Name History

The Carley family name originated in Scotland, traveled to Northern Ireland, later moved to Wales and England, before settling in North America.  Carley was, in it’s various forms, a well-known and respected name in Scotland and Ireland centuries ago.[1]

An early Ancestor, John Carley, was a burgess in Aberdeen, and later Alexander Carley of Castlehills in Drummer is mentioned in the year 1493. The Carley family also occupied the lands of Torsophy Perthshire.[2]

The Carley name can be traced back to Aberdeenshire (Gaelic: Siorrachd Obar Dheathain), a historic county, and present day Council Area of Aberdeen, located in the Grampian region of Northeastern Scotland, where they held a family seat from very ancient times, since before the conquest in 1066.[3]

The Carley name evolved originally from Mackerlie, meaning “son of Charles” of the sept Clan Tarlich under Clan Mackenzie.[4]

A Sept is a family not having the name of the clan, but associated with the clan and entitled to wear its tartan.  McCARLEY, Macarly, MacCARLEY, MacCARLIE, MacCARLY, MacKARLICH, Makarley, MacKARLIE, MacKARLY and MacKERLICH are a sept of Clan MacKenzie in Scotland.

“Their tartan was chiefly a green and blue plaid, cross-hatched with black, with a narrow white line running through the green both with black, with a narrow white line running through the green both ways, a narrow red linethrough every other square of blue.”[4]

The significance of the colors are:

Green for forest and fields, Blue of the sky and free sea, drawn through with White for purity and Red for blood and bold fighters.  All denote freedom, fairness, purity, honor and courage.[4]

Clan Motto:

“Luceo non Uro” Meaning “I shine, not burn”[5]

Clan War Cry:

“Tullach Árd” Meaning “The high hill”[5]

In England and Scotland, the “ey” ending indicated someone who lived on an island. The Clan originally came from one of the islands off the west coast of Scotland, probably Lewis Island.[4]

Lewis and Harris Island (Scottish Gaelic: Leòdhas agus na Hearadh) in the Outer Hebrides make up the largest island in Scotland. It is also the largest single island of the British Isles after Great Britain and Ireland.  The northern part of the island is called Lewis, the southern is Harris and both are frequently referred to as if they were separate islands.  Lewis (and the rest of the Western Isles) became part of Scotland once more in 1266 following the Treaty of Perth when it was ceded by the Kingdom of Norway. Under Scottish rule, the Lordship of the Isles emerged as the most important power in north-western Scotland by the 14th century. The Lords of the Isles were based on Islay, but controlled all of the Hebrides. They were descended from Somerled (Somhairle) Mac Gillibride, a Gall-Gaidheil lord who had held the Hebrides and West Coast two hundred years earlier. Control of Lewis itself was initially exercised by the Macleod clan but after years of feuding and open warfare between and even within local clans, the lands of Clan MacLeod were forfeited to the crown in 1597 and were awarded by King James VI to a group of Lowland colonists known as the Fife adventurers in an attempt to anglicise the islands. However the adventurers were unsuccessful and possession eventually passed to the Mackenzies of Kintail in 1609 when Coinneach, Lord MacKenzie, bought out the lowlanders.[6]

In English the name Carley is said to be locational in origin, a reduced form of Irish McCarley, meaning “a dweller at, or near a fort or flat stone.”[7]

Next, I found similar definition – English: habitational name from the hamlet of Carley in Lifton, Devon, possibly named with Cornish ker ‘fort’ + Old English leah ‘woodland clearing’ (Kerley/Carley)[8]

Recorded as Carley, Corley, Kerley, this is probably an Irish surname but may possibly in some cases be English and locational from a now “lost” medieval village called “Carr-legh” or similar meaning the farm on the rock.[9]

“The family name Carley emerged as a Scottish Clan or family in this territory. More specifically it developed from their original territories of Aberdeen. The Carle and Carley family also moved early in the century to the County of Wexford in Ireland where they gave birth to the place called Carleybridge in that county.”[10]

There is another reference to a Carleybridge in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland and has a rich history of Carley’s in this area for over 300 years.  “Carley’s Bridge Potteries is Ireland’s oldest pottery, and one of the country’s oldest surviving businesses.”[11]

From the book “The Surnames of Ireland” by Edward MacLysaght,  “Carley: The name is of two entirely distinct origins. It is an English name long established in Co. Wexford, hence the place-name Carleysbridge in that county. In Connacht it is that of the sept Mac Fhearghaile, formerly anglicized as MacCarrelly, which in variant spellings occurs frequently in 16th-century, relating to Co. Roscommon.”[12]

And last I found McCarley and M’Carley:  Irish or Scotish: Anglicized form of Gaelic Mac Fhearghaile ‘son of Fearghal’, a personal name meaning ‘valiant man’.[13]

The definition found for Fearghal:

Means “man of valour”, derived from the Gaelic elements fear “man” and gal “valour”. This was the name of an 8th-century king of Ireland.[13]

The Kerley name also had a similar meaning.  A widely recognized authority on Irish names, Edward MacLysaght in “Irish Families”, indicates that Kerley is indeed Irish and means “The son of Feargal.” In Ireland, the predominant area in which the family was found was Connacht, particularly the counties of Galway and Roscommon.[14] 

(Mac) Kerley: This is usually the anglicized form of Mac Fhearghaile (Carley) mainly found in Oriel; it is an occasional variant of Curley in Offaly.[12]

The places Ballymacurley and Curleys Islands are both found in Roscommon, thus emphasising a possible connection of the name with that area.[9]

Note: “Mac” and “Mc” are considered interchangeable and means the “son of”[15]

The Carley Coat of Arms is documented in “Burke’s General Armory”.  The original description of the arms is “Paly of six OR and AZ, a Canton Erm”.  When translated, it means “Six vertical bands of gold and blue, a square of Ermine”. 

I found the image below at the Dallas Public Library with Mark Carley’s biography and was noted that this coat of arms was passed down through his family.

“His(Mark Carley)paternal grandparents were Joseph and Sarah Washburn Carley, the grandmother being a member the noted Washburn family, one of the most distinguished in American history. These New England Carleys came of Scotch-Irish ancestry, of ancient lineage, their coat of arms shown in the accompanying illustration having been handed down to present generation of the family”[16]

                                                         CARLEY COAT OF ARMS

The banner under the coat of arms says “Quod Honesrtum Utile” which translates to “Whatever is honest is useful”

 I found the next image on a commercial coat of arms website and purchased the Carley name information. The name CARLEY was originally derived from the Germanic personal name Carl, meaning Man, which was Latinized as Carolus. The first hereditary surnames on German soil are found in the second half of the 12th century, slightly later than in England and France. However, it was not until the 16th century that they became stabilized. The practice of adopting hereditary surnames began in the southern areas of Germany, and gradually spread northwards during the Middle Ages. In France the name was popular at an early date, due to the fame of the Emperor Charlemagne(742-814). The Old form Charles was briefly introduced to England by the Normans, but was rare during the main period of surname formation. It was introduced more successfully to Scotland in the 16th century by the Stuarts, who had strong ties with France. The name was not in use among the general population in the Scandinavian speaking countries, and was restricted to the nobility. It has now spread widely and has many variant spellings. Early records of the name mention Henry le Karle, who was documented in County Yorkshire, England in 1273, and Robert Carlesonne appears in Cambridge in the same year. William Carlson of Yorkshire, was recorded in the year 1379.[17]

Most of the European surnames were formed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The process had started somewhat earlier and had continued in some places into the 19th century, but the norm is that in the tenth and eleventh centuries people did not have surnames, whereas by the fifteenth century most of the population had acquired a second name. The associated coat of arms is recorded in Rietstaps Armorial General.[17]

I purchased a second name history and coat of arms, which had an Irish/Scottish history and the same image.  The scanned image is below and a full transcription is in another post on the website.

Richard Warren, a direct ancestor, was a passenger on the “Mayflower” and one of the original founders of the Plymouth colony. Historians have suggested his line is directly related to English royalty.[18]

Many Carley’s were early pioneers and founded many American cities. Several notable Carley’s can be found in the American Revolution and the Civil War and left a well documented history.

During the revolution, a family of Carley’s crossed the border into Canada and founded Carley Township.[19]

The first Kerley/Carley’s came from Dorset, England to the Colony of Massachusetts in 1638.  William Kerley/Carley Sr. (1602-1670) was my direct ancestor and was the first of our “Carley” family to be documented in America.  Records indicate the evolution of the name from Kerley to Carley was around 1652.[20]  There are many records that clearly define one person with both names (Kerley/Carley) and seems to be a common mistake made by early record keepers.  Centuries ago it was only the local Monk or Minister who could read and write. He alone decided on the spelling of surnames when entering Baptism, Marriage or Burial records. When he heard an unfamiliar name, he wrote it down in the parish books as he heard it pronounced. As a result, many misspellings were recorded especially when the informant had a strong accent.[21]

Several other Carley’s can be found, settling in different parts of North America.  William Carley settled in Virginia in 1760; Thomas Carley settled in Philadelphia in 1842; Hugh Carley arrived in New Orleans Louisiana in 1823. One of the first settlers in North America was William Carley, mariner of Boston in 1703. The Carley name also settled in Warrend, New Hampshire.[3]

[1]”Carley-Barnes-Slack Families” Mina Carley Foote

[2]Boyde Carley Memoirs

[3]Coat of Arms – Description from House of Names –

[4]”Carley-Barnes-Slack Families” Mina Carley Foote


[6]Macdonald, D. (1978). Lewis: A History of the Island. Edinburgh: Gordon Wright

[7]Clark Carley and info from Mina Carley Foote


[9]Surname Data Base –

[10]Edward MacLysaght

[11]Discover Ireland –

[12]“The Surnames of Ireland” by Edward MacLysaght

[13]M’Carley – Mac F.earg.aile (Mac Fhearghaile) “16th & 17th Century Anglicized Irish Surnames” page 360 from Woulfe also at

[14]Edward MacLysaght in “Irish Families”


[16]“Burke’s General Armory” and “A Standard History of Champaign County, Illinois”

[17]”Rietstaps Armorial General”



[20]”INFORMATION ON THE KERLEY, CEARLEY AND CARLEY FAMILIES OF THE SOUTH” Compiled by William H. Carley,Sr. of San Angelo, TX in 1945