The surname of RILEY was a locational name 'of Riley' in the parish of Altham, County Lancashire. Early records of the name RILEY (without surname) who was recorded in the year 1185, and Edwin RYLEIGH of Yorkshire, was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379. Johannes de RYLAY was listed in the same document. Many factors contributed to the establishment of a surname system. For generations after the Norman Conquest of 1066 a very few dynasts and magnates passed on hereditary surnames, but most of the population, with a wide choice of first-names out of Celtic, Old English, Norman and Latin, avoided ambiguity without the need for a second name. As society became more stabilized, there was property to leave in wills, the towns and villages grew and the labels that had served to distinguish a handful of folk in a friendly village were not adequate for a teeming slum where perhaps most of the householders were engaged in the same monotonous trade, so not even their occupations could distinguish them, and some first names were gaining a tiresome popularity, especially Thomas after 1170. The hereditary principle in surnames gained currency first in the South, and the poorer folk were slower to apply it. By the 14th century however, most of the population had acquired a second name. A later instance records Robert Riley of Chorley who was listed in the Wills at Chester in 1545. The associated arms are recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884. Granted to John Riley Esq of the Inner Temple, London. A notable member of the name was James Whitcomb RILEY (1849-1916) the American poet, known as the 'Hoosier poet' born in Greenfield, Indiana. He made his name contributing homely dialect poems to the 'Indianapolis Journal' (1877-85). He published several volumes, and is also known for his poems about children, including 'Little Orfant Annie'. In the Middle Ages heraldry came into use as a practical matter. It originated in the devices used to distinguish the armoured warriors in tournament and war, and was also placed on seals as marks of identity. As far as records show, true heraldry began in the middle of the 12th century, and appeared almost simultaneously in several countries of Western Europe.
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