This long-established surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is from a medieval occupational name for a scribe or secretary, or for a member of a minor religious order. The word “clerc”, from the Olde English pre 7th Century “Cler(e)c”, priest, originally denoted a member of a religious order only, but since the clergy of minor orders were allowed to marry and so found families, the surname could become established.
It should also be noted that during the Middle Ages virtually the only people who were able to read and write were members of religious orders and it was therefore natural that the term “clark” or “clerk” would come to be used of any literate man, particularly the professional secretary and the scholar. One Richerius Clericus, Hampshire, appears in the Domesday Book of 1086.
The surname is first recorded in the early 12th Century (see below), and other early recordings include: Reginald Clerc, noted in the Curia Regis Rolls of Rutland (1205), and John le Clerk, registered in the “Transcripts of Charters relating to the Gilbertine Houses”, Lincolnshire (1272).
The modern surname can be found as Clark, Clarke, Clerk or Clerke. Richard Clarke was noted as a passenger on the “Mayflower” bound for the New World in 1620. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Willelm le Clerec, which was dated 1100, in “The Old English Byname Register of Somerset”, during the reign of King Henry 1, known as “The Lion of Justice”, 1100 – 1135. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to “develop” often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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