So how do we pronounce MacLea? Good question!
There are two ways. That is, the final syllable may be pronounced as LEE or as LAY. (The first syllable is a different story -- most people in the U.S. would say "Mick" but the Scottish pronunciation would be closer to "Mack.")
In short, my family pronounces our name as LEE. However, we are the only family that I have located that does this. All the other McLeas or Livingstones out there pronounce the name LAY.
My immediate and extended family, the one that I have known growing up, has always used LEE, even though they differ on McLea or MacLea.
Through working my way up the family tree and contacting other descendants with the surname intact, I have determined that others in my family have uniformly preserved this pronunciation. My Great-Great Grandfather, James Brown McLea, was the immigrant who came to the USA. Two of his sons, my ancestor Peter MacLea and his brother Alexander McLea, and their descendants, have always used LEE as a pronunciation, even when they altered the Mac/Mc spelling.
I have recently located an additional generation as well.
James Brown McLea's older brother John McLea (c.1852-1927) stayed in Scotland. But his descendants (through his son Robert Yuile John McLea) eventually came to the US independently and didn't know about James' descendants (until now!).
They, however, also preserve the LEE pronunciation.
Furthermore, the birth record of James Brown McLea's eldest daughter, Maggie, also provides confirmatory evidence. Though the name is correctly recorded at her birth in Chicago, it is recorded as McLea, with the Lea part crossed out and recorded as "Kleeve" in a different hand. Apparently, the Scottish brogue of James and his wife stymied the registrar in Chicago, who didn't believe the spelling they were given (Lea) and instead tried there best to record what they heard (Kleeve). But that provides some evidence that James and Margaret McLea used the LEE pronunciation as well, at least in America!
For awhile, I had been wondering if that pronunciation originated only in the New World, and that LAY might have been its pronunciation in Scotland. However, this evidence would seem to suggest against that by Occam's Razor. Further generations will hopefully back this up though.
But, for the record, I haven't had anyone else out there tell me that their McLEA/MacLEA family uses the LEE pronunciation. If there are any out there, please get in touch! I would also be VERY interested in exploring the Genetic Genealogy implications of this, and arrange to have one member of your family tested if they have not already tested! I suspect that we may very well be family!
(There was one time someone wrote to the McLea Forum that THEIR family also used LEE: http://www.clanmclea.co.uk/forum/show-message.asp?ID=918. But since I have never gotten in touch again, I'm not sure what his relationship is to my family. So, Duncan McLea from South Africa, if you read this -- email me!)