English and Scottish: habitational name from any of various places called Hawley. One in Kent is named with Old English hālig ‘holy’ + lēah ‘wood’, ‘clearing’, and would therefore have once been the site of a sacred grove. One in Hampshire has as its first element Old English h(e)all ‘hall’, ‘manor’, or healh ‘nook’, ‘corner of land’. However, the surname is common in South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, and may principally derive from a lost place near Sheffield named Hawley, from Old Norse haugr ‘mound’ + Old English lēah ‘clearing’.
Dictionary of American Family Names © Patrick Hanks 2003, 2006.