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Our 2,744 members have registered
2,397 study surnames with us
and a further 6,089 variant names.

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About the study

This study into the name GRAY evolved from my interest in Family History and Genealogy which was kindled in the late 1990s. I found that I had a lot of data pertaining to the name that had little, or no direct link to my own family. Believing that this data may be of use to others, and that it would be an interesting project in its own right, I started the one-name study.

Whilst the study is aimed to cover the name world-wide, most of my data is regarding England and Wales, with a significant portion of that from Yorkshire. As people seek help with their GRAY relatives, the data I uncover myself, or receive from them, helps build this store of data.

The GRAY ONS web-site has been set up and it is being used to publicise the findings from the study.

This is a one-name study at its very early stages and any help would be very welcome - no matter how much or what.

Variant names

The main variant is GREY, though early records mention GRAIE. Some families change between the variants - some only being one for a generation before reverting to the other.

Name origin

There are many theories as to how the name evolved. However, it does seem that there is far more than one geographic location. The Dictionary of American Family Names (Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-508137-4) gives:

* English: nickname for someone with GRAY hair or a GRAY beard, from Old English 'GRAY'. In Scotland and Ireland it has been used as a translation of various Gaelic surnames derived from riabhach 'brindled', 'GRAY' (see Reavey). In North America this name has assimilated names with similar meaning from other European languages.

* English and Scottish (of Norman origin): habitational name from GRAYE in Calvados, France, named from the Gallo-Roman personal name Gratus, meaning 'welcome', 'pleasing' + the locative suffix -acum.

* French and Swiss French: habitational name from GRAY in Haute-Sa?and Le GRAY in Seine-Maritime, both in France, or from GRAY-la-ville in Switzerland, or a regional name from the Swiss canton of Graub?

Historical occurrences of the name

There are numerous famous holders of the GRAY name. Work is ongoing to list these. The latest to be entered was Bill GRAY - a well known football (soccer) player in England who has recently passed on.

Name frequency

Work to understand the frequency of the name is ongoing. However, some is found in the 'Distribution' section below.

Distribution of the name

Sources I've looked at show that, in 2002, there were 67,549 people with the name GRAY in England and Wales (compared with 652,563 SMITHs), but only 6,518 with the name GREY. According to the census, in 1881 there were 42,776 GRAY entries (423,733 SMITHs) 6,511 GREY. Most of the GRAYs were in Lanarkshire (10%), Middlesex (9%), County Durham (5%), Yorkshire (7%) and Lancashire (5%). The vast majority is to the north of England and Scotland possibly inferring a migration from Scotland.

According to the US census data held by, the numbers of GRAYs were 3,558 in 1840, 59,387 in 1880 and 33,331 in 1920. (I've yet to understand the significant decrease between 1880 and 1920). From that web-site, I've obtained the numbers per state in each of those years.


I have extracted all of the data from the UK 1881 census index complied by the LDS, together with the data from the 1841-1901 census indexes from Ancestry.  For UK BMD I've used the FreeBMD data which needs updating as more comes on-line.  In addition, I have images of the GRO records up to 1870. The work to extract the data from the other census records - for example from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA is ongoing.  I would welcome any offers of help with these, and other data sources around the world - however small.

Building trees is a slow process and is mainly done in support of questions raised by others about their family.