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Origins of the Morley surname

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Surname Meaning

Morley is a locative name, meaning that the earliest bearers assumed the name through geographical association – as a byname inspired by a place in which they lived, worked or owned land. In many instances a man’s son(s) and grandson(s) came to be known by the same byname, and this family byname evolved into a hereditary surname carried by all members descending patrilineally (i.e. in the male line) from one or more of the byname bearers – even the descendants no longer associated with the name-giving location. 

The traditional etymology for Morley is the rather generic “clearing/shelter in/by the moor”. This misleads the casual reader into the belief that all of the individual “founders” of the Morley surname must have assumed it through direct association with one of the various pieces of land in England fitting this description. It is the project administrator’s view that the traditional etymology is overly simplistic, and that an appreciable amount of the Morley families instead took their name from settlements bearing the name Morley or something similar – settlements that had been named centuries prior to the adoption of surnames, and whose names may have over this interval drifted from the original spelling, pronunciation and meaning.