This ancient and very English name is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and derives from the Olde English pre 7th Century word "cnoll", knoll, hill top, in Middle English "knol". The surname has two separate interpretations; firstly, it may be a topographical name given to someone who lived at the top of a hill. The plural forms of the name from this source, found as Knowles, Knollys and Nowles represent a survival of the genitive form of the term "knol", indicating "of" the hill top. Topographical surnames were among the earliest created, since both natural and man-made features in the landscape provided obvious and convenient distinguishing names in the small communities of the Middle Ages. Secondly, Knowles and its variant forms may be patronymics from the Olde English byname "Cnoll", used in the transferred sense of a short, stout person. Early recordings of the surname from both sources include: Robert de la Cnolle (1185, Devonshire); Thomas Knolle (1279, Cambridgeshire); and William atte Knowle (1296, Sussex). One Henry Knowles was an early emigrant to the American colonies, leaving London on the "Susan and Ellin" in April 1635, bound for New England. An early Coat of Arms granted to a Knowles family depicts, on a blue shield, a hawk seizing a partridge, silver, on a silver chief three bird bolts, blue. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Christopher Knolles, which was dated 1407, in the "Register of the Freemen of the City of York", during the reign of Henry 1V, known as "Henry of Bolingbroke", 1399 - 1413. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

Surnames reference. 2013.

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