Gay Surname Genealogy

older meaning of Gay comes from the Old French gai,
“light-headed” or “joyful,” which became first a
nickname and then a surname. T
word could also have ithe undesirable meaning of “wanton” or
“‘lascivious’ in some cases.

Gay as a surname might as well have been derived from the place-name
Gaye in Normandy

Gay Resources on

Gay Ancestry

surname Gay has French origins and France has the largest numbers of
those with the name Gay today, estimated to be around 20-25,000. This surname might have had its origin in
Normandy. There were early reports of
the Gaye name in the Channel Islands after the Norman invasion of
England. But most Gays are to be found in
France today, with some overflow into French-speaking Switzerland.

Prominent French Gays have been Jean Baptiste Gay, a statesman at the
time of the Bourbon restoration, and Joseph Gay-Lussac, a chemist who
lived at the same time and was best known for his work on gases.

has been mainly a West
Country name
, although there were early sightings elsewhere. John and Alice Gay were recorded in the
county of Devon in the late 14th century.
son John, born in 1409, held Goldsworthy manor in Devon.
Descendants included John Gay
the poet and dramatist
was born in Barnstaple in 1685.

Gay name was prominent in the town of Bath from the early 1500’s when
John Gay was the mayor of the town. He
later acquired the nearby Haycombe estate.
This estate was subsequently inherited by Richard Gay, a Baptist
Minister and the friend in the 1660’s of the John Bunyan of Pilgrim’s
fame. Bunyan and possibly Gay
as well were
imprisoned for their religious beliefs at that time.

There were Gay stone masons in Bath in the
1700’s; while Robert Gay, later the MP for Bath, went to London where
he made a
name for himself as a surgeon. He died
in 1737 and Gay Street in Bath was named after him.

The Gay name had also appeared in Bristol in
the 17th century where Anthony Gay who died in 1683 was a merchant,
with family members that were based in Barnstaple in Devon. George Gay was an architect and builder
active in Bristol in the mid-19th century.

Elsewhere A de Gay family flourished in north Oxfordshire in
12th century and included Robert Gay who founded a Cistercian abbey at
Otley in
1137. The Gay name cropped up in East
Anglia, but later. William Gray was the
first of the Gays of Alborough New Hall in Norfolk in the early 1600’s;
Gay was MP for Ipswich in 1621; and Dr. William Gay was recorded in
Kelvedon in
Essex in the 1690’s.

Scotland. The Gay name was also to be
found in
Fifeshire in Scotland. William Gay was
born in Crail, Fife in 1778. Thomas Gay
of this family was a whaling captain who married and settled down in
Zealand where he died in 1865. The name
here probably came from the much older Gayre family who held Castle Gay
in the
glen of Callowa. Castle Gay
was the title of a 1930 novel by John Buchan.

America. There
were two early Gay arrivals in

  • first was John Gay who
    came to New England with Winthrop’s fleet and a party of a
    Puritans in 1630. He settled in
    Watertown and later in Dedham, Massachusetts.
    The Puritan streak ran deep. It was said
    that eleven of the Gay family had graduated from Harvard by 1826, five
    whom became ministers. Some of these Gays migrated to
    Canada in the 1760’s.
  • then came Henry Gay who arrived
    in Virginia on the Safety in 1638. He and his
    descendants were to be found in Isle of Wight county.
    were still to be found on the family farm in the late
    19th century. One branch of the family
    settled in Northampton, North Carolina
    after the Revolutionary War.

who came to Virginia in the 1730’s and 1740’s seem to have been Scots
Irish in
origin. This certainly applied to Samuel
Gay who came with his family first into Philadelphia and then to
Augusta county
in Virginia. John Gay, a constable in
Orange county, and four of his brothers settled along the Calfpasture

significant number of Gays ended up in the
state of Georgia. It ranked number two
in terms of the number of Gays in America in 1840, number one in 1880,
and has
held that position since that time.

Gays appeared in Bulloch county, Georgia as
early as 1788. William Gay from North
Carolina lived most of his life in Lafayette county, Georgia where he
died in
1852. His son Sherrod had a plantation
near Riverdale. Beth Gay has traced the
line of Simon Gay from North Carolina who was living in Lowndes,
Georgia in
1830 in her 1993 book Descendants of
Simon Gay.
Mary Gay, the southern writer, lived at Decatur in
DeKalb county.

The soul singer Marvin Gaye (murdered by his father Marvin Gay) and the
sprinter Tyson Gay both hailed from Kentucky

Canada. David Gay from Massachusetts came to Nova Scotia in the
early 1760’s and married Thankful Hayward there in 1764. Some
Gays moved onwards to Prince Edward Island, others returned to America
and Maine and later headed west.
Thomas Gay
ended up in Iowa.

Australia. William
Gay from Devon, a carpenter on the Medway,
had arrived in Hobart in 1836 where he stayed, married, and raised a
family. He got gold rush fever in the
1850’s and departed for Ballarat. He
later settled down in the Armidale area of NSW.

Gay Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Gay Names

John Gay was a 17th century English poet and dramatist, the
author of The Beggar’s Opera.
George Gay
, an English sailor, was a pioneer settler
in Oregon territory in 1837.
Marvin Gaye
was an American soul singer.

Select Gays Today

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Gloucestershire)
  • 12,000 in America (most numerous in Georgia)
  • 5,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Austrlalia)




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