Like the Thing surname (see article here), the Pray surname is a bit hard to research because it is such a common word. Added to that are the various theories as to origins, three at least, and none of them have anything to do with the most common way we use the word “pray” today. The theories are:
House of Names: Actually House of Names has both an English and Irish theory. In England the name may have been derived from the Latin word “praetor”, which meant someone who served as chief magistrate or bailiff of a district. Spelling variations might include Prater, Prather, Preater, Pretor, Prether and more. In Ireland the name may have been “Preith” or “O Preith” with origins from a Pictish (ancient language that no longer exists) word “predhae”. Irish spelling variations include O’Pray, O’Prey, Prey, Preay and others.
Ancestry.com: The Irish version may have been a variant of “Prey”. The English version may have been a topographic name for someone who lived near a meadow, derived from the Middle English word “pre(y)”. The word could also have originated in France, and brought over following the Norman Conquest, because “pree” in Old French means meadow as well.
4Crests: Their theory leans heavily on French origins, also agreeing that the name was topographic for someone living near a meadow. Derived from the Old French word “pred” with origins in the Latin word “prata”, this theory supports spelling variations different from those listed above, including: Pree, Prey, LaPraye, Dupre, Depuy, Despres and Prada. The French name “Duprè” means “from the meadow”. This theory makes me wonder if one of my ancestors, Francis Dupee, was of French descent.
Early American Prays
Quentin (or Quinton) Pray was born in England in 1595, and with his family boarded the “good ship Ann Cleeve of London” in May of 1643. On the same boat was John Winthrop, Jr., son of the founding governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop. Winthrop’s plan was to establish an iron works in Massachusetts.
Quentin, a skilled iron worker, settled first in Kittery, Maine, while his sons John and Richard settled in Rhode Island. He worked at the iron works in Kittery as a fineryman, later transferring to Lynn, Massachusetts in 1647 and finally transferring to the Iron Works Company, established by Winthrop in Braintree where Winthrop.
Quentin Pray died intestate on July 11, 1667. His wife Joan was declared his widow by the court so that his estate could be distributed among his heirs. Richard remained in Providence, but John died in Braintree in 1676.
Musings on the Pray Name
Associating the surname Pray with its more common meaning today, I found at least one that seemed appropriately paired: Alice Church Pray of Kennebec County, Maine. Deacon Benjamin Pray lived in New Hampshire and his second wife was Dorcas (a biblical name) Pray (Dorcas Pray Pray, probably cousins). Two more biblical names: Zerubbabel Pray (Kennebec County, Maine) and Eliphalet Pray (York County, Maine).
One unusual name I came across that I want to research further was Pardon Potter Pray of Providence County, Rhode Island. His English immigrant ancestor was perhaps John Pray, Quentin’s son. One other aspect I found interesting while researching Pardon Potter Pray was finding that Rhode Island, and specifically Providence County, was full of men named “Pardon”. There must be a story there and you may find it here one day!
© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.