It's believed that our name is a compound of "palmer" and "lea."

In 1086, William the Conqueror ordered a statistical survey of England be done to register the landed wealth of the country to determine taxes. It was at this time that many families first came up with their surnames. About 43% of surnames today are the names of places -- Brooks, Woods, Hill, Moore, Atwater (at water), etc.; another 32% are descendant names -- Johnson (John's son), McDonald (son of Donald), Petersen (son of Peter), etc.; another 15% are occupational names -- Baker, Smith, Cooper (maker of barrels), Chapman (merchant or trader), etc.; and about 9% are nicknames -- Stout, Goodman, Longfellow, Smart, Reid (for a red-haired man), etc.

"Palmer" -- and there are a lot more of these families than ours -- is the name many men who participated in the Crusades at various times from 1095 to 1270 chose for their surname. The legend goes that these warriors returned home with palm fronds to show that they'd returned from the Holy Lands.

"Lea" is another word for field or meadow.

Thus, our name means "the palmer's field" -- a combination of occupation and location.

Chances are the first families to have this name lived in a field that belonged to someone who fought in the Crusades -- or the head of the household himself was a Crusader who lived in a field.

While there are a few instances of surnames sounding like ours on the Continent, there are only two places in England where the name existed in the late 1500s: the North, where it's usually spelled "Parmley" and can still be found today, and the South where the family only lived a few generations before settling in New England in the 1630s.

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Updated Aug. 1, 2020