This unusual surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a locational name from Earnley, a parish and village south west of Chichester in Sussex. Recorded variously as "Earnaleach, Earneleagh" and "Earnelegh" in the Saxon Chartulary, dated 780, and as "Earneleia" in 930, the component elements of the placename are the genitive case of the Olde English pre 7th Century "earn", eagle, with "leah", glade, open place in a wood; hence, "Earne's leah" (Eagles' glade). Locational surnames, such as this, were originally given to local landowners, and the lord of the manor, and especially as a means of identification to those who left their birthplace to settle elsewhere.Regional and dialectal differences subsequently produced several variations on the original spelling of the name which, in the modern idiom, is found as Earnsley, Arnsley, Hernsley and Yearnsley. On January 14th 1563, James Earnsley and Elizabeth Wedoo were married at St. Alphege, Canterbury, Kent, and on October 2nd 1567, Elizabeth Earnesly married a William Hearde in the same church. The christening of Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Yearnsley, took place at St. Dunstan's, Stepney, London, on October 25th 1740, and on September 12th 1802, Sophia Yearnsley and Robert Miles were married at St. John the Baptist, Croydon, Surrey. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of William Ernley, which was dated July 17th 1539, witness at the christening of his daughter, Catherine, at West Wittering, Sussex, during the reign of King Henry V111, known as "Bluff King Hal", 1509 - 1547. 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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