This surname of BREALEY was originally a locational name 'of Briarley' a township in the parish of Felkirk, County Yorkshire. The name was originally derived from the Old English word BROERLEAH, and literally meant the dweller at the briar-clearing. Local names usually denoted where a man held his land. The spelling of Brierley is found most frequently in Lancashire, while Brearley is more common in Yorkshire. The names introduced into Britain by the Normans during and in the wake of the Invasion of 1066, are nearly all territorial in origin. The followers of William the Conqueror were a pretty mixed lot, and while some of them brought the names of their castles and villages in Normandy with them, many were adventurers of different nationalities attached to William's standard by the hope of plunder, and possessing no family or territorial names of their own. Those of them who acquired lands in England were called by their manors, while others took the name of the offices they held or the military titles given to them, and sometimes, a younger son of a Norman landowner, on receiving a grant of land in his new home dropped his paternal name and adopted that of his newly acquired property. Early records of the name mention Johannes de Brerelay, 1377, Freeman of York and Thomas Brearley of Yorkshire, was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379. John Crother married Mary Brearley at St. George's Chapel, Mayfair, London in 1752. 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 the main 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.
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