Where did we come from? Where did the family name BRAY originate? The claimed origin and meaning varies a little depending on which authority you consult.
The Oxford Dictionary of Surnames gives it as;
Bray: English: Habitational name, (ie named after a place), from places in Berkshire and
This book also states that hereditary family names first began to be used from about the 11th century when it became necessary for various reasons to be able to clearly identify family groups. Prior to this, many people would be known by their personal name and a descriptive second name, but often this was not taken by the children who would have different names. Family names slowly became adopted by the nobility and then others, until about the 13th to 14th centuries when family names had become relatively stable and well established as we know them and everybody had one. However spelling has never been constant and many variants of names arose.
It is often claimed that Bray is a Cornish name and it is still quite common in that county and Devon today. O.J. Padel, who is a Cornish place name expert, and other authorities, confirm that Bray (or Brea which is pronounced the same) is the Cornish word for hill. Indeed many, (possibly most), Brays in Australia will be able to trace their lineage back to Cornwall or Devon, particularly if yours are from Victoria or South Australia, as quite a large number of Cornish families (including many Brays) migrated to Australia to work in the mines. However, it appears that there are at least two separate and quite distinct origins for our name, (you cannot get much more opposite than "hill" and "marsh") and the name may even have arisen independently in several locations. So unlike some families, we will never be able to identify a single place of origin that we can definitely say is "ours" and certainly can never claim a single person as the "Father of the Brays". DNA studies carried out by Dr King and Prof Jobling together with statistical analysis carried out by Prof R Plant and Dr J Plant have clearly shown that our name has descended from multiple progenitors.
Dr George Redmonds, (a family name expert), in his book, also gives the same origins for the name, (Cornish and French), then discussed the very localised group from West Yorkshire centred on Holmfirth and Huddersfield, (see map below). The earliest record there is of an Adam Bray of Cartworth, part of Holmfirth in 1307. This group must have migrated to the area and probably were one of the Norman Brays because there are no places in the district called Bray where the name could have arisen. Due to the very localised nature of this group I suspect (but naturally cannot prove) that these Brays would have originated from one family group who settled in this area. Due to the spread of other places where small numbers of very early Brays are found, (other than in Cornwall and Devon that is), I feel that these families would be the descendents of the "Men from Bray" who marched with William the Conqueror and this would explain the "old French" origin of the name. William and his army invaded England in 1066 from Normandy in France, dispossessing all of the English nobility from their lands. For well over a century, the court language was French and there was a constant flow of migrations from Normandy to England as the Normans progressively established their power and control over the country.
THE CORNISH BRAYS
There are four small habitations in Cornwall called Bray, (or Brea which is the same name), which were well established by the medieval period when family names were becoming common, these are difficult to find on modern maps. All four of these are beside prominent hills, two of which are called Carn Brea. These locations may have been used as surnames by individuals in early times and some could have, and probably did, result in hereditary family names. A study of Cornish baptismal records from the beginning of registers up to 1800 show a large number of Brays in the parish of Gwennap and surrounding villages, some 36% of all Brays in Cornwall, and thus we can say with confidence that this area is definitely one of the sources for our name. This is located very near the towns of Camborne and Redruth. There is a large hill called Carn Brea (with a castle on the top) beside Camborne and there are small hamlets called Carn Brea Village, Brea and Higher Brea beside this hill. This was known as the richest copper and tin mining area in Cornwall stretching back to ancient times. The Gwennap church is quite large and dates back to the 12th century which is around the time family names were being adopted. There is also a place in North Devon called High Bray with a River Bray running through the area, this was well established by this period and is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. The Lord of this place is referred to in the Book as Alnoth of Brai, (Alnod) and this location could have also been used as a family name. One of the most well known Cornish Brays was an ex miner and a charismatic preacher, William (known as Billy) Bray (1794-1868) who established a number of Methodist chapels and thus William became one of the most popular Bray first names in the 1800s.
THE NORMAN BRAYS
The Roll of Battle Abbey, (which is an ancient list, said to be compiled at the time, of those who invaded England from Normandy in 1066), states that men from the region of Bray marched with William the Conqueror, there are several versions of the Roll, all of which mention the name Bray and one actually refers to a William of Bray. However, there would have been some minor gentry from the area and all those who took part in the campaign would have been very well rewarded by William. Virtually all of the English nobility were Norman by the end of the 11th century and remained so for well over a century as they intermarried amongst themselves. There are a number of Sir Brays located in various places during the medieval period and their genealogy is by no means certain; all of these would have Norman ancestry. The village of Bray in Berkshire is listed in the Domesday Book with the Lord given as King William as part of his personal holdings, this would make it virtually certain that this is a Norman place name.
Bray in France is a
small village surrounded by farms near Evreux about half way between Paris and
Le Havre in Normandy. However, there are some other places in
The early Bray Coat of Arms is described as; Argent (a background of silver), a chevron between three eagles legs sable (black), erased a la cuise (cut off at the thigh), their talons gules (red).
A dictionary of British names gives the first references to Bray as an Alnod de Braio in 1084 in Devon, (see the reference above for the Devon Brays),a Richard de Brai in 1135 in Eynsham in Oxfordshire, then a Ralph de Bray 1225 in Devon followed by a Daniel de Bray in 1297.
The most famous of the early Brays in this noble line of
decent was Sir Reginald Bray, Knight of the Garter who died 5 August 1503 and
is buried in the Bray Chapel in Windsor Castle. He was the second son of Sir
Richard Bray of Worcester, one of the Privy Council to Henry VI. Reginald was
serving with Lord Stanley in Henry Tudors army during the War of the Roses
against King Richard III. During the battle of
A knight on the losing side at the Battle of Bosworth Field was a John de la Zouche, Lord of the Manor of Eitone (Eaton). His lands were confiscated and in 1490, the Manor of Eaton was granted to Sir Reginald Bray, the district then becoming known as Eaton Bray. (By co-incidence this is the family name my wife adopted in the hyphenated form when we married, her previous name being Eaton.) As Reginald died without children, his estate passed to his nephew Sir Edmund Bray who in 1530 became the first Baron Bray(e). The male line has died out and three times the title has passed on to a daughter, because of this, the family name first changed to Verney and then to Verney-Cave through marriages. The family home also became Stanford Hall in Lutterworth, Leicestershire in the late 1700s, again through marriage, (see their website http://www.stanfordhall.co.uk/ for details about the house). The manor house of Eaton Bray, (Eitone as it was then), was commenced in 1221 and was demolished around 1794 and only traces of it remain today. The current holder of the title is Lady Penelope, the 8th Baroness Braye who passed the Hall over to her nephew in 2003.
So then, apparently we are named after a place. Where might
that have been? There are several places named BRAY in Europe, as discussed
there are five small settlements in Cornwall and Devon, the town of Bray in
England is in Berkshire on the Thames River near Windsor, Bray in Ireland is on
the coast just south of Dublin in county Wicklow and there is a district named
Pays de Bray near Rouen and a village of Bray near Paris among others in
France. All of these could have given rise to the hereditary name of Bray and some
probably did. The one near Camborne in Cornwall can be considered as a definite place of origin.
See www.berkshirehistory.com/villages/bray for information on the English town.
See www.braytowncouncil.ie for the Irish Bray.
See the Wikipedia Bray link page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bray_%28disambiguation%29 for links to information on the French villages. This page also provides links to the Irish and English places.
So, if your Ancestors came from Cornwall, Devon or Ireland where the word has a similar meaning, your name comes from bré meaning hill (pronounced as bray as in they and anglicised to Bray), you can claim descent from the ancient Cornish People. The oldest Bray family in
If your Ancestors came from places other than Cornwall, Devon or Ireland or perhaps they even came from France, you now know that your name comes from the Old French word for Marsh and you can claim Norman (French) ancestry.
Today the name is spread throughout Britain but still much more common in the southern counties (see map below). The name is also relatively common in
The Site UCL CASA Surname Profiler shows the distribution of Family names in 1881 and 1998, go to www.spatial-literacy.org/UCLnames/default.aspx to check out the site. However the 1881 BRAY name distribution is shown below. This clearly shows that the name was very prevalent in