Ray Surname Genealogy

surname in America seems to span a number of different surname
spellings in
England, Scotland and Ireland.  Ray,
are the most common spellings here.
Ray and Rea are English names, perhaps derived from the Old English word ea, pronounced “ay,” and meaning stream.  It might in this case be topographical, describing someone who lived by a stream. Alternatively, Ray could come from the Old French rey or roy meaning “king,” and would be a nickname for someone who behaved in a regal fashion.
Rae and Reay in Scotland are said to derive from the Old English word ra, meaning a female roe deer. It is a Border name and bears no relationship with the McRae name which came from the Scottish Highlands and had different roots (although McRae could sometimes be shortened to Rae).
Ray and Rea are also Irish names, with Rea being pronounced as “ray.”  Ray can be a contraction of Reavy, derived from the Gaelic Riabhaigh, meaning “grey-haired;” while Rea could come from MacCrea which also gave rise to MacGreevey.

Ray or Rai is as well a common Indian surname.  The name comes from the same root as Raj and means “king” or “ruler. Rea is a surname in Italy.

Ray Resources on

Ray Ancestry

Scotland.  The Rae name first
appeared in a document as Raa in
Fife in 1239 when Robert Raa, described as a mason, witnessed a charter
at the
Abbey of Culross; while Thomas filius Ray appeared in a Paisley
document in the
same year.  However, Rae has been more of
a Scottish Border
, found
initially in the Dumfries area.  They
were one of the Border reiving families, although not amongst the
largest in
terms of numbers.

The Rae name extended into Galloway and Ayrshire and later
into Lanarkshire.  Elsewhere the Raes of Esk Grove in Midlothian
came in the
1700’s from Fife.  Patrick Rae married
Margaret Monteith at Muiravonside in Stirlingshire in 1710.
Two Raes
from the Dumfries area were the Rev.
Peter Rae
, who published an
account of the 1715 Jacobite rebellion, and James Rae, an early
photographer in the 1860’s

England.  The Ray name in
England would seem to divide into a northern name and a southern

In the north, the Scottish influence has been strongest.
It was said that the estate of
in Bromfield parish in Cumberland belonged to a
Scottish Reay or Ray family around the year 1200.  William
Reay of this family was Bishop of Glasgow in the early 16th
century.  The
Scottish Rae spelling outnumbered
the Ray spelling in Cumberland in the 1881 census, although the reverse
true for Lancashire with its larger Ray population.
Meanwhile the Wray spelling appeared at an early date in Wensleydale in
north Yorkshire.  Sir Christopher Wray from Bedale became Speaker
of the House of Commons in 1571.

Ray was also a surname in the southeast, in London and nearby
counties.  Johnt Ray died in Denston in Suffolk around the year
1450.  Another Ray family in Suffolk began with Joseph Ray who
Sarah Sparrow in Depden in 1652.  John Ray, widely regarded as one
of the first English
botanists, was born in the village of Black Notley in Essex in
1627. The Rea spelling cropped up in the west country, in
particular in Worcestershire.  John Rea from Powick was mayor of
Worcester in 1676.


The O’Rea name appeared in Limerick and Cork during the 16th
century.  It was the principal Irish name recorded in the barony
of Owney in Limerick (on the boundary with Tipperary) in 1659.

the name was probably of Scottish or English origin:

  • most of the Reas (pronounced Ray) in Antrim, Down and in
    Cavan were probably Scottish in origin.  The Reas of
    Ballynahinch in county Down descended from David Rea, born there in
    1672.  Matthew Rreagh from Argyll became Rhea in Donegal.
    His son the Rev. Joseph Rhea was a Presbyterian minister there.
  • there
    was a Yorkshire family of Wray that
    came to Ulster just before the Scottish plantation era.
    John Wray was rewarded with confiscated land near
    in Donegal in 1603 and built Castle Wray there.  His
    family became part of the Protestant gentry
    in the area.  The line was covered in C.V.
    Trench’s 1945 book The Wrays of Donegal, Londonderry,
    and Antrim

America.  Rays, mainly English, came first to New
English.  Rays more numerous, mainly Scots and Scots Irish, came
to points south.

New England.  Some of
the early Rays here were:

  • Daniel
    Ray, a seaman, was in the Plymouth colony by 1630 and
    moved to Salem the following year.  He
    lived there until his death in 1662.   His
    descendants, covered in Joseph Ray’s 2005 book Descendants
    of Daniel Ray
    , later spread across New
    England.  Some of them adopted the Rea
  • while Simon Ray
    from Suffolk came
    with his
    parents to Braintree as a boy in 1640.  His
    father died the following year.  In 1661
    Simon departed with his mother and step-father to
    Block Island
    off Rhode Island where he was one of the original settlers.  He lived to be 102, dying there in 1737.

Ray was the Boston
jailer from 1687 to 1699 when he was removed from the position for
allowing pirate prisoners to escape.  Samuel Ray meanwhile was a
who came to Nantucket island around the year 1720.
One line from him led to Columbia county in upstate New York
where Francis
Ray started a Quaker community at Rayville in 1781

Rays Further
.  These Rays were mainly, it would appear,
Scots Irish and started coming in the 1730’s.

Isaac Ray had arrived in Virginia from Ireland in 1730.  His grandson Joseph grew up in South Carolina
and in the 1790’s moved with his family to Kentucky.
They later migrated to Alabama and Texas
before returning to Alabama in their old age in the 1850’s.

Various Rays were in
North Carolina:

  • Moses
    Ray from Scotland died in North Carolina in 1766.  His
    son Thomas later moved to southern Ohio,
    following the Quaker migration there.
  • John
    and Martha Rea family came to Mecklenburg county, North Carolina from
    in 1763.  They helped organize the local
    Presbyterian church.  
  • while
    James Ray,
    probably Scots Irish in origin, came to North Carolina via the Great
    Wagon Road
    in 1747.  His descendants migrated to
    Tennessee around the year 1817.  They
    settled in Bedford county.  Later Rays of
    this family were to be found in Missouri and Arkansas.

Ray had moved from
Tennessee to Missouri in 1840 and made his home in what became known as
Wilson’s Creek.  In 1861 during the Civil
War it was the site of a conflict between the two forces on what became
as Bloody Hill.  Many of the dying and
wounded were brought to the Ray house, including the Union commander.  The Ray house survived the war and the Rays
continued living there for another ten years.
It is now a national museum.

Meanwhile the Rev. Joseph Rhea, a Presbyterian minister, had come to
eastern Tennessee from Donegal via Marylandin 1778.
His son John fought in the Revolutionary War
and was a longtime US Congressman from Tennessee.  Rhea
county in Tennessee was named in his

William Ray
from Belfast was in
Pennsylvania in the 1770’s and fought in the Revolutionary War.   After the war he moved to Kentucky and
to Indiana where he died in 1840 at the grand old age of 99.  He was alive to see his son James elected
Governor of Indiana.  Matthew Rea left county Down for
Pennsylvania in 1774.  His descendants
moved west to Wisconsin in 1840.

Rays West.  Adam and George Ray came
west from upstate
New York in 1837 to what was then Wisconsin territory.
Adam’s son Patrick headed further west in
1881 to Barrow, Alaska where he established a US meteorological station.  The Ray river and Ray mountains in Alaska
were named after him.

Rae, a Scotsman, ended up even further West in Hawaii.
His path took him from Aberdeen to Ontario
and thence, in a circuitous route via New York and Central America, to
Francisco in 1849 at the time of the Gold Rush.
He departed there two years later for Hawaii where he worked as
medical officer and published tomes on economics.

Canada.  Dr. John Rae
was the famous Scottish explorer of the Canadian Arctic who settled
later in
life in London.  His brother Thomas Rae
did make the move to Canada in the 1840’s.
Thomas’s son John was an Indian agent along the North
Saskatchewan river
in the 1880’s.  Another Rae family in
Canada also came from Scotland and they, surprisingly, were Jewish in origin.

Thomas Rea and his family had come to
Canada from Fermanagh in the 1820’s.
They settled in the Ops township in Victoria county, Ontario.  Thomas had commanded the Irish Fusiliers
and fought in the Battle of Waterloo.

and New Zealand.   Two Raes from
Dumfries area headed south in the 1850’s.
William Rae travelled on the Marco
to Melbourne in 1857 and married and settled down in Rathscar,
Victoria.  Simon Rae came to South
Island, New Zealand about the same time.
His story was told in Annie Irving’s 2005 book A
Good Scotch Shepherd

Ray Miscellany

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

Ray Names

John Rae

was a mid-19th century Scottish
explorer of the Canadian Arctic.  Rae
Strait was named after him
English stage actress, dancer and singer, best known for her roles
Edwardian musical comedies.  She was in
the early 1900’s one of the most photographed women in the world.
Man Ray,
was an American painter and visual artist active in the Dada and
Surrealist movements.
Johnnie Ray
was a popular American singer,
songwriter, and pianist during the 1950’s
Chris Rea is a popular English
singer-songwriter.  He was born in Yorkshire to an Italian father
named Rea.

Select Rays Today

  • 31,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 51,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 28,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)




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