The surname of CLAY was of two-fold origin, it was a locational name meaning the dweller 'at the clay', from residence by a clayey spot. Local names usually denoted where a man held his land, and indicated where he actually lived. The name also meant one who worked in a claypit. The name was originally derived from the Old English word 'claeg'. Many modern family names throughout Europe reflect the profession or occupation of their forbears in the Middle Ages and derive from the position held by their ancestors in the village, noble household or religious community in which they lived and worked. The addition of their profession to their birth name made it easier to identify individual tradesmen and craftsmen. As generations passed and families moved around, so the original identifying names developed into the corrupted but simpler versions that we recognise today. Early records of the name mention Alicia le Clay of the County of Huntingdonshire, in 1273. Agnes del Clay of Yorkshire was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379. The rise of surnames, according to the accepted theory, was due to the Norman Conquest of 1066 when Old English personal-names were rapidly superseded by the new christian names introduced by the Normans. Of these, only a few were really popular and in the 12th century this scarcity of christian names led to the increasing use of surnames to distinguish the numerous individuals of the same name. Some Normans had hereditary surnames before they came to England, but there is evidence that surnames would have developed in England even had there been no Norman Conquest. The development of the feudal system made it essential that the king should know exactly what service each person owed. Payments to and by the exchequer required that debtors and creditors should be particularized, and it became official that each individual acquired exact identification. Later instances of the name include Thomas, son of Edward Claye who was baptised at St. James's, Clerkenwell, London in 1577. William Jones and Anne Claye were married at St. Peter's, Cornhill, London in 1592. The associated arms are recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884.
Registered in London.
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