This interesting northern English medieval surname, recorded in the spellings of Galley, Gally, Galey, Gally, Galilee and Gallally, has two possible origins. The first is occupational, and a metonymic or nickname for a galley-man, one who owned or sailed on a galley. A galley was a vessel which was principally driven by oars rather than sail, and whilst on the continent of Europe it generally described a warship, in England the meaning was more prosaic. Here it described a low built, flat bottomed vessel, used in rivers and shallow estuaries, and navigated with both sails and oars. The derivation is from the French word 'galie' and this was probably introduced after the 1066 Norman Conquest. The second origin is more romantic and open to conjecture. In the Middle Ages the word 'galilee' described the porch of certain churches, particularly that of Durham Cathedral. A family called 'Galilee' have been recorded in that area since the time of Edward 11, 1307 - 1327. It is also known that the spelling of this name also 'developed' into Galley and Galey. Early examples of the surname recording include William de la Galilye of Durham in 1337, Adam del Galay of York, in the Friary Rolls of 1304, and John Galley of Newcastle upon Tyne, in 1540. Amongst the earliest settlers in the New World was Thomas Galley, aged 20, who left London, England, on 'the 13 die octobris 1635' aboard the ship 'Amitie'. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Henry Galye, which was dated 1219 - in the Assize Court Rolls of the county of Yorkshire, during the reign of King Henry 111, known as 'The Frenchman', 1216 - 1272. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

Surnames reference. 2013.

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