Le Gallais

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Thomas Le Gallais, Receiver-General in 1902
Le Gallais family photographed by Ernest Baudoux

Origin of Surname

The origins of this very common Jersey surname of long standing are strongly disputed. Jersey sources generally support the view that it means 'the Welshman' (Pays de Galles is the French for Wales), but sources in France, where the name is found in many areas, particularly in Brittany and Normandy, offer a variety of other derivations.

The most widely held belief, particularly in Brittany, is that the name is a a corruption of gaullois, 'Gaul' being the historic name for France, and that it was used to distinguish French speakers from Breton speakers in the far west of the country.

But there are other suggested derivations. Noms de familles de Normandie says that in Normandy, where Gallais is fairly common to this day, it comes from a Medieval personal name 'Galeis'.

Otherwise the French authority Dauzat supports the view that it refers to a welshman, Deshayes' Dictionnaire des noms de famille bretons believes it to be derived from 'Galès', a name given to a tall man. Another authority, Morlet, traces the origins to galois, meaning, in ancient French, a bon vivant (he who enjoyed the good things in life).

Then there is the question of which names are true variants of Le Gallais. In Jersey one of the most common early spellings of what was undoubtedly the same family was Le Gallez, and Galet has been viewed as a variant. However, Noms de familles de Normandie treats 'Gallet' and 'Galet' as entirely separate, with a meaning derived from old words for a stranger. However, other French sources lump 'Gallet', 'Galet' and 'Gallez' into the same set of variants.

The name is found as Gallais rather than Le Gallais in Normandy, but in Brittany the names 'Le Gall' and 'Le Gal' are common and they are said to refer to a French speaker among the Bretons.

Charles Stevens' Comprehensive list of Jersey surnames, apart from supporting the Welsh theory, separates 'Le Gal', 'Le Gall' and 'Le Galle' from other variants.

All that seems certain is that the similar sounding Gallie is definitely a different family with a different derivation.

Early records

It will be seen from the list of variants below that the spelling in use in Jersey today - 'Le Gallais' - can only be traced back to the early 17th century, but other variants go back much further, 'de Galeis' being found in a 1226 record.

The family appears in the Assize Roll of 1309. Charles Le Gallais is listed in the Jersey Chantry Certificate of 1550.

Although the family is particularly well-known in the 19th century and later in St Brelade, where Jurat Philippe Le Gallais owned La Moye House, the majority of them are to be found from 1597 onwards in the baptism records of St Helier (403 of 575 total baptisms.

Variants

  • Gallais, found in Normandy
  • Le Gallais, 1607
  • Le Gallez, 1490
  • Le Gallet, possibly separate
  • Le Galet, possibly separate
  • Le Galays
  • Galles 1515
  • Le Galles l479
  • Galays
  • Galeys 1255
  • de Galeis 1226
  • Gallie (probably not a variant - see family page for derivation

Payne's Armorial of Jersey:

This family, which is supposed to have migrated hither from Brittany, has been naturalized in the island from a very remote period. It is divided into several branches, which, although the connection between them is not precisely ascertained, are universally allowed to derive from one common source.

One of these is represented by Matthew Le Gallais, Seigneur of Surville. Another, now settled at La Moye, in the parish of St Brelade, formerly possessed an estate at Rouge Bouillon, in the parish of St Helier; an estate which, as stated by the two Extentes, or Royal Rent Rolls of the 17th century, owed to the Crown the somewhat fanciful dues of two cabots of wheat rent, two capons, two hens, and fourteen eggs. This branch is represented by Philip Le Gallais, Jurat of the Royal Court, and Stipendiary Magistrate of the Police Court.

A third is represented by Mr John Le Gallais, son of Nicholas Le Gallais, who, through his mother, Elizabeth, daughter and eventual heiress of Thomas de Gruchy, of Trinity, represents also a branch of that family.

Arms

As borne by Matthew Le Gallais: Gules, a crescent, between six roses, or, three in chief and three in base.

Quartering : Argent, three trefoils, sable, for Payn

Gules, four fusils, conjoined, in fesso, argent ; a crescent, in base, for difference, for De Carteret

Per fesse, argent and or; in chief, a dexter hand, clenched, ppr, cuffed of the second; in base, a mullet of the first, for Poingdestre

Impaling : Azure, three crescents, or, for Nicolle.

Crest : A cock, statant, ppr., the dexter foot uplifted.

Motto : Jamais chancelant.

As borne by Philip Le Gallais: Same Arms, Crest, and Motto. Impaling or, on a chief, embattled, sable, three mullets, argent, a crescent for difference, for Amy.

As borne by John Le Gallais: Same Arms and Crest. Quartering: Or, fretty azure, for De Gruchy. Motto : Semper Fidelis

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