Gale Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Gale Surname Meaning

The most likely explanation for the Gale surname is that it was a nickname for a cheerful or boisterous person. The root may have been either the Old English gal or the Norman name Geil, both of which had that meaning. 

It has also been suggested that Gale could have been an occupational name for a jailer, deriving from the French word gaiole. Gayle is a spelling variant of the name today.

Gale Surname Resources on The Internet

Gale Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Yorkshire and the West) and Isle of Man
  • to Ireland, America, Caribs (Jamaica) and Australia

EnglandEarly Gale sightings were in Yorkshire and the west country.

Yorkshire.  Gales at Scruton in north Yorkshire (in what was then Richmondshire) dated back to around 1500 and possibly earlier.  Oliver Gale of Scruton had two sons who both made their mark in York – James as a merchant there and George by trade a goldsmith who was its mayor in 1534 and again in 1549.

George was the great great grandfather of that noted antiquarian Thomas Gale, born in Scruton in 1636, who himself had two antiquarian sons Roger and Samuel.  It was Roger Gale who built Scruton Hall which stood from 1705 to 1988.  However, in 1795 the direct Gale male line died out.

Other Gale lines from Scruton were:

  • John Gale who established the Gale family in Jamaica.  He had arrived with the first English colonists in 1655.
  • Miles Gale, another antiquarian whose son Christopher was Chief Justice of North Carolina in the early 1700’s.
  • whilst later Gale lines in Yorkshire were to be found at Bedale, Whitby and Hull.

The Gales of Whitehaven in Cumbria were possibly related as they shared similar coats of arms.  From Robert Gale came his grandson John Gale who grew up in Whitehaven where he was employed as Sir John Lowther’s steward from 1677 to 1707. In this capacity he did tobacco business with Lawrence Washington in Virginia.  He was the father of Colonel George Gale who settled in Maryland.

West Country.  The west country Gales have been more numerous and remain more numerous.  The first appearances seem to have been in south Devon.

William Gale, according to the Visitations of Devon, was living in Dartmouth in the mid/late 1400’s.  His descendant John Gale, born in Crediton in 1516, was a Devon MP in the 1540’s.  The Devon origins of Theophilus Gale are uncertain.  He became vicar at Kingsteignton in 1620 and married Bridget Walrond as his second wife two years later. 

His church had the following dedication to them.  “Here lieth Theophilus Gale, doctor of divinity and vicar of Kingsteignton, and Bridget his wife who both departed this life in the month of May 1639.”  

Their son, born in 1628, was the famous Puritan theologian Theophilus Gale.

The Gale surname subsequently spread eastward to Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire. 

Gales were recorded in the Wiltshire village of Lacock from the late 1500’s.  They were carpenters in the 19th century.   John Gale built the camera obscura for Fox Talbot’s research into photography in the 1840’s.  Another Wiltshire family, based in Cliffe Pypard, began with the birth of Richard Gale in 1603.

The main base for the Gales in Dorset seems to have been the village of Powerstock.  The first Gale marriages appeared there in 1657.  John Gale was recorded in 1757 and later Gales held Knapp farm.  From Powerstock the name looks to have spread to Loders and Bridport.  Some were involved in the rope industry in Bridport in the 19th century and moved to Poole when the rope industry moved to Poole.

The Richard Gale who married Hannah Brown at Catherington church in Hampshire in 1759 was the forebear of the George Gale who established his brewery at Horndean nearby in 1847.

“Gales Brewery took its water from its own well situated under the brewery which was fed from the South Downs. The yeast and local water, coupled with the local brewing style, produced beers with a sparse head, quite dark in colour.”  

Gales remained independent until its sale to Fuller’s Brewery in 2005.

Isle of Man.  Gale can also be a Manx name.  It has Irish roots here, from the Gaelic giolla meaning “servant,” which could become Gale or Gell or Gill. The Gale name has cropped up at Malew and Onchan.

Ireland.  The Ashfield Gales of Killabban parish in Queens county (now Laios) supposedly began with Colonel Oliver Gale who was said to have come to Ireland at the time of Henry VIII.

But it was Anthony Gale, more than a century later, who was the first holder of the Ashfield estate at the time of the Cromwellian confiscations. A later Anthony Gale was the father of two Gales in America – Anthony and his younger brother Malachi – and of the Galway mayor Parnell Gale.  The Gales remained at Ashfield until 1851 when the family was impoverished by the potato famine.

America.  Richard Gale, sometimes called Gael, arrived in Massachusetts around the year 1640 and was one of the founders of the town of Watertown.  The line from his son Abraham led to:

  • Jonathan Gale of Weston, a soldier in the Revolutionary War.  His grandson the Rev. Amory Gale was a Congregational minister at Norton in the 1850’s.
  • and the Rev. Nahum Gale, minister at Westborough in the early 1800’s and his son Monroe, a foreman at the New York Times.

Some of the family moved to Vermont after the Revolutionary War. George Gale, born there in 1816, was a pioneer settler, judge, and legislator in Wisconsin.

Colonel George Gale from Whitehaven, active in the trade of Virginian tobacco, had married George Washington’s grandmother, the widow Mildred Washington, in 1700. Although she died of typhoid the following year, he did cross to America and started his Tusculum tobacco plantation in Kent county, Maryland.  His descendants George and son Levin Gale were Maryland Congressmen.

The line from Christopher Gale, the Chief Justice of North Carolina in 1703, became Gayle later in the century and led to John Gayle, the Governor of Alabama from 1831 to 1835.  His home in Greensboro, Alabama still stands.

IrishAnthony Gale of the Ashfield Gales arrived in 1798 and applied for and joined the US Marine Corps.  He was briefly in 1820 its Commandant before being dismissed.

George Gale had been a captain of the Dragoons and came to America in 1799.  He moved around a lot with his family – first to Baltimore, then to Virginia and the Ohio River Valley, and finally to Missouri in 1840. He left behind in Washington county, Ohio a remarkable succession of Gale doctors – his son George Washington, his grandson George Thomas, and his great grandson George Hays Gale.

Caribbean.  Major John Gale who arrived in 1655 was the forebear of the Gale plantation-owning family of St. Elizabeth parish.  Gale’s Valley sugar estate in Trelawney appeared around the year 1800. The Gayle spelling is also to be found in Jamaica, as with the cricketer Chris Gayle.

Canada.  John and Mary Gale were married at Bridport in Dorset in 1768 and later settled in western Newfoundland.  They are believed to be the ancestors of the Gales of Codroy and White Bay.

Australia. There were two notable Gale arrivals in Australia from the west country in the year 1853:

  • John Gale from Cornwall came on the American Lass initially as a Methodist missionary.  He settled at Queanbeyan, NSW and was there at various times a clergyman, printer, journalist and MP.  He was also known for promoting Canberra as the new federal capital.  He died in 1929 at the grand age of ninety eight.  
  • while a Gale family from Hampshire came to Tasmania where they were farmers.  Their descendants held a family reunion in 1976.

Another Gale departed Australia that year. Henry Gale had come out from Wiltshire in 1834 as a young sixteen year old in search of opportunity. But in 1852 he and his family were baptized into the Mormon faith and the following year they departed on the Envelop for California and from there onward to Salt Lake valley.

Gale Surname Miscellany

Roger Gale, Father and Son in Scruton.  Roger Gale, a nationally-known antiquarian, was the MP for Northallerton from 1706 to 1713 and was Scruton’s first historian.  He was buried in Scruton churchyard, but left instructions that there was to be no stone to mark the place.

In 1745 there was a threat of strife in Scruton as Bonny Prince Charlie marched south from Scotland.  Local defence associations were formed all over Yorkshire and Squire Roger Henry Gale, a ne’er-do-well son of the famous Roger, fled rather precipitately with his family to Stamford.  In fact he was probably in more danger at Stamford than he would have been at Scruton for the Pretender came down the west coast route and never touched Yorkshire.

Prince Charlie found that his expected Catholic support never materialized and he retreated in disarray.  Poor Roger Henry ran into trouble of another sort on his way back to Scruton.  Due to floods and bad roads, the 125 mile journey lasted five days!

John Gale of Whitehaven.  David Hainsworth in his 1983 book The Correspondence of Sir John Lowther described John Gale as follows:

“John Gale was a substantial merchant, a bigoted Anglican, and very hostile to Whitehaven dissenters who included among their number his mother and youngest brother.”

Elisha Gale was the youngest brother of John Gale.  He shared his brother’s trades, being a merchant marine and a ship owner, but differed in matters of faith by preferring nonconformity.  Hainsworth noted that Elisha Gale’s vessel The Crown carried Irish troops to France after the Treaty of Limerick in 1691. 

George Gale, A London Character.  George Gale was born about 1797. He was originally an actor in small parts in London minor theatres. In 1831 he went to America and claimed to have played Mazeppa for two hundred nights (probably an exaggeration) at the Bowery Theater in New York.  He afterwards traveled in the west and joined a tribe of native Americans.  He brought six of them with their chief to London and was scarcely distinguishable from his companions. They were exhibited at the Victoria Theatre until their popularity declined.

Then George Gale was able to procure an appointment as coast blockade inspector in the north of Ireland.  On the strength of this appointment, which he held for seven years, he assumed the title of lieutenant.

Tiring of this he made an unsuccessful attempt to return to the London stage and then took to ballooning.  He had a balloon manufactured at the old Montpelier Gardens in Walworth and made his first ascent successfully from the Rosemary Branch tavern at Peckham in 1848.

He made many ascents, the 114th of which was from the hippodrome of Vincennes in Bordeaux in 1850. He was seated on the back of a pony suspended from the car.  When the pony had been released from its slings, the peasants holding the balloon ropes, not understanding his directions, relaxed their hold and Gale was carried up by the only partially exhausted machine.  The car overturned but he clung to the tackling for a time and then was borne out of sight.  Next morning his body was found in a wood several miles away.

Gale was a man of much courage and very sanguine.  For some time after his death his widow, who had frequently made ascents in his company, continued to gain a livelihood by ballooning.

Anthony Gale and the US Marine Corps.  When President John Adams authorized the formation of the US Marine Corps in 1798, Anthony Gale – then just eighteen – was among the first to apply.   He was to thrive as a seagoing officer.  In quick succession he directed his marine detachment in forays against the Barbary pirates and the British.

However, the other side of his personality also showed itself.  When Allan MacKensie relieved one of Gale’s Marine sentries and placed him in irons, Gale’s Irish temper exploded.  Gale reportedly called MacKensie a rascal and struck him across the face. The hapless Navy officer accepted a duel, thus sealing his fate.  Gale killed MacKensie in the duel.

In 1815, while commanding at Philadelphia, he fell out with Commandant Franklin Wharton over the construction of barracks. Wharton had been accused of overspending on the project, and he in turn charged Gale with building extravagant officers’ quarters. Gale asserted that he had been given no specific plans and that Wharton had known what was being done. A court of inquiry cleared Gale of wrongdoing, but he was banished to a less desirable post in New Orleans where he allegedly nursed a feeling of persecution and began to drink heavily.

Given this history, it was somewhat surprising that he was elevated to be the fourth Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1819.  However, he was removed from this office less than a year later after a court martial “for conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.” It was said that his antics were such an embarrassment to the Marine Corps that for years his name was seldom mentioned. He departed from the pages of history.

In 1966 the Marine Corps initiated an investigation into what had happened to Gale after he was dismissed in 1820. They suspected the small hills of south-central Kentucky where Gale lived out his final years.  But they were unsuccessful in finding his burial site.

The Gale Doctors of Newport, Washington County.  A remarkable record of service in one profession was accorded by the Gale family of Washington county, Ohio.

Three successive generations of the Gales practiced medicine along the Ohio River, both in Ohio and West Virginia, their services extending for over a century. The middle generation was represented by Dr. George Thomas Gale of Newport, Washington county.  Doctor Gale practiced medicine where he was born in 1851 and where his father began his career as a physician back in 1823.

Doctor Gale had the distinction of being the grandson of an English dragoon of Irish birth who had come to the America prior to the American Revolution. He evidently was an enthusiastic admirer of the great leader of the Revolutionary War as he named one of his sons George Washington Gale. In 1820 the Gale family moved over the Alleghany mountains to Raven Rock in what is now West Virginia, just six miles above the present location of Newport, Ohio.

George Washington Gale, the pioneer of the family in the medical profession, was born on the Potomac river in Hampshire county, now West Virginia, in 1798. He started medicine in Baltimore under the famous physician, Dr. Nathan R. Smith.  While his home was over the river in West Virginia, his practice from the first extended to the country on the Ohio side, including what is now Newport in Washington county. Finally in 1840 he moved to that town and lived there until his death in 1876.

He was a fine type of the old country physician and surgeon, a man of rugged physique and great endurance with the utmost devotion to duty. His practice extended up and down both sides of the river for a distance of forty miles, extending will back into the hills.  His trips frequently took him away from home for days at a time, and he crossed back and forth over the Ohio river in canoes, swimming his horse behind. In spite of the exposure and hardships of such an occupation he reached the good old age of seventy-nine. He was a Democrat in politics; the family was Catholic.

The Gale Family in Tasmania.  Aaron and Elizabeth Gale with their four adolescent children arrived in Tasmania from Hampshire on the Coromandel in 1853. In 1856 they were living at Stanley and, three years later, Aaron was the first settler to take up land on the Cam Road in Elliott. Descendants of his eldest son James still farm in this area.

Another son Henry farmed near Montagu.  Six of his children were early settlers at Marrawah.  One son Alfred built the first herring-bone milking shed in Tasmania, as well as a cheese factory.

About 2,000 descendants attended a family reunion in 1976. In 1987 Delma Carne wrote a history of the family entitled 1853: The Gales Blow In.

Reader Feedback – Gales from Wiltshire in South Australia.  i noticed you included some Gales from Tasmania, who may be relatives to my ancestor.

I come from the line of George Gale.  He was born in All Cannings, Wiltshire in 1794 and died in Nairne, South Australia in 1851.  He married Lucy Carpenter, also from All Cannings, and they settled in South Australia.  Not sure of the time of settlement, but I know there is a family line from them.  They had eight children, some of whom didn’t make the voyage to Australia.

Christopher Gale (

Gale Names

  • Theophilus Gale was a 17th century English Puritan theologian.   
  • John Gayle was the Governor of Alabama from 1831 to 1835. 
  • Joseph Gale was a fur trapper and pioneer settler in Oregon in the 1830’s.
  • George Gale founded Gales Brewery in Horndean, Hampshire in 1847.

Gale Numbers Today

  • 17,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hampshire)
  • 9,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Gale and Like Surnames

Nicknames must have been an early feature of medieval life in a family or community as these nicknames later translated into surnames.  People then lived a more natural life than we do today and the surnames have reflected that.

They could be about color (Brown, Gray, Green etc), whether of hair or complexion or other factors; mood (Gay and Moody are two extremes); youth (Cox and Kidd); speed of foot (Swift and Lightfoot); and actions (such as Shakespeare and Wagstaff).  Then there were likenesses to animals (notably Fox and Wolfe but also Peacock) and to birds (Crowe and Wren for example).  And then there were some extraordinary nicknames such as Drinkwater and Wildgoose.

Here are some of these nickname surnames that you can check out.





Written by Colin Shelley

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