This is a famous historical name which originally derives from one of the villages called Birley, Burley or Burleigh - an Olde English location name which means 'the cottage (bur) in the enclosure (leah) of the forest'. The name is most associated with Yorkshire, but it has long had national significance, John Burleigh being executed for trying to free Charles 1 in 1648, earlier in C.1366 Sir Simon Birley attended the Black Prince, but also fell foul of the opposition and was beheaded (1388). The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Robert de Berelay (Mercer). which was dated 1326, The Freemen of York Register. during the reign of King Edward 11 Edward of Caernafon 1307-1327. 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.