Haley Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Haley Meaning
Haley, Hayley and Hailey all seem to have derived from the Old English heg meaning “hay” and leah meaning
“clearing” – hence “hay
clearing.” These were initially
place-names before they became surnames.

The place-names of note here were probably Hayley, a minor and now lost
location in Yorkshire, and the Hailey name found in both Hertfordshire
Oxfordshire. The former gave rise to the
more common Haley spelling found in west Yorkshire; the latter to the
and Haileys in London and the home counties.
Complicating the issue is the
Halley name – generally of Scottish or Irish origin and with different
– but which may in England have derived from a lost village in
Derbyshire. And Haley can also be Irish,
being an anglicization
of the Irish name Healy.  Haley has been the main spelling in England and America..

Haley Resources on

Haley Ancestry

England. The
numbers in
England, by the time of the 1891 census, were:

  • 3,550
    Haleys, with 52% in
  • 550
    Halleys, with 31% in London
  • 290
    Hayleys, with 27% in London
  • and
    Haileys, with 18% in London and 13% in Hertfordshire.

has been by
far the largest spelling of these names in England, but generally
localized to
Yorkshire. It was recorded as Haylay in
the 1379 Yorkshire poll tax records. Haley and Healey emerged as early Yorkshire surnames, Haley
Bradford and Healey in the Birstall and Batley area.

were two notable later Haley families of west Yorkshire:

  • Haleys in Cleckheaton
    date from 1765. Squire Haley fought and
    was decorated in the Peninsula Wars with France in the early 1800’s. Samuel Haley, a cardmaker and steel wire
    manufacturer, established his works in the town in the mid-1800’s. Although he was killed in 1870 in a train
    crash when on a pleasure outing, the business was continued by his
    family until
  • while Haleys were iron founders in Bradford from the
    early 19th
    century. The first of this family was
    William Haley who had been born in Batley in 1734.
    Elisha and Enoch Haley formed a family
    partnership in Bradford in the early 1850’s. Elisha’s
    son Alfred became a prosperous mill owner in
    manufacturing worsteds. He was a Justice
    of the Peace in the 1880’s and a well-known art collector.

William Haley was born in 1901 in St. Helier on
Jersey, the son of a Yorkshire clerk and a French grocer’s daughter. He was Director General of the BBC from 1944
to 1952 and editor of The Times from
1952 to 1966.

A Haly family at Bradock in
Cornwall dated back to the late 1500’s.
They became Haley when William Haley and his family emigrated to
in 1850 and later to Kansas.

Halley – a name sometimes pronounced as Hawley – was to be
found in the village of Beeley in Derbyshire in the mid-1500’s. Edmond Halley from Derbyshire came to London
in the 1600’s and prospered there as a soap-maker.
His son Edmond was the famous English
astronomer – the second Astronomer Royal in Britain – who gave his name
Halley’s Comet.

Hayley. William
Hayley, a Shropshire butcher in the town of Cleobury Mortimer during
mid-1600’s, was father to the more celebrated William Hayley who was
Dean of Chichester Cathedral in 1699.
His son Thomas followed him as Dean after his own death in 1715. And Thomas’s son William was friend to the
poet William Cowper and a poet in his own right.

Another line from Shropshire led to George Hayley,
a merchant and shipowner based in London.
After his death in 1781, his wife Mary
successfully took over the shipping operations and ran them for another

Kathleen Casey in her 1982
book Four Centuries of Haileys found
the name in a cluster of southeast counties, notably in Buckinghamshire
Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire. Her Four Centuries of Haileys
were from Amersham in Buckinghamshire.
Haileys at Hitchin in Hertfordshire dated from about 1740.

Scotland. The Halley numbers in Scotland were around
690 at the time of the 1891 census.

has been a name found in Angus, Fife and Perthshire on Scotland’s east
coast. One family line began with the
birth of Charles Halley of Clackmannon in 1753.
William Halley, a flax manufacturer in Dundee, invested in a
mill at the Wallace Craigie works there in 1836 and this business
under his descendants. Halleys were also
to be seen in the Fife towns of Markinch and Auchtermuchty.

Ireland. Halley can also be an Irish
name. The root here is the Gaelic name O’hAilche,
possibly from the byname ailchu meaning
“gentle hound.”

The Irish census of
1911 showed around 530 people by the name of Halley or Hally, with more
80% of these being in the counties of Tipperary and Waterford, mostly
along the
Suir river. There were Hallys
in the Tipperary townlands of
Aughavanlomaun and Boolahallagh in the
Knockmealdown mountain foothills during the 19th century.

More common has been the Haley name found both in Ireland
and on its
travels. This has generally been an
alternative spelling of the Irish Healy name and the earlier O’Healy

  • one
    of these septs was in Sligo in the northwest. They
    were originally called O’hÉlidhe,
    the name derived from the Gaelic word eilidh meaning
  • while another sept, numerically larger, was in Cork. There the name was originally O’hÉilaigh,
    probably from the Gaelic ealadhach meaning

Haleys also came from
Sligo and Cork, Thomas Haley for instance being born at Larn in county
Cork in
1735. Meanwhile Roscommon had the largest Haley count in Ireland in Griffith’s Valuation of the mid-19th

America. Haley
arrivals in America could be of English, Scottish or Irish origin. The largest number have been Irish.

New England. No one really
knows where Andrew Haley came
from or when he arrived in Maine. But by
1653 Andrew Haley was a fisherman at the Isles of Shoals off the Maine
coastline and was known as the “King of the Shoals.”
He had settled on Smuttynose Island, later
called Haleys Island, and
were to live there for the next two hundred and fifty years. However, Haleys Island is uninhabited today.

Another early arrival was William Healy from
Lincolnshire who came to Massachusetts sometime in the 1640’s. His descendants were sea captains who later
settled in Nova Scotia and then, as Haleys, migrated to California at
the time
of the Gold Rush.

Virginia. Two early arrivals here were
the Halleys from
England and the Haleys or Haileys (both spellings recurred) from

Thomas Halley, pronounced
Hawley, had come to Virginia around 1670 and made his home in a log
cabin along
the Potomac river, then in Westmoreland county.
His son James became a prosperous planter who, on his death
in 1792, owned several plantations and quite a number of slaves.

According to family lore there were two brothers from county Antrim in
Ireland, James and John Haley, who came to Delaware in the early 1700’s
later moved onto Virginia and North Carolina.
Their family spelling fluctuated between Haley and Hailey during

James Haley had married Anna Cloud back in Ireland and the Haley and
families stayed together through the Revolutionary War and then on into
Tennessee and Georgia. One son William,
who had fought in the War, moved to Elbert county, Georgia in 1792. Haley descendants subsequently spread across
the South over the course of the 19th century.

Later Arrivals. Among later Haley arrivals were:

  • John Cloud Haley a physician from county Cork
    who came to Roane county, Tennessee in 1798 and married Elizabeth
  • Henry Haley from county Down who arrived in Virginia
    around the year
    1810. His descendants migrated to
    Kentucky and to Highland Park in Michigan, which was where the rock and
    Bill Haley was born in 1925.
  • William Haley who departed Ireland for California,
    traveling overland to St. Francisco in 1850. He
    started a dairy company that proved very successful,
    delivering some
    10,000 gallons of milk daily to
    customers in the area. His son Daniel
    settled in Yuba county and was elected mayor of Gustine in 1915.
  • Ebenezer Haley from Nova Scotia who joined the
    California gold rush, also arriving there in 1850.
    Both he and his son Caleb were sea captains,
    but had some success in the gold fields. Caleb’s
    son Charles chose a mining career and was the author
    of the
    authoritative 1923 book Gold Placers of
    . The family story was
    recounted in James Haley’s 1964 book The
    Haley and Healy Family
  • and John Haley, born also in Nova Scotia but of Irish
    parents, who had
    moved to Boston in the 1890’s in his capacity as a ship steward. However, he died in February 1898 when his
    the Charles A. Briggs sank in a storm
    off the Massachusetts coastline. His son
    Jack, just six months old at the time, became an actor and comedian,
    best known
    for his role as the Tin Man in The Wizard
    of Oz
    . Jack’s son Jack was a
    successful Hollywood film director and producer, married at one time to

Appalachian. The
Haley fiddle players were of Irish origin.
The first that registered was Ben Haley who fought in West
Virginia on
the Union side in the Civil War and later settled in Lincoln county. His illegitimate son Milt continued the
family fiddle playing until he was murdered during the feuding there in
as did Milt’s son Ed, who had been born blind in 1885.
Ed was inducted into the West Virginia Music
Hall of Fame in 2015.

African American. Alex Haley created a sensation in
1976 when
he produced his book Roots, later
made into a TV mini-series, which managed to trace his ancestry all the
way back
to a slave-ancestor captured in Africa.

While the early history depicted in the
book has been considered fanciful, the post-Civil War account, when the
name first appeared, seems accurate.
Later DNA testing has shown this Haley line to have had Scottish ancestry.

Canada. Many Halleys departed the
Tipperary area of
Ireland for Newfoundland between 1830 and 1850, some remaining there
and some
departing later for America:

  • a number in Newfoundland were to be found at St.
    John’s, the subject of Irene Collins’ 1999 book A Long Way
    from Tipperary: A Halley Family History
  • while others were at
    Topsail on Conception Bay and had descendants who had moved south to
    Massachusetts by 1900.

Nova Scotia also had some Haleys who did not
stay. Ebenezer Haley, a sea captain,
arrived there in the 1770’s from Massachusetts and settled in Yarmouth
county. One son Selah moved to Ontario
and his son William to Michigan; another son Ebenezer left Nova Scotia
California. Meanwhile John Haley, born of
an Irish family in Antigonish, departed for Boston in the 1890’s.

New Zealand. Cyrus Haley from
Leeds who arrived in Auckland with his family in 1870 soon developed a
reputation for starting fires.

“When his wife
Emily’s singing performance at the Music Hall was savaged, the hall was
mysteriously gutted by fire. More arsons
took place and while all these could not be linked to Haley, there was
involving the property of BNZ founder Thomas Russell who was the
director of a
company in which Hailey claimed to have lost ₤3,000.”

was subsequently convicted of the attempted murder of Thomas Russell. His sentence was life imprisonment in Dunedin
jail. In trying to escape in 1875 he
shot dead by a warder


Haley Miscellany

Haley and Healey in Early Yorkshire Records.  George Redmonds in his 2015 book A
Dictionary of Yorkshire Surnames
had the following to say
about Haley:

“Haley is a very
common Bradford surname which had its origins in Hipperholme in the
century. Although it clearly derives from a place-name, the exact
source is not
certain.  Haley Hill in Northowram
appears to be named after the family and Hayley in Oxenhope is not well
documented. It may be that the locality was in Hipperholme, but that
the site
was abandoned sometime around 1350.

From the early spellings the meaning is “enclosure
clearing.”  The surname quickly established itself in Overton,
just to the
north west of Hipperholme, and first occurred in Bradford records in
1327.  By
the early 1500’s there were Haleys in Thornton, and a Richard Haley
interests in Little Horton in 1526.

The spelling of this period
suggests that
there may even then have been confusion with similar surnames such as

Four Centuries of Haileys at Amersham.  Kathleen Casey who wrote in 1982 the book Four
Centuries of Haileys
about the
Haileys of Amersham in Buckinghamshire had the following to say about
emergence of the name there:

“The name Hailey in England was oddly bunched in
two quite distinct regions.  One large
cluster I found in Yorkshire and another, just as large, in a group of
south-eastern counties, notably Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire,
and Oxfordshire.

At Monks Risborough, about seven miles northwest of
Amersham, a
fir-crowned height rising to 813 feet is called Green Hailey to this
day.  There a certain George christened
children between 1590 and 1614.  The
recording vicar was unsure how to spell their surname.
Twice he wrote Haly, interspersed with
Hailey, Halye and Halie, before settling on Hayley.

Back in 1563 in Amersham, a
certain Richard Haleye had baptized a son called John and another eight
children were to follow before the end of 1587.
The Haileys, who appeared in the written records of Amersham in
1600’s emerged as a self-contained and self-conscious family.”

O’hAilche and Halley in Ireland.  It was said that the O’hAilche
family, anglicized as Halley and Hally, was a branch of the O’Kennedys
Ormond, descendants of Cormac Cas.
Tuatha-Fearalt, a district in the county of Tipperary (the exact
situation of which cannot now be ascertained), was the lordship of the
whom the 14th century poet O’Heerin described in the following lines:

“Tuatha-Fearalt of the fair-woods,
Is the
lordship of O’hAilche;
A plain of fair fortresses, and a spreading tribe;
land resembling Teltown of rivulets.”

Haleys on Haleys Island off Maine.  By 1653 Andrew Haley was a fisherman at the Isles
of Shoals off Maine along with the three Kelly brothers.
He was called the “King of the
Shoals.”  He had settled on
Smuttynose Island, later called Haleys Island, and Haleys were to live
for the next two hundred and fifty years.

was a later Haley from Kittery, Sam Haley, who built the family’s
two-room cape
house on the island in the late 1700’s (no one is exactly sure when).  A rugged entrepreneur, Sam turned his island
into a self-sustaining kingdom.  At its
peak Smuttynose had a dock and warehouse, a rope walk, a granary,
brewery, cherry orchard, salt-works, boat house, hotel, bakery,
cooper’s shop,
brick-works, blacksmith shop and a windmill.
When he died in 1811 the compound was valued at $3,000.

Sam Haley was
remembered for having left a light on in the window of his cottage to
approaching ships of the treacherous Shoals. Yet in January 1813 a ship
onto Haley’s Island and over the next few days fourteen bodies were
found.  In the romanticized version told,
old Sam
Haley (he was already two years dead then) found the bodies frozen in
last desperate attempts to crawl towards his house.
The discovery must have been made by his son
Captain Sam Jr. who supposedly buried the Spanish sailors in a shallow
marked by rocks just down the walking trail today from the Haley

According to the most famous legend, a few years after
the Spanish
shipwreck, Captain Sam found four silver bars under a flat rock.  He cashed them in and used the money to build
or repair the breakwater between Smuttynose and Malaga island.   This tale, wrapped in rumors of
treasure, has lured fortune hunters, divers and prospectors with metal
to the island ever since.

In the 1840’s the poet Celia Thaxter, then a young
girl, used to sit on a lookout platform once attached to the roof of
house.  Thirty years later Celia recalled
the Haleys in her 1873 book Among the Isles of Shoals.  From
this book came most of the stories about Sam and his son Captain Sam.

building itself has been abandoned and adapted, ransacked and renovated
over at
least two centuries.  The roof blew off
in the hurricane of 1938.  The ruined
cottage was fully restored in the 1990’s by a traveling carpenter who
his work in exchange for chance to spent time there each summer.

The Haley House in North Carolina.  John Haley’s origins are not
known.  He first appeared on the tax list
for Rowan county, North Carolina in 1768.
There are no records that show that John Haley was a Quaker.  But there again his wife Phoebe Wall whom he
married in 1772 was a Quaker and there is no evidence indicating that
was disowned for marrying a non-Quaker.

John appears to have served
as a militia captain during the Revolution War despite his Quaker
heritage and
is called “Captain” thereafter in many public documents.  Since
Haley owned
slaves, it is thought that he was disowned by his Quaker brethren,
because of his slaves or because of his military service.
Haley was a blacksmith by trade and served at
various times as overseer of the Martinsville to Salisbury road, tax
and sheriff of Guilford County.

The Haley House, now a museum, was built in 1786
in Guilford county on the road between Lexington and Martinsville.  John Haley lived there until his death in
1813.  It subsequently operated as a tavern
on the traveling route. 

Alex Haley and His Scottish Ancestry.  At the time Alex Haley
produced his 1976 epic story Roots,
DNA testing was not far advanced.  Then in 2007 Alex’s nephew Chris
Haley sent his DNA off for testing.  It
turned out that his Y-chromosome matched that of a 78-year-old man in
named Thomas Baff.  This derivation does
seem to agree with something Chris found from Alex’s later book Queen:

“Following the custom among slaves
the first Haley, Alex, had taken the name Haley from his true Massa,
his real father’s name was Baugh.
William Baugh was an overseer on the Haley plantation in Marion
Alabama who had sometimes taken his pleasure with a slave woman half
black and
half Cherokee called Sabrina.”

plantation was in fact at Haleyville and owned by Green Haley from
Kentucky.  And Chris’s newfound cousin in
Scotland said
that his name Baff was in fact a variation of the overseer’s name Baugh
(which he
said rhymed with “laugh”).

The following is the resulting Haley

William Baugh (born in 1816 in Scotland) and Sabrina in
Marion county,
– Alex Haley (1844-1910) m. Queen Jackson
(who was born a slave)
— Simon Alexander Haley (1892-1973) m. Bertha
(born in Tennessee, professor of agriculture at
Alabama A&M
— Alex Haley the author (1921-1992).


Haley Names

  • Edmond Halley was the famous English
    astronomer of the early 18th century who gave his name to Halley’s Comet. 
  • Sir William Haley was Director General of the BBC from 1944 to 1952 and
    editor of The Times from 1952 to 1966. 
  • Bill Haley popularized rock and roll in America in the
    1950’s with hits such as Rock Around the
    . His group the Comets took
    their name from Edmond Halley’s Comet. 
  • Alex Haley was the author of the 1976 book Roots,
    later made into a TV mini-series,
    which traced his
    ancestry all the way back to a slave-ancestor captured in Africa. 
  • Nikki Haley, a woman of Indian
    background, has been the Governor of South Carolina
    and the US Ambassador to the United Nations

Select Haley Numbers Today

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 17,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)





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