This surname LEEF was derived from the Old personal name LEOFA a nickname meaning 'dearly-beloved'. It was also a locational name for one who lived in a densely foliated area, from the Middle English word LEAF, and a certain Robert Intheleaves is recorded in London in the 14th century. 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.
Early instances of the name mention Godwin Lief, who was recorded in 1198 in County Norfolk, and Alice le Lef appears in 1279 in Huntingdonshire. John le Leef was recorded in 1318 in County Cornwall. Surnames before the Norman Conquest of 1066 were rare in England having been brought by the Normans when William the Conqueror invaded the shores. The practice spread to Scotland and Ireland by the 12th century, and in Wales they appeared as late as the 16th century. Most surnames can be traced to one of four sources, locational, from the occupation of the original bearer, nicknames or simply font names based on the first name of the parent being given as the second name to their child. Later instances of the name inlude Henry Leyf who appears in 1327 in County Suffolk, and Lucia le Lyf was recorded in 1337 in County Somerset, during the reign of Edward III (1327-1377). Thomas Leaf of Yorkshire, was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379. The name has many variant spellings.
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