' is unclear, but it is generally accepted that the translation is a deciduous wood, and perhaps specifically birch, rather than evergreen. The other possible meaning is a lightly forested area, at a time when nine tenths of England was at least partly forested. The surname is one of the oldest on record, and there are many examples from the 12th century, essentially the dawn of the surname period. Prior to that time only the nobility and the church had 'sur' names, and even they would not have recognised the term. Early examples of the surname include Richardus de Witelay of Yorkshire in the 1190 Pipe Rolls, Hilda de Wittelia in the Pipe Rolls of Nottingham, and Richard de Whiteley in the 1246 Assize Rolls of Lancashire. Later recordings include those of William Whitleaye of Lincolnshire in the 1582 register of students of Oxford University, and Thomas Whitlee, recorded as being a lighterman, who married Mary Ambros, at Canterbury, Kent, on June 1st 1688. The coat of arms granted in Yorkshire has the blazon of a blue field, charged with three torteaux on a silver bend. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of William de Witteleia, which was dated 1125, the ancient charters of the county of Cheshire, during the reign of King Henry 1, of England, 1100 - 1135. 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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