Show ContentsCliff History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

The surname Cliff is derived from the Old English word "clif," which means cliff, rock, or steep descent. It is thought to have been a name used for someone who lived near a sloping cliff or the bank of a river. As such, the surname Cliff belongs to the class of topographic surnames, which were given to people who resided near physical features such as hills, streams, churches, or types of trees.

Early Origins of the Cliff family

The surname Cliff was first found in Shropshire and Cheshire. The latter county "in the hundred of Northwich, is Clive, from whence their ancestor Warin assumed his name in the time of Henry II. About the reign of Edward II the family removed to Huxley, also in Cheshire, Henry de Clive having married the co-heiress. " [1]

The Shropshire branch claim descent from the village and civil parish so named. "James Clive with the heiress of Styche, of Styche, they settled in Shropshire at that place, which is in the parish of Moreton-Say, and has remained uninterruptedly in the Clive family." [1]

Henry de Cliff (d. 1334), the English judge, "is first mentioned as accompanying the king abroad in May 1313; and on 11 May 1317, as a master in chancery, he had charge of the great seal at the house of the Lord Chancellor, John de Sandale, Bishop of Winchester. There is another master in chancery in Edward II's reign of the same name, probably a brother. " [2]

Early History of the Cliff family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Cliff research. Another 138 words (10 lines of text) covering the years 1725, 1774, 1767, 1558, 1514, 1522, 1523, 1522, 1529, 1526, 1532, 1711, 1728, 1729, 1731 and 1734 are included under the topic Early Cliff History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Cliff Spelling Variations

Welsh surnames are relatively few in number, but they have an inordinately large number of spelling variations. There are many factors that explain the preponderance of Welsh variants, but the earliest is found during the Middle Ages when Welsh surnames came into use. Therefore, scribes and church officials recorded names as they sounded, which often resulted in a single person's name being inconsistently recorded over his lifetime. The transliteration of Welsh names into English also accounts for many of the spelling variations: the unique Brythonic Celtic language of the Welsh had many sounds the English language was incapable of accurately reproducing. It was also common for members of a same surname to change their names slightly, in order to signify a branch loyalty within the family, a religious adherence, or even patriotic affiliations. For all of these reasons, the many spelling variations of particular Welsh names are very important. The surname Cliff has occasionally been spelled Cliffe, Cliff, Clive, Cleeves, Cleave, Cleaves and many more.

Early Notables of the Cliff family (pre 1700)

Prominent amongst the family during the late Middle Ages was William Clyffe (d. 1558), English divine, educated at Cambridge, where he graduated LL.B. in 1514, was admitted advocate at Doctors' Commons on 16 Dec. 1522, graduated LL.D. in 1523, was commissary of the diocese of London between 1522 and 1529. In 1526, he was appointed Archdeacon of London and three years later, Prebendary of Fenton in the church of York in 1532. [2] Catherine Clive, daughter of William Raftor, an Irish gentleman, was born in London in 1711. Displaying a natural aptitude for...
Another 92 words (7 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Cliff Notables in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Cliff Ranking

In the United States, the name Cliff is the 14,671st most popular surname with an estimated 2,487 people with that name. [3]

United States Cliff migration to the United States +

In the 1800s and 1900s, many Welsh families left for North America, in search of land, work, and freedom. Those who made the trip successfully helped contribute to the growth of industry, commerce, and the cultural heritage of both Canada and the United States. In the immigration and passenger lists were a number of people bearing the name Cliff

Cliff Settlers in United States in the 17th Century
  • John Cliff, who arrived in Maryland in 1667 [4]
Cliff Settlers in United States in the 19th Century
  • Daniel and Sarah Cliff, who arrived in New York in 1823 with six children
  • Mr. Francis Cliff, (b. 1799), aged 50, Cornish settler departing from Penzance aboard the ship "Cornwall" arriving in the United states on 23rd August 1849 [5]
  • Mr. James A. Cliff, (b. 1869), aged 22, Cornish mason departing from Liverpool aboard the ship "Etruria" arriving in Boston, USA on 16 March 1891 [5]
Cliff Settlers in United States in the 20th Century
  • Mr. Constantine Robert Cliff, (b. 1882), aged 23, Cornish postman travelling aboard the ship "St Paul" arriving at Ellis Island, New York on 30th July 1905 en route to Buffalo, New York, Usa [6]

Australia Cliff migration to Australia +

Emigration to Australia followed the First Fleets of convicts, tradespeople and early settlers. Early immigrants include:

Cliff Settlers in Australia in the 19th Century
  • Henry Cliff, aged 24, a farm servant, who arrived in South Australia in 1850 aboard the ship "Stag" [7]
  • William Cliff, aged 21, a farm servant, who arrived in South Australia in 1850 aboard the ship "Stag" [7]
  • Mr. Samuel Cliff, (Taylor, James), (b. 1808), aged 44, English labourer who was convicted in Retford (East Retford), Nottinghamshire, England for 7 years for stealing, transported aboard the "Dudbrook" on 17th November 1852, arriving in Western Australia, he died in 1860 [8]
  • Jacob Cliff, English convict from Rutland, who was transported aboard the "Adelaide" on April 16, 1855, settling in Western Australia [9]
  • Mr. George Cliff, (b. 1820), aged 35, Cornish settler travelling aboard the ship "John Davis" arriving in Queensland, Australia on 10th May 1855 [10]
  • ... (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

New Zealand Cliff migration to New Zealand +

Emigration to New Zealand followed in the footsteps of the European explorers, such as Captain Cook (1769-70): first came sealers, whalers, missionaries, and traders. By 1838, the British New Zealand Company had begun buying land from the Maori tribes, and selling it to settlers, and, after the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, many British families set out on the arduous six month journey from Britain to Aotearoa to start a new life. Early immigrants include:

Cliff Settlers in New Zealand in the 19th Century
  • Mr. Robert Cliff, British settler travelling from London with 5 family members aboard the ship "Matoaka" arriving in Auckland, New Zealand on 26th September 1859 [11]
  • Mr. George Cliff, (b. 1827), aged 34, English farm labourer, from Yorkshire travelling from London aboard the ship "Royal Stuart" arriving in Lyttlelton, Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand on 8th October 1861 [12]
  • James Cliff, aged 24, who arrived in Lyttelton, New Zealand aboard the ship "Accrington" in 1863 [11]
  • Mr. James Cliff, (b. 1839), aged 24, Cornish farm labourer departing on 18th June 1863 aboard the ship "Accrington" arriving in Lyttelton, Canterbury, New Zealand on 5th September 1863 [13]

Contemporary Notables of the name Cliff (post 1700) +

  • Norman Cliff, American psychology professor
  • Michelle Cliff (b. 1946), Jamaican-born, American author
  • David T. "Dave" Cliff FBCS CITP (b. 1966), British Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bristol and Director of the UK LSCITS (Large Scale Complex IT Systems) Initiative
  • Tony Cliff (1917-2000), born Yigael Gluckstein, Trotskyist revolutionary activist, founding member of the Socialist Review Group
  • Leslie Cliff OC (b. 1955), Canadian three-time gold medalist swimmer, active in the early 1970s
  • John Cliff (1883-1977), British transport executive, the first Assistant General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union (1924-1935) Chairman of the London County Council (1946-1947)
  • James "Jimmy" Cliff OBE (b. 1948), Jamaican reggae musician, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010
  • Ian Cliff OBE (b. 1952), British diplomat, Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina (2001-2005), Ambassador to Sudan (2005-2007), Head of UK Delegation to the OSCE (2007-2011), Ambassador to Kosovo (2011-2015)Chargé d'Affaires to Croatia ()2015-)
  • Dave Cliff (b. 1944), British jazz musician
  • Clarice Cliff (1899-1972), British ceramic artist active from 1922 to 1963
  • ... (Another 1 notables are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

The Cliff Motto +

The motto was originally a war cry or slogan. Mottoes first began to be shown with arms in the 14th and 15th centuries, but were not in general use until the 17th century. Thus the oldest coats of arms generally do not include a motto. Mottoes seldom form part of the grant of arms: Under most heraldic authorities, a motto is an optional component of the coat of arms, and can be added to or changed at will; many families have chosen not to display a motto.

Motto: In cruce glorior
Motto Translation: I glory in the cross.

  1. Shirley, Evelyn Philip, The Noble and Gentle Men of England; The Arms and Descents. Westminster: John Bower Nichols and Sons, 1866, Print.
  2. Smith, George (ed), Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1885-1900. Print
  3. "What are the 5,000 Most Common Last Names in the U.S.?".,
  4. Filby, P. William, Meyer, Mary K., Passenger and immigration lists index : a guide to published arrival records of about 500,000 passengers who came to the United States and Canada in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. 1982-1985 Cumulated Supplements in Four Volumes Detroit, Mich. : Gale Research Co., 1985, Print (ISBN 0-8103-1795-8)
  5. Cornwall Online Parish Clerks. (Retrieved 2018, April 30). Emigrants to New York 1820 - 1891 [PDF]. Retrieved from
  6. Cornwall Online Parish Clerks. (Retrieved 3rd May 2018). Retrieved from
  7. State Records of South Australia. (Retrieved 2010, November 5) STAG 1850. Retrieved
  8. Convict Records Voyages to Australia (Retrieved 23rd July 2021). Retrieved from
  9. State Library of Queensland. (Retrieved 2014, November 17) Adelaide voyage to Western Australia, Australia in 1855 with 261 passengers. Retrieved from
  10. Cornwall Online Parish Clerks. (Retreived 3rd May 2018). Retrieved from
  11. New Zealand Yesteryears Passenger Lists 1800 to 1900 (Retrieved 17th October 2018). Retrieved from
  12. New Zealand Yesteryears Passenger Lists 1800 to 1900 (Retrieved 26th March 2019). Retrieved from
  13. Cornwall Online Parish Clerks. (Retrieved 2018, April 30). Emigrants to Lyttelton 1858-84 [PDF]. Retrieved from on Facebook