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The signature of John Holyer from his marriage bond of 1737. Canterbury Cathedral, where he married, records the name as Hollier, but he clearly signs as Holyer, as he did on his will. John is the 'father' of the 'Kent Holyers', though there is evidence of Holyers in the Romney Marsh area back as far as 1399. Many of the Kent Holyer families, including my own, eventually changed their name to Hollyer.
Hollyer/Holyer/Holliers from the USA
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Of the three spellings, Hollier is by far the most common. Hollyer is around one quarter of the frequency of Hollier. Holyer is a much rarer variant and almost entirely connected with a single family from Kent. However, even this family often changed the name to Hollyer and Kent is thus today the county with the greatest density of both Hollyer and Holyer spellings.
Aside from the well-known name variants of Hollyer, Holyer and Hollier, many other variations can be found. These can be expressed in the following form:-
Hence one can get Holier, Hollyor, Halliar, Halyer and even the odd variants Holliard and Hollyard. It is not clear what pronunciation led to the final d being added. Samuel Pepys refers to his surgeon Thomas Hollier on frequent occasions in his famous diaries. Transcriptions sometimes show the name as Hollyard (which is I think what he originally wrote), while sometimes it is corrected to Hollier. Some of Thomas's childrens' baptisms are recorded as Hollyard. It seems to be mainly prevalent in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Study of the signature of Joseph Hollyer below shows how the e in the old Secretary Hand can be confused with o, thus leading to spurious references to Hollyor or Hellyer.
An important consideration when searching censuses is the possibility of enumeration and transcription errors. The following incorrect 'names', or 'deviant' spellings, have been found: Holier, Hollien, Hollyee, Hollyen, Holger, Hollger, Hollior, Hollyar, Holyar, Holllier, Holler, Hollar, Hullier, Hullyer, Hollin, Hollien, Hollies, Holler, Holles, Hollow, Hallier, Hallyer, Halyer, Helier, Hellier, Helliar, Hellyer, Hillier, Hillyer, Hollyee, Hollyard, Holliard, Hoblyn, Ollier, Olliar and Oliver. In the reverse direction, many of the Cambridgeshire Hullyer and Hulyer families have been transcribed as Hollyer and Holyer. The same can happen with the separate surnames of Hallier, Hillier and Hellier.
R. A. McKinley, in his 1990 book A History of British Surnames, suggests that the name Hollister is associated with Hollier, in the same way that Baxter is known to be a 'feminine' form of Baker. The IGI suggests that the stronghold of the Hollister name is Wickwar in Gloucestershire, which happens also to be the stronghold of the Hallier surname, rather than Hollier.
We know that some people with the separate Cheshire/North Staffs name of Ollier became Holliers in the 19th century. Information on the Ollier name can be found here. But was there any other connection between the names? There is much stronger evidence that Ollier may be a Huguenot name and it seems that the Huguenot Society have opined that Ollier and Hollier are the same name. In his 2004 book The Distinctive Surnames of North Staffordshire, Edgar Tooth states:
"Hollier is usually construed as a nickname for a lecher, whereas Ollier is a maker or seller of oil. Yet these two surnames occur side by side during the 1500s in the Penkridge parish registers; Thomas Hollyer buried on June 5th 1573, and Margaret Ollier baptised on April 5th 1579. The loss or addition of the initial "H" is almost universal in local dialects, so there is no problem here on that score, so the likelihood remains that the two names are simply variants of each other and are toponymics for a dweller by a holly bush."
I choose to disagree. To reach such a firm conclusion based on just one baptism and one burial is very poor analysis. The fact that neither Ollier nor Hollyer seem to feature again in Penkridge is ignored. The facts seem to suggest that both these persons are either strays from the more common territories of these surnames, or one is simply a transcription error by the parish clerk. Only if there was continuous coexistence of the name variants over several generations would it be safe to assume that the spellings were interchangeable, as is the case for Hollyer and Hollier in Warwickshire. It is sad to see such poor research in such an important book.Back to top