This unusual surname belongs to that sizeable group of early European surnames that were gradually created from the habitual use of nicknames. These nicknames were originally given with reference to a variety of personal characteristics, such as physical attributes or peculiarities, and mental and moral characteristics. The derivation, in this instance, is from the Middle English "seely", happy, fortunate, itself a development of the Olde English pre 7th Century "saelig", from "sael", happiness, good-fortune; the term denoted someone of cheerful disposition. Seely was also occasionally used as a female given name during the Middle Ages, as in Sely filia (daughter of) Nicholai (Worcestershire, 1221), and Sely Percy (Somerset, 1327). Early examples of the surname include: Roger le Seli (Herefordshire, 1205); Roger Cely (Shropshire, 1255); and William Sely (Oxfordshire, 1273). In 1326, one Thomas Zely was noted in the 1327 Subsidy Rolls of Worcestershire. In the modern idiom the name has no less than eighteen spelling variations, ranging from Sealey, Seeley and Silly, to Ceeley, Ceiley and Zelley. On July 15th 1610, Katherine Zellye and Nicholas Hawkins were married at Portisham, Dorset, and on June 17th 1854, the marriage of William Zelley to Louisa Charlotte Rose took place at St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster, London. A Coat of Arms granted to the family depicts an azure fess embattled between three black wolves' heads erased on a gold shield. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Richard Seli, which was dated circa 1200, in "Transcripts of Charters relating to the Gilbertine Houses", Lincolnshire, during the reign of King John, known as "Lackland", 1199 - 1216. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

Surnames reference. 2013.

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