Lee Lea

There’s been a bit of discussion on the surname ‘Lee’. I’ve learnt something from it.

It’s a name often associated with Asia – New Zealand golfer Danny Lee was born in South Korea (but it is more common in North Korea).  It is common in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, not so in China (where a variant Li is the fourth most popular surname).

However Lee, derived from Lea, is also an English name, and sometimes spelled Leigh, Lees and Leeds.

The surname Lee is a variant of Lea. This is a place name coming from the Old English word ‘leah’, which means ‘wood, glade, clearing, field or pasture’. The related surnames Legh and Leigh are usually from the Middle English form of the word, ‘legh’-though they do occasionally derive from the older source. However, contrary to appearances, these latter Leighs (and Leghs) are not closer derivations of the Old English source than the Lees and Leas. ‘Lea’ is the dative of the Old English ‘Leah’, and was used after prepositions such as ‘at’ or ‘in’. It was common practice to refer to someone who lived by a particular place as living ‘at’ it-as, for example, in John at Lee. Thus we get the name Atlee.

Other variations on the name come from the Old English ‘laege’ meaning ‘fallow’, and ‘laes’ meaning ‘meadow’. These include Ley, Leys, Laye, Lye, Lees, and such obvious rural compounds as Leabrook.

Early references to Lee abound in the records from the twelfth century onwards, and are found all over England. One of the earliest is to an Ailric de la Leie, who appears in the early Charters for Norfolk covering the years 1148—66.

The Lee Commission was appointed by the British Govern­ment in 1923 to consider the racial composition of India’s higher government services. As a result of its recommendations, when India became independent in 1947 over half of the 1,000 members of these services were Indians with long experience.

Lee’s Professor is the holder of one of three chairs at Oxford.

Some well known people called Lee.

  • England’s Prime Ministers, past and present, owe a debt of gratitude to Arthur Hamilton Lee-he left them his estate, Chequers, for use as a country house.
  • Gypsy Rose Lee (1904—70) was the greatest strip-tease artist of them all.
  • Lees seem to have a predilection for achieving fame on the stage. Amongst the best known of these are Christopher Lee, maestro of the Hammer horror films, Bruce Lee the great Kung Fu hero, and Vivien Leigh, one-time wife of Laurence Olivier, who played Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind.
  • Robert E. Lee was the only general in history to have been offered the command of both armies in a war.
  • English clergyman William Lee (1550—1610) invented the first knitting machine. The woman he was courting showed far more interest in knitting than in his attentions, and this was his solution.

And New Zealand politician and author John A Lee was born in Dunedin in 1891:

A charismatic ex-soldier, orator and propagandist, John A. Lee was a dynamic figure in the Labour Party from the 1920s until 1940, when he was expelled for attacking the leadership of M.J. Savage.

Lee had a parallel career as a writer and later bookseller. His best-known novel, the largely autobiographical Children of the poor (1934), was described as a ‘sensational book on vice, poverty, misery’.


Surname details ( very interesting to search it) from http://forebears.io/surnames/lee


  1. Kitty Catkin

     /  January 15, 2018

    I forgot John A. I was really just wanting to show that anyone called Lee (with that spelling) is not necessarily Chinese and that many Gypsies are called Lee (and Boswell-but James Boswell was not one of these) I didn’t want to go into the Leighs etc or lea as in ‘over the lea’ in the poem.

    Ling is an old word for heather (sorry-not bracken as I said, but it’s still English) -I think it’s from the North as it sounds like a word with Norse origins.

    There have been people called Legh, who must have tired of saying that it was pron. Lee.

  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ling_(surname)

    Ling is another name people may think is solely Chinese. I knew a man with the surname Ling and he was as WASP as all get out.

  3. Kitty Catkin

     /  January 15, 2018

    I hope that Blazer will finally believe that Lee is not always Chinese.

    • I hope blazer will realise… 😉

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  January 15, 2018

        The PDT is busy today.

        I find surnames fascinating-to think that someone, hundreds of years ago, was the smith, tailor. clerk, weaver or whatever who gave the family the name that they still have. I encountered a Scullion-who was the scullion ? Who was the yeoman or the webster ?

        My grandmother knew a woman called Mrs Twitterbottomley whose dog, Sir Lancelot De Lancour (I have never seen it written down) was boarded by grandma in WWII to get him out of Belfast and the bombing raids . Poor Sir Lancelot de Lancour (never Lance) was being walked one day and another dog barked at him. The poor sissy fell dead of a heart attack. Poor grandma having to make that phone call.

        I should have said that Mrs T’s name was pron. Twumley and the children (my mother and her little brother and sister) were told VERY FIRMLY that they were not to call her Mrs Twitter-bottom-ley.

        Mother knew some Sidebottoms who pronounced it SeedeebottOM,

    • Blazer

       /  January 15, 2018

      as I never said it…always was…you need to get your facts right.