This very unusual name can probably be best described as a variant dialectal spelling. It is believed that the name originates in the Lincolnshire region, an area of early 7th century Anglo-Saxon domination, and is a shortened version of the personal name "Hatto", itself, a variant of "Hadu" meaning "strife". Quite why anybody should be called "strife" is not clear, except that the Angles and the Saxons, as well as the later vikings were very fond of warlike names. The name development would appear to be from "Hatto" circa 15th Century, to Atto and Ato, one Thomas Ato being recorded as marrying Elizabeth Kew at Kyme, (Lincolnshire) on May 13th 1689 and to Ayto early in the 19th Century, whilst Priscilla Ayto married Joseph Drayton at Barrow on Humber on March 25th 1874.The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of John Ayto, which was dated November 28th 1808, a christening witness at Grantham, Lincolnshire, during the reign of King George 111, "Farmer George", 1760 - 1820. 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.
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