The surname of GURNEE was a locational name 'of Gurney', a place name in the arrondissement of Neutchatel in France. The name was brought into England during the wake of the Norman Invasion of 1066, and it is recorded that there were two 'de GOURNAYS' at the battle of Hastings in 1066. Local surnames, by far the largest group, derived from a place name where the man held land or from the place from which he had come, or where he actually lived. These local surnames were originally preceded by a preposition such as 'de', 'atte', 'by' or 'in'. The names may derive from a manor held, from working in a religious dwelling or from literally living by a wood or marsh or by a stream. Following the Crusades in Europe a need was felt for a family name. This was recognized by those of noble blood, who realised the prestige and practical advantage it would add to their status. Early records of the name mention Milesenta filius de Gorney of the County of Bedfordshire in 1273. John de Gorney of Yorkshire was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379. Robert Gournay was recorded as the rector of Hethel in County Norfolk in the year 1438. During the Middle Ages, when people were unable to read or write, signs were needed for all visual identification. For several centuries city streets in Britain were filled with signs of all kinds, public houses, tradesmen and even private householders found them necessary. This was an age when there were no numbered houses, and an address was a descriptive phrase that made use of a convenient landmark. At this time, coats of arms came into being, for the practical reason that men went into battle heavily armed and were difficult to recognise. It became the custom for them to adorn their helmets with distinctive crests, and to paint their shields with animals and the like. Coats of arms accompanied the development of surnames, becoming hereditary in the same way.
The associated arms are recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory.
Ulster King of Arms in 1884.
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