This interesting surname, with variant spellings Bel and Belle, has a number of possible derivations. Firstly, it may be a metonymic occupational name for a bellringer or bellfounder, or a topographical name for someone living "at the bell"; this indicates either residence by an actual bell or "at the sign of the Bell", deriving from the Middle English, Olde English pre 7th Century "belle" meaning bell. Secondly, it may have derived from the medieval given name "Bel". As a man's name this is from the Old French "beu, bel" meaning "handsome", which was also used as a nickname. As a female name it represents a short form of Isobel, a form of Elizabeth. Finally, it may be an Anglicized form of the Gaelic "MacGiolla Mhaoil", "son of the servant of the devotee". The surname dates back to the mid 12th Century (see below). Early recordings include one Robert de la Belle (1222) London. Church recordings show the christening of Mary Bell, an infant, on August 13th 1541, at St. Peter's, Cornhill, London, and the marriage of Margarett Bell to Wylliam Traford on September 13th September 1551, at St. Mary's, Westminster, also in London. One Charles Bell, aged 23 yrs., a famine emigrant, sailed from Liverpool aboard the "Henry Clay", bound for New York, on April 15th 1846. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Seaman Belle, which was dated 1181 - 1187, in "Early London Personal Names", by E. Ekwall, during the reign of King Henry 11, known as "The Builder of Churches", 1154 - 1189. 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.
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