French: from the personal name Alexis, ultimately from Greek alexios ‘helping’, ‘defending’. The personal name owed its popularity in the Middle Ages to St. Alexi(u)s, about whom many legends grew up. The historical St. Alexis is said to have lived in the 4th–5th centuries in Edessa (an early center of Christianity in Syria). His cult was also popular in the Eastern Church, which accounts for the frequency of the Russian personal name Aleks(e)i. In North America this surname has probably absorbed Russian and other cognates, mentioned in Hanks and Hodges (1988).