Surname Name Meaning, Origin, and Etymology
This last name has at least seven origin theories. Firstly, it could be a nickname derived from “the roe”, i.e. a deer, with a similar etymology as Stagg, Buck, Roebuck, and Rae, that was given to a timid person (shyness being a trait of a female deer), deriving from the North English ra, Anglo-Saxon rah, and/or the Middle English ray. Second, it could be an English surname of Norman ancestry that was a nickname for a person who acted in a regal/royal manner or who earned the title so called in a contest or festival by demonstrating some sort of skill, deriving from the Old French word rey or roy, meaning king. Third, it could be a spelling variant of the surname Rye (an English topographic name for a person who lived on an island or ground surrounded by fens, and other origin theories, or a person who lived in an area where corn was grown). Fourth, it could be a locational surname meaning “of Wray” (from numerous places in England named Wray, Wrea, and Wreay). Fifth, it could be a shortened/reduced form of the Scottish surname McRae (derived from a Gaelic personal name). Sixth, it could have French origins, a topographic name for someone who lived near a stream from the Old French word raier, meaning to gush or pour, or from the Olde British word ea, meaning a person who lived next to a stream. Seventh, it could have derived from a nickname for a person with a swarthy or red complexion, deriving from the Gaelic words Ruadh and Reagh. It should also be noted that in Cornish Breton, the word Rea means wonderful or strange and in Welsh, Rhe or Rhedu means to run, and Rhae means a battle of place of battle or a chain. Another source, Surnames of the United Kingdom by Henry Harrison, published in 1918, mentions its related to a Celtic word meaning a level plain, and also mentions potential Scandinavian origins to the name. Lastly, it should also be mentioned that it can be a variant of the Indian name Rai, a surname derived from a feudal title.
This surname is discussed in the book Patronymica Britannica by Mark Antony Lower. He states an estate of Gill, located in the parish of Bromfield in county Cumberland, England was owned by the Reay or Ray family since the time of King William the Lion of Scotland (reigned 1165-1214 AD). It is said the original member of the family was a strong proponent of the Scottish crown, and the King admired him for his swiftness in chasing deer during the hunt, perhaps why several of the Ray Family Crests depict deer, and granted him the estate of Gill, and in return the member agreed to keep the name William alive in the genealogy of the Ray family, a tradition which was followed for many generations. Lower writes: “The surname itself was probably borrowed from the sobriquet of William the Lion's fleet-footed vassal, Ra, or raa, being the Anglo-Saxon, and rae the Lowland Scottish for a roe”.
George Fraser Black’s The Surnames of Scotland, published in 1946, states the following in regard to this last name: “Thomas filius (son of) Ray witnessed confirmation by Alexander, son of Walter, of his father's gift to the church of Paisley, 1239. John Ray held a tenement in Glasgow in 1487, and William Ray, burgess of Edinburgh, had a safe conduct into England in 1465 (Bain, IV, 1361). Sir William Ray is recorded in 1530 as "vmquhyle chaplane to our lady chappell of the brig of Dei" , and William Ray had a charter of six acres of land in the burgh of Kethik from the Abbey of Coupar-Angus, 1558. The surname is also found in Stirling in 1546”.
According to author Edward MacLysaght's book Guide to Irish Surnames, the last nameRay maybe a corruption of the Irish name Reavey or a variant of Rea or Wray.
Common spelling variants or names with similar etymologies include Raye, Rye, McRae, Wray, Wrea, Wreay, Rae, Reay, and Wrey. Similar foreign names include Hroi (Norse), Reeh (Danish), Ree (Swedish/Dutch), Rey/Reh (Flemish), and Ray (French). The Domesday Book of 1086 AD, a survey of Wales and England ordered by William the Conqueror, lists a person named Rauai.
Popularity & Geographic Distribution
The last name Ray ranks 208th in popularity in terms in the United Status as of the 2000 Census. The name ranks particularly high in the following four states: Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Arkansas. The surname is somewhat less common in England, where it ranks 601st. It ranks highest in the following counties: Huntingdonshire, Cumberland, and Shropshire. The name is common throughout the English speaking world: Scotland (1,497th), Wales (777th), Ireland (1,395th), Canada (1,214th), New Zealand (966th), Australia (682nd), and South Africa (1,988th).
The 1890 book Homes of Family Names by H.B. Guppy, states the following in regard to this surname: “Riay and Rea are the Northumberland forms of a name confined mostly to the north of England and the Scottish borders. Wray is its form in York and its vicinity. In Cumberland we find Reay and Ray; in the Scottish border counties Rae is the characteristic form; and in the distant county of Worcester there are a few of the name of Rea. The Reays or Rays, who have held the Gill estates in the parish of Bromfield, Cumberland, from the 13th to the present century, are believed by Lower to be the ancient stock of all the English Rays, Wrays, and Wreys”.
Early Bearers of the Surname
The Hundred Rolls of 1273 AD, a census of Wales and England, known in Latin as Rotuli Hundredorum lists three bearers of this surname: Reginald le Raye in county Oxfordshire, Nicholas le Ray in county Suffolk, and Richard le Ray in county Cambridgeshire. Kirby’s Quest lists three bearers during the reign of King Edward III of England (1327-1377): William le Ray and John le Ray, both in county Somerset. The Close Rolls lists one Etheldreda le Ray was recoreded in the Close Rolls in the 17th year of the reign of the aforementioned king. William atte Rea is listed in the Subsidy Rolls of Sussex in 1327 AD.
An early marriage involving this last name was Robert Ray to Elizabeth Adlington at St. George’s Hanover Square in 1790.
History, Genealogy, and Ancestry
A one Robert Ray was born in Denston, Suffolk in 1505. He had four children: John, Richard, Thomas, Elizabeth, and Robert. His son Robert was born in the same town in England in around 1540. He married Margery Bigg and he had a son named Simon. His son Simon was born in Cowlinge, Suffolk in 1575 and he married Sarah Pilgram within who he had a son named Simon. Simon Ray II was born in 1610 in the same town and he married Mary Rowning. Before his death in Braintree, MA in 1641, he had a son named Simon. This Simon was born in 1635 and he married Mary Thomas in Marshfield, Massachusetts in 1645. They had two issue: Dorothy (Clapp) and Simon. His son Captain Simon Ray was born in New Shoreham, Rhode Island in 1672. His second wife was Deborah Greene and he had two issue: Hannah (Ward) and Catharine (Ray).
John Ray was born in Denston, Suffolk, around 1554. He married Alice Plume, and had a son with her named Francis. Francis was born in the same town around 1580. He had children named Daniel Rea, Caleb Rea, and Simon Rea. His son Daniel Rea was born in either Scotland or England around 1597. He married Bethiah Ray (also called Bethia Rea or Jones) and had Joshua Rea and Bethia Goodhue.
A one Archibald Campbell was born around 1610 and he had a son named Walter. Walter was born in Skipnish, Scotland in around 1630 and he married twice: Anne Stuart and Jean Campbell. He had numerous issue, including a son named Matthew Campbell Rhea who was born in 1665 in the same town. He married twice: Janet Barten Baxter and Magdalene Kinloch. Prior to his 1689 death in Fahen, Ulster, Ireland, he had seven children: David, Robert, Matthew, William, Matthew II, Archibald, and Matthew Rhea.
A one Usry Jacob Wray or Ray had a son named Ussary who was born in Brunswick, Virginia, in 1784. He married Nancy Kelly and he had the following issue: Katherine, Elisabeth Jane (Shamblin), Jacob, and Matilda (Catherine). His son Jacob was born in 1810 and he had a son named Christopher. This Christopher Columbus Ray was born in 1850 and he married Martha C. Kizziah. They had a son together named William Columbus born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1872. He married Leona Susan Durrett, and had a daughter with her named Martha Annie Ray, born in 1909 in the same state, who married William George Kyzer and had issue with her.
Early American and New World Settlers
Joseph Ray, age 21, came to Virginia from the port of London aboard the George in August 1635. Abram Ray, age 20, came to the Island of Providence (colony on the coast of Nicaragua that was an English colony established by Puritans in 1631, currently part of the nation of Colombia) aboard the Expectacion in April 1635.His son Archibald was born in Ulster in 1692 and he married Ann Humphryes in 1715 in Ireland. He went to the United States. He had four issue: William Rhea, Joseph Campbell Rhea, Robert Rhea, and Archibald Rhea. His son William Rhea was born in Donegal, Ireland in 1714 and he married Catherine Hamilton in North Carolina, having the following issue, who all spelled the name Ray: William, Robert, Mary (Robinson), Joseph, John, Joseph, David, and Joseph. His son Johgn Ray was born in North Carolina in 1740. He married twice Sarah Miller and Sally Clark. He had the following children: Jennet (Robinson), Joseph, Margaret (Robinson), James, Jane, George, Sarah (Robinson), Sally, Susan, Lydia, John, David, James, and George. His son David was born in 1788 and he married twice: Susan Pickle and Catherine Porterfield. He had a daughter named Nancy, born in 1833, who married William C. Blaylock.
Other early settlers in Colonial American bearing the Ray surname include Simon Ray (Massachusetts 1620), Samuel (Salem 1637), Benjamin (Virginia 1638), Sarah (Virginia 1702), Isaac (New England 1720), Daniel (Virginia 1731), Joseph (Virginia 1740), and Michel (Boston 1764).
Several bearers of the Ray last name came to Nova Scotia, Canada in 1750 including Ann, Honor, James, and William. One of the earliest bearers of the last name in Australia was Frederick Ray, a convict from Berkshire, England, who arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (mostly a penal colony) aboard the Aboukir in December of 1851. One of the first bearers in New Zealand was Mary Ray, who came on 1874 aboard the Ballyochmyle, and settled ion Lyttleton, a port town on the South Island of the country.
Early Americans Bearing the Ray Family Crest
Charles Bolton’s American Armory, published in 1927, contains one entry for the surname Ray: [ ] 3 stags trippant Crest: a stag at gaze. Motto: J'espere en Dieu Bookplate Robert Ray, N. Y.
We have identified five Ray family mottoes: 1) Et juste et vray (Both just and true) (Likely a play on the name), 2) Fortitudine (With fortitude), 3) Honesty is better than riches (Ray-Clayton of Norwich), and 4) J'espere en Dieu (I hope in God).
We have 10 coats of arms for the Ray surname depicted here. These 9 blazons are from Bernard Burke’s book The General Armory of England, Ireland, and Scotland, which was published in 1848. The bottom of this page contains the blazons, and in many instances contains some historical, geographical, and genealogical about where coat of arms was found and who bore it. People with this last name that bore a Ray Coat of Arms include:
1) Richard Ray of Howleigh, county Suffolk and the Inner Temple, London, Quarterly, with Walkate, 8 March 1770
2) Ray, late Wheeler, Herbert Reginald (minor), of Hyde Park Gardens, London, 1684
There are hundreds of notable people with the Ray surname. This page will mention a handful. Famous people with this last name include: 1) Adam E. Ray (1808-1865) who was a member of the Free Soil Party in the Wisconsin State Assembly from Walworth, 2) Lisa Rani Ray (1972) who is a Canadian acress and model of Bengali and Polish descent, 3) Nicholas Ray (1911-1979) who was an American director from Galesville, Wisconsin who was best known for the famous movie Rebel Without a Cause starring James Dean, 4) Brian Thomas Ray (1955) who is an American guitarist and singer-songwriter best known for his work with former Beatle Paul MCartney, 5) Mary Ruth Ray (1956-2013) who was an internationally renowned classical musician who played the violin, 6) Elmer Ray (1911-1987) who was an American Heavweight boxer from Hastings, Florida known as Kid Violent, 7) Dixy Lee Ray (1914-1994) who was an American scientist who became the 17th Governor of Washington in 1977, 8) Robert Francis Ray (1947) who was an Australian politican who was a Labor Party Senator for the state of Victoria, and 9) Robert Dolph Ray (1928) who was the 38th Governor of Iowa from 1969 to 1983.