This notable surname is of early medieval Irish, Scottish and English origin, and derives from the Old Gaelic (Irish) personal name "Niall", thought to mean "champion". This given name was adopted by Norsemen in the form "Njall", and was brought by them to Norway and Ireland, and finally down to Normandy in the 10th Century, from whence it was introduced into Southern England by the Normans after the Conquest of 1066. However, the name was also introduced directly into north western England and Yorkshire by Scandinavian invaders who had previously invaded and settled in Ireland. Among the Normans "Niall" and "Njall", had taken the form "Ni(h)el", which was usually Latinized as "Nigellus" through an incorrect association with the Latin "niger", black. Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King of Ireland (377 - 405), is the earliest known bearer of the forename, and from him descend the O'Neills, a branch of the ancient royal family of Tara. One Willelmus filius (son of) Nigeli was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 for Berkshire; and "Neel" (without surname) appears in Early Yorkshire Charters, dated 1170, while in 1289 Achyme mac Nele was noted in Kirkgunzeon, Scotland. Early examples of the surname include: Henry Nel (Cambridgeshire, 1260) and Roger Niel (Suffolk, 1319). In the modern idiom the name is spelt: Neal(le), Neel(e), Neil(d), Niall, Nihell, MacNeil and O'Neill. Patrick Neil, the first printer in Belfast, came from Scotland circa 1694. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Robert Neel, which was dated 1208, in the "Curia Regis Rolls of Berkshire", during the reign of King John, known as "Lackland", 1199 - 1216. 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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