May Surname Genealogy

is a first name that became a surname. Some
see its origin in England as the Old
French mai brought by the
Normans as a term of endearment or greeting
to a
close friend. It could also designate
someone who was born in the month of May.
Alternatively, it could be an abbreviated version of Matthew in
or of Matthias in Saxony and in other German-speaking lands.
Early examples of the surname were Thomas le
Mey and Goscelin Mey recorded at Ely Abbey in Suffolk in 1221. The spelling had become May by the 16th
century. The May and Mays spelling are
both found in America.

May Resources on

May Ancestry

May has been very much
a name of London and the home counties.

Sussex. The first recorded here was
probably Richard
May, born in Wadhurst in East Sussex in 1464.
He had two grandsons, Thomas and William, and the family split
into two

Thomas’s descendants were to
be found at Mayfield Place. Here in
1595 was born
Thomas May, a poet
and historian, much in
favor at
court of
King Charles I.
When the
Civil War broke out he
switched sides. He died
in 1650 and was given a public funeral by
Parliament. After the
Restoration, however, his body was dug
up and thrown into a common grave
. John May of
this family emigrated to Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1640.

other line ran via William who moved as a merchant to Portugal where he
around 1540. These Mays lived at
Raughmere near Chichester in West Sussex and included Richard May, a
tailor in London, and his son Sir Humphrey, Chancellor of the Duchy of
Lancaster in 1618. Later Mays of this
line were Hugh May, a practicing architect during the Restoration era,
Richard May, the MP for Chichester.

Suffolk. From
Suffolk came the two 16th century clergymen brothers, William who was
as Archbishop of York in 1560 but died the same year and John who
became Bishop
of Carlisle in 1577. John May was
recorded as a yeoman of Bawdsey on his death in 1655.
One family history began with the birth of
George May near Butley in 1777. His
later moved to the Campsea Ashe area.

London. More recent Mays in London
have been the
Quaker Francis May, co-founder of the match company Bryant & May in
and the young solicitor William May, co-founder of the law firm
Slaughter &
May in 1889.

Elsewhere. Cornwall has been
an outpost for May where it
is thought to have been an abbreviation of the French diminutive form
Mayou. Mays were long associated with the
town of St. Austell. One line of these Mays was later to be found
at Polgooth. A May family at Newlyn dates
from the 1660’s, another at St. Mawgan-in-Ryder from the 1720’s.

Ireland. Edward May, a younger brother
of the poet and
historian Thomas May from Mayfield, came to Waterford
where his family established themselves at Maypark House.
Mays later moved to Belfast
where Sir Edward May was MP in the
early 1800’s
and pioneered many urban developments at that time. From
a related line came the Rev. Edward May
whose son George was Lord Chief Justice of Ireland and whose grandson
Francis became Governor of Hong Kong from 1912 to 1919.

May in Ireland may have Irish roots, an
anglicized form of O’Miadhaigh. This
surname, meaning “honorable,” was to be
found in Westmeath and Roscommon.

Holland. In 1727
John May arrived in Amsterdam with two other English shipwrights to
Dutch ship design at the invitation of the Amsterdam Admiralty. May remained in Holland with his family. A later May was an Admiral in the Dutch Navy
who assisted in restoring the Prince of Orange to the throne of Holland
the fall of Napoleon. The Mays then
returned to England and Sir William May became
an Admiral in the English

America. May arrivals
in America

include many from England, some Irish and Scottish, and a
contingent from
German lands.

New England.
John May came to
America on the James in 1640 and
settled in Roxbury, Massachusetts, marrying Sarah Brewer there in 1656.
One of his
Colonel Samuel
was the Warden of King’s
Chapel in Boston, the first Unitarian church in America.
He and his wife Dorothy had thirteen
children. They included Samuel, the
Unitarian minister and abolitionist, and Abigail, the mother of C
ivil War
Louisa May Alcott.

Various Mays were to be
found in Virginia in the 17th century.
They included John May who was transported to Accomack county in
and other Mays who made their own way there. Other Mays
were first recorded in Sussex county, Virginia.

One line from Accomack county was
later to be found in Pitt and Beaufort counties, North Carolina. John May had his home along the Dan
river. He was a captain during the
Revolutionary War and subsequently a surveyor and land speculator in
eastern Kentucky. The town of Maysville in
Kentucky, initially
a trading post, was named after him.

Chester May, thought to have been a descendant
of the Mays of Roxbury, headed west and was a co-founder of the town of
Mayville, Wisconsin in 1845. He and his
son Eli were active in exploiting the nearby iron ore deposits.

Irish. Some
Mays, like James May from county Cork,
were Irish in origin. He settled in
Maryland in 1800. His son John May
migrated to Texas in 1835. A later John
May, who came to Texas from Germany, fought with distinction in the
Texas-Indian wars in 1870.

German. Indeed
Mays in America, in some cases originally Meys, were of German origin. Among the early arrivals were:

  • Daniel
    May who came to Philadelphia on the Loyal Judith in
    1743. He settled in Guilford county, North
  • Catherina
    May, a widow, who arrived with her
    family on the Edinburgh in 1748 and
    settled in Conestoga township in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. Her children later moved to Virginia and
    eastern Kentucky.
  • Frantz
    and Anna May
    who arrived on the Phoenix in 1752
    and settled in Berks county, Pennsylvania
  • and
    Jacob May who arrived sometime in the 1750’s. He
    is thought to have been the ancestor of
    the Mays of Ashe county in North Carolina.

May arrived in New York with his family in 1854 at the age of 16. He migrated west to Colorado in the 1870’s for
health reasons. There he started his first store and his business
rapidly expanded into the St. Louis based chain of department stores.

Canada. William May,
Protestant, was a soldier in
Ireland and came with his family from county Carlow in 1817 to Canada
they settled in the Ottawa Valley. He
and his wife raised ten children there.

from Germany also came to Canada.
William May was an Empire Loyalist from Albany, New York who had
with Butler’s Rangers and crossed the border into Niagara in 1783. He was the descendant of German Palatine
refugees who had arrived in New York as early as 1709.
Much later German arrivals, around 1850, were
Thomas and Ida May from Hamburg who settled in Montreal.

Australia. William May. a Quaker from London, emigrated
with his family to South Australia in 1839 and later settled in
Tasmania where
he established an orchard at Sandford. His eldest son William studied
and painted Tasmanian wildflowers; another son Alfred created paintings

May was a Cornishman who came to Western Australia with his first wife
1878. They raised eleven children at May
Cottage in the outback at Bridgetown.
May Cottage, a simple timber framed structure with gabled roof,

May Miscellany

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

May Names

was a 17th century English
poet, dramatist and historian.

Samuel May
was a
19th century American
who championed
women’s rights and abolitionism.

Peter May
was an English cricket captain in the 1950’s
and 1960’s.

Willie Mays
was a great American baseball
center fielder of the 1950’s and 1960’s
Theresa May was the British
Prime Minister between 2015 and 2019.

Select Mays Today

  • 35,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 53,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 26,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)



Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply