Show ContentsLesley History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

The Pictish clans of ancient Scotland were the ancestors of the first people to use the name Lesley. It comes from in the barony of Leslie in the county of Aberdeen. The surname Lesley belongs to the category of habitation names, which are derived from pre-existing names for towns, villages, parishes, or farmsteads.

Early Origins of the Lesley family

The surname Lesley was first found in 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 were recorded as a family of great antiquity seated on the lands of Leslie. "This place is said to have derived its name from a family who held the lands so early as the eleventh century." [1]

It is generally believed the family was descended from Bartholomew Leslyn, son of Walter de Leslyn, a Flemish knight who attended Queen Margaret when she arrived to marry King Malcolm of Scotland in 1067. [2] [3]

According to legend, the wife of King Malcolm III was thrown from her horse while crossing a river and nearly drowned, but Leslyn, gripping the horses bridle, saved her. She frequently cautioned him to 'grip fast' and afterwards commanded that he retain those words as his family motto. He later married the sister of Malcolm Ceanmore, and so was appointed Governor of Edinburgh Castle and made Lord Leslie. [3]

Malcolm Leslie of Garioch in Aberdeenshire, son of Bartolf, received a feudal charter confirming his lands from a grant made to his name-father, Lord Leslie. Malcolm's grandson, Sir Andrew de Lesly, was one of the signatories of the 1320 'Arbroath Declaration of Independence' to the Pope, which affirmed Scotland's sovereignty and included the words: "as long as one hundred Scotsmen still live they would never submit to English rule."

Another source claims the family "trace their origin to Bartholomew, a Flemish chief, who settled with his followers in the district of Garioch, in Aberdeenshire, in the reign of William the Lion. He took the name of De Lesley from the place where he settled. The heralds, however, have an old legend representing the first man of the family as having acquired distinction and a name at once, by overcoming a knight in battle, at a spot between a less lee (meadow) and a greater." [4]

Whichever origin the reader chooses, all agree that one of the first records of the family was "Earl David, brother of William the Lion, granted c. 1171-1199 the lands of Lesslyn in the Garioch to Malcolm son of Bartholf. " [5]

As far as the origin of the Coat of Arms is concerned perhaps this quote will shed some light: "Sir Norman de Lechelyn of Aberdeenshire rendered homage in 1296. His seal bears six shields in a circle conjoined in base, each charged with 3 round buckles on a bend." [5] It's a little different that the one anciently used by the family but it is significant in that it notes that the family was using a variant of the same as far back as the 13th century.

Early History of the Lesley family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Lesley research. Another 309 words (22 lines of text) covering the years 1340, 1411, 1527, 1562, 1571, 1580, 1596, 1600, 1607, 1635, 1641, 1650, 1661, 1667, 1671, 1680, 1682, 1693, 1711, 1722, 1758, 1797, 1850 and 1890 are included under the topic Early Lesley History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Lesley Spelling Variations

Translation has done much to alter the appearance of many Scottish names. It was a haphazard process that lacked a basic system of rules. Spelling variations were a common result of this process. Lesley has appeared Leslie, Lesley, Lessely, Lessley, Lesslie and others.

Early Notables of the Lesley family

Notable amongst the Clan at this time was

  • John Lesley (1527-1596) Scottish bishop, historian, and statesman, ecclesiastical adviser to Mary Queen of Scots

Lesley Ranking

In the United States, the name Lesley is the 10,335th most popular surname with an estimated 2,487 people with that name. [6]

Ireland Migration of the Lesley family to Ireland

Some of the Lesley family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt.
Another 86 words (6 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

United States Lesley migration to the United States +

Many Scots left their country to travel to the North American colonies in search of the freedom they could not find at home. Of those who survived the difficult voyage, many found the freedom they so desired. There they could choose their own beliefs and allegiances. Some became United Empire Loyalists and others fought in the American War of Independence. The Clan societies and highland games that have sprung up in the last century have allowed many of these disparate Scots to recover their collective national identity. A search of immigration and passenger ship lists revealed many early settlers bearing the Lesley name:

Lesley Settlers in United States in the 17th Century
  • Nicholas Lesley, who settled in Virginia in 1650
  • Nico Lesley, who landed in Virginia in 1650 [7]
  • Thomas Lesley, who landed in Maryland in 1660 [7]
Lesley Settlers in United States in the 18th Century
  • Alexander Lesley, who arrived in South Carolina in 1716 [7]
  • Ben j Lesley, who arrived in Pennsylvania in 1764 [7]
Lesley Settlers in United States in the 19th Century
  • Samuel Lesley, who arrived in Allegany (Allegheny) County, Pennsylvania in 1808 [7]

Canada Lesley migration to Canada +

Some of the first settlers of this family name were:

Lesley Settlers in Canada in the 18th Century
  • Barbara Lesley, who landed in Nova Scotia in 1757
  • Marcus Lesley, who landed in Nova Scotia in 1757
  • Margereta Lesley, who arrived in Nova Scotia in 1757

Australia Lesley migration to Australia +

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

Lesley Settlers in Australia in the 19th Century
  • Mr. John Lesley who was convicted in Lancaster, Lancashire, England for 7 years, transported aboard the "Bengal Merchant" on 4th August 1836, arriving in New South Wales, Australia [8]
  • Mr. William Lesley, English convict who was convicted in Chester, Cheshire, England for 7 years, transported aboard the "Earl Grey" on 27th July 1838, arriving in New South Wales, Australia [9]
  • John Lesley, who arrived in Adelaide, Australia aboard the ship "Isabella Watson" in 1846 [10]

New Zealand Lesley 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:

Lesley Settlers in New Zealand in the 19th Century
  • Miss Margaret Lesley, British settler travelling from London aboard the ship "Western Monarch" arriving in New Zealand in 1879 [11]
  • Mr. Benjamin Lesley, (b. 1848), aged 30, British settler travelling from London aboard the ship "Western Monarch" arriving in New Zealand in 1879 [11]

Contemporary Notables of the name Lesley (post 1700) +

  • J. Peter Lesley (1819-1903), American geologist, secretary and librarian of the American Philosophical Society from 1858 till 1885, one of the original members of the National Academy of Sciences
  • M. L. Lesley, American politician, Mayor of Easley, South Carolina, 1953 [12]
  • James Lesley Jr., American politician, U.S. Consul in Lyon, 1861-65 [12]
  • George Lesley, American politician, Member of New York State Assembly from Rensselaer County 1st District, 1850-51 [12]
  • Lorna Lesley (b. 1959), English-born, Australian two-time AFI Award nominated actress, known for Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), Resistance (1994) and Aftershocks (1998)
  • Dame Susan Lesley Hill D.B.E., O.B.E. (b. 1955), British Chief Scientific Officer for NHS England and Senior Responsible Officer for Genomics, was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire on 8th June 2018, for services to the 100,000 Genome Project and to NHS Genomic Medicine [13]
  • Mrs. Cynthia Lesley Bond B.E.M., British recipient of the British Empire Medal on 8th June 2018, for services to the community in Chippenham, Wiltshire [14]
  • Mrs. Joanne Lesley Wilcock C.B.E., M.B.E., née Malone, British Proprietor for Jo Loves Ltd, was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire on 8th June 2018, for services to the British Economy and the GREAT Britain campaign [13]
  • Rev. Janet Lesley Jackson B.E.M., British recipient of Medallist of the British Empire Medal 29th December 2018 for services to Bereaved Families in North East England [13]
  • Dianne Lesley Pilkington (b. 1975), English theatre actress and singer

  1. Lewis, Samuel, A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland. Institute of Historical Research, 1848, Print.
  2. Harrison, Henry, Surnames of the United Kingdom: A Concise Etymological Dictionary Baltimore: Geneological Publishing Company, 2013. Print
  3. Sims, Clifford Stanley The Origin and Signification of Scottish Surnames. 1862. Print.
  4. Lower, Mark Anthony, Patronymica Britannica, A Dictionary of Family Names of the United Kingdom. London: John Russel Smith, 1860. Print.
  5. Black, George F., The Surnames of Scotland Their Origin, Meaning and History. New York: New York Public Library, 1946. Print. (ISBN 0-87104-172-3)
  6. "What are the 5,000 Most Common Last Names in the U.S.?".,
  7. 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)
  8. Convict Records Voyages to Australia (Retrieved 7th October 2020). Retrieved from
  9. Convict Records Voyages to Australia (Retrieved 17th August 2021). Retrieved from
  10. State Records of South Australia. (Retrieved 2010, November 5) ISABELLA WATSON 1846. Retrieved from
  11. New Zealand Yesteryears Passenger Lists 1800 to 1900 (Retrieved 26th March 2019). Retrieved from
  12. The Political Graveyard: Alphabetical Name Index. (Retrieved 2015, November 3) . Retrieved from
  13. "Birthday and New Year Honours Lists (1940 to 2019)." Issue 62507, 28 December 2018 | London Gazette, The Gazette, Dec. 2018,
  14. "Birthday and New Year Honours Lists (1940 to 2019)." Issue 62310, 31 October 2019 | London Gazette, The Gazette, June 2018, on Facebook