The origin of this name remains a mystery despite repeated efforts to trace it definitively. The earliest known Reavis just may have assumed this unique name upon arrival in the Virginia colonies in the 1700’s. whatever the explanation, all Caucasians who bear this spelling of the name are related, as also are some families bearing the variant spelling of ‘Revis.’
An old family tradition persists in distantly related branches that there were close family ties to the Ashley-Cooper Lord Proprietors of the Carolinas. A plausible but unconfirmed account relates that, in England, the deeds of a young Ashley noble brought him a choice between prison or banishment to the colonies. Choosing the latter he began life anew. The Ashley name is found in a hauntingly regular manner as the middle name of descendents, but certainly could have been introduced from an early mother’s side.
Alternatively, at the time of arrival of the earliest known Reavis, the name Rivis (from Revys) existed in Bucks County, England as did the name ‘Rives’ (from Ryves) in County Dorset. In the Ryves text, the author lists the same alternate spellings as the Reavis clan does, and goes so far as to include the Reavis name itself. That renders the puzzle even more interesting since this could conceivably be so.
If ‘Reavis’ was not coined by the earliest know ancestor, tracing it provides a thorny challenge. The unrelated but similar name of ‘Reavely’ in England has known alternate expressions of Reveley, Raively, and Rively. In the U. S. we find parallel expressions for ‘Reavis’ plus most other variants imaginable among persons of known kinship. This commonly resulted to most names under frontier conditions where semi-literate officials preparing formal documents were often obliged to guess at name spellings.
Although the author of the Reavis text defined acceptable variants as being pronounced in two syllables and rhyme at least remotely with ‘crevice,’ that standard might prove to be too conservative. The spelling variants of the one syllable name of ‘Reeves’ overlap very much with those of Reavis. Since pronunciation changes often occurred with other names, it seems prudent to keep an open mind on the possibility.
English and Welsh Surnames, Charles W. Bardsley, Genealogical Pub. Co., Baltimore, 1968, p. 643.
Reavis Family History, Marie R. Hall, Smith Printing, Winston Salem, N. C., 1971, pp 5-8.
Reliques of the Rives (Ryves), James R. Childs, J. P. Bell Co., Lynchburg, Virginia, 1929, p 705.