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Surname Early - Meaning and Origin

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Unearthing My Irish Roots: A Journey of Self-Discovery with iGENEA DNA Analysis

After a fulfilling experience with iGENEA DNA analysis, I discovered the rich and ancient history behind my family name Early, tracing its origins back to ancient Ireland and the perpetual Celts, which gave me a renewed respect for my roots.

N. Early

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Early: What does the surname Early mean?

The surname Early is of Anglo-Saxon origin, dating back to pre-medieval England. Last names often originated from an individual's occupation, location, or personal characteristics. In the case of Early, it's likely derived from the Old English term "eorlic," which translates to "noble" or "chief." Therefore, it could denote a person of notable rank or importance within a community. However, some sources suggest that Early could also be a geographical surname, referring to a person from 'Erleigh' in England, which means 'Eagle Wood.' It's relevant to note that the name has several variants, including Erle, Erleigh, Earley, and more. Despite its presumed English origin, the Early name spread to Ireland in the aftermath of the Anglo-Norman invasion, becoming particularly prevalent in County Galway. Over time, it migrated to America and Australia with the British colonization. Therefore, today, people with the Early surname can be found across the globe.

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Early: Where does the name Early come from?

The surname Early has both Irish and English origins. The Irish version is derived from the Old Gaelic personal name "O'Moeirghe," which was anglicized as "O'Meara" and later "O'Early." The English version is derived from a place name, "Early", in Berkshire. This place obtained its name from the old English elements "earn", which means ‘eagle’, and "leah", meaning ‘wood’ or ‘clearing’. Therefore, Early could also be a toponymic surname from this place.

In modern times, Early is more common in English-speaking countries like the United States, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. In the United States, it appears most frequently in the southern states like Virginia, which was home to Jubal Early, a Confederate general during the civil war.

Variations of the surname Early

The surname Early has several variants and alternative spellings, demonstrating cultural and geographical influences over time. Variants can include Earley, Erly, and Earlie. In some cases, double letters may be used such as in the version Earleey. Its Anglicized version can be found as O'Erley or O'Earley, denoting Irish origins.

In Ireland, it was originally used to refer to a tribe and was coined from the Gaelic term Ó hEarghaoile, meaning "descendants of Earcghal". The latter is a personal name with components translating to "red" and "valor". If the surname has Scottish origins, it was an Anglicized form of the Gaelic Earailt which is a derivative of the Old Norse personal name Haraldr.

In some cases, the spelling has been Americanized for simplicity and readability, thereby changing the variant entirely from its original form. In such instances, the last name Ehrle could be adapted from the name Early. The extent of surname variants depends on the regional, cultural, and personal choices of families and individuals, leading to further unique derivations over time.

Famous people with the name Early

  • Jubal Early: A noted American Civil War General representing the Confederate side.
  • Bubba Early: A former professional American football player in the NFL who is best known for his time with the Denver Broncos.
  • Ruth Early: A once-famous Hollywood actress during the 1940s.
  • Ralph Early: A British food scientist and author who established the Food Science and Environment department at Harper Adams University in the U.K.
  • Jubal Early: A character in the TV series "Firefly," played by actor Richard Brooks.
  • Sammy Early: An American blues guitarist and singer from New Orleans.
  • James Early: A political and cultural historian, and a reputed curator at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture.
  • Stephen Early: An American journalist and government official who served under President Franklin D. Roosevelt as his press secretary.
  • Cleavon Little, known for his role as Sheriff Bart in "Blazing Saddles": his character often goes by the last name 'Early'. Please note that not all are high-profile celebrities. The term "famous" may vary based on cultural and geographical perspectives.

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