This is an English and specifically the West Riding of Yorkshire, locational surname which originates from any one of the three places called Exley in this county. The origin is Olde English pre 7th century, and it is probable that the meaning was either "Eskil's farm", with Eskill being a personal name used by both the Olde English and the later Vikings, or from the even older word "Isca" meaning a river. This would give the logical meaning of "The farm (or settlement) by the river". Locational surnames were given originally either to the local lord of the manor and his descendants, or more usually to people who left the village and moved elsewhere."Elsewhere" in this context could be the next village, or a major city such as York, although in general the Exley's seem to have remained firmly in the West Riding. Either way it was in medieval times, and to some extent it remains so in the 20th century, that the easiest way to identify a "stranger" was to call him or her by the name of the place from whence they came. Examples of the surname recordings taken from early surviving registers include Arthure Exley of Keighley on May 3rd 1593, a witness at the parish church, and Edward Exlay, in the rare alternative spelling, at St Peters church, Leeds, on March 7th 1649. The earliest known recording is believed to be that of Edward Exley, at Halifax Parish Church, on May 25th 1572. This was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st, 1558 - 1603.
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