The Origins Of The Jolly Name In Britain
The Domesday Book records the presence of a man named Joli in the Yorkshire Wolds in 1086. Latinised to Jole, Joli is likely a lall-name or shortened version of the Viking or Old Norse Jolgeirr:
In Beswick, there are two and a half carucates taxable, and another half which belonged to Jole, which two ploughs can plough.The jurisdiction of this land belongs to (Great) Driffield; however, Morcar had a manor there before 1066, and it was worth 20 shillings. Now waste. In the said manor of Driffield there were eight mills and 2 churches. The whole manor, 3 leagues long and 2 leagues wide.
Jole's apparent dispossession by the Normans suggests he was a pre-Conquest landholder, possibly a minor thegn or lordling.
In fact, a Scandinavian root for the Jolly surname has long been proposed. Bardsley (1901) suggests an Old Norse etymology relating to Jol, the ancient pagan mid-winter festival of Yule (Jolnir and Jolfuor were, for instance, names of Odin).
Interestingly, place-name research also reveals a series of personal names in eastern England prior to the Norman Conquest which include or are based on the Old Norse element Jol. These names predate the development of Jolly as a surname by a considerable period.
The earliest trace of Jol in England is to be found in two place-names in the Vale of York: Youlton and Youlthorpe.
Besides place-names, some of the earlier traces of the name Joli are to be found on coins. Grueber & Keary (1893) show there was a moneyer named Joles living and working during the reign of Edgar the Peaceful, King of Mercia and England (957-975). During the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066), a moneyer named Jole (Jola, Jolla, Jolana) was minting coins at York (Searle 1969).
So, Jole in Domesday clearly predates the Norman Conquest and is likely to be of Viking origin. However, given the available evidence, it is simply not reasonable to argue for an ancestral link between Jólgeirr and Jolly - despite the Normans’ Viking roots.
It is safer to argue for a derivation from the Old French Jolif, first recorded as a surname in Normandy at the end of the twelfth century (Guppy 1935). The modern English form Jolly is therefore Anglo-Norman and the surname itself probably began life some three centuries after the Conquest as a nickname to denote a lively or jolly fellow.
This is supported by the literary evidence from Northern England. Anglo-Norman Geoffrey Jolif, preceptor or commander of the Knight Templars at Faxfleet on the Humber in the 1290s, is the first individual recorded as bearing the early form of the surname.
The earliest recorded incidence of Jolly also occurs in Yorkshire - Robert Joly at Thormanby in the North Riding in 1360. The same surname appears much later in Lancashire: Maltby Verrill (1933) cites a grant of 1429 featuring one Nicholas Joly.
For further information, see:
Bardsley, CW, A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames (Henry Frowde: London 1901) Grueber, HA & Keary, CF, A Catalogue of English Coins in the British Museum (Anglo-Saxon Series), Vol II (Quaritch: London 1893) Guppy, HB, The John Rylands Library Manchester: 1899-1935. A Brief Record of its History with Descriptions of the Building and its Contents (Manchester University Press: Manchester 1935) Maltby Verrill, D, "The Huguenot Family of Joly", Notes and Queries Vol 164, p.13 (Jan-July 1933) Searle, WG, Onomasticon Anglo-Saxonicum: A List of Anglo-Saxon Proper Names from the time of Bede to that of King John (Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung: Hildesheim 1969)