I remember my dad, when I asked about our family as a young boy, explaining that our family name meant ‘village idiot’ in the old English languages. I probably raised my eyebrows, but was content to accept this explanation.
The origins of the name are probably much more complex, and there are as many theories as there are branches of the family.
The generally accepted view is that the origins of the name are ancient and probably derived from old English place names. Many believe that Mos (peaty bog) and Leah (woodland clearing) are the most likely source. There are, however, many possibilities, including ‘Mus Leah’ meaning mouse wood; or another meaning Mul’s Island. There were also variations of the name derived from collaborators of William the Conquerer. The earliest known written record of the name is that of Suen de Moseleia. The record dates from 1195 and appears in the Pipe Rolls of Worcestershire. There is little consistency in spelling until very recently which makes researching the name a complex exercise.
The name was most frequently found in the Yorkshire and Lancashire areas of Northern England, and while it is now found widely throughout the world, it is likely that most families have their origins somewhere in these localities.