This notable surname is of early medieval English origin, and is a patronymic form of the Middle English male given name "Nel(le)", itself coming from the Old Gaelic Irish personal name Niall, thought to mean "champion". This was adopted by Norsemen in the form "Njall", and was brought to England both directly from Ireland by Scandinavian settlers and indirectly by the Normans after the Conquest of 1066. Among the latter it had taken the form "Ni(h)el", which was usually Latinized as "Nigellus" through an incorrect association with "niger", black, dark. One Willelmus filius (son of) Nigelli was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 for Berkshire, and a Willelmus filius Nele in the 1304 Subsidy Rolls of Yorkshire. The patronymic form of the name appears in the early part of the 14th Century, and in the modern idiom is recorded variously as Nelson, Nelsen, Neilson, Nielson and Nilson. The Ne(i)lsons of Craigcaffie (Scotland), are said to have traced their descent from Neil, earl of Carrick, husband of Margaret Stewart, who died in 1256. Joseph Nelson, aged 26 yrs, an early emigrant to America, embarked from London on the ship "Plaine Joan" bound for Virginia in May 1635. Probably the most famous bearer of the name is Viscount Horatio Nelson (1758 - 1805), British naval commander during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. He was killed at Trafalgar (1805) after defeating Villeneuve's fleet, and was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of John Nelleson, which was dated 1324, in the "Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield", Yorkshire, during the reign of King Edward 11, known as "Edward of Caernafon", 1307 - 1327. 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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