This interesting surname may be either of early medieval English or of medieval Welsh origin. If the former, Bethell derives from a diminutive of Beth, itself a short form of the female personal name "Elizabeth", from a Hebrew name meaning "God has sworn". Elizabeth, an immensely popular name in Britain and on the Continent of Europe, generated a wide variety of diminutive and pet forms including Bess, Beth, Betta, Libby and Lisbet, one Betha de Bureswelles being recorded in the 1176 Chartulary of St. Mary, Clerkenwell. Metronymic surnames, or those derived from the name of the first bearer's mother, are indeed unusual because, throughout history, European society has almost invariably been patriarchal and as a result patronymic surnames are the oldest and most pervasive type. As a Welsh surname, Bethell is a patronymic of the ancient Welsh male given name "Ithel, Ithael", a compound of the elements "ith, udd", lord, and "hael", bountiful. This name was borne by a mid 9th Century King of Gwent, and in the 12th Century, one Ithel ap Cedifor Wyddel was killed in battle. Bethell, Bithell and Bythell are formed from a fusion of the Welsh "ap, ab" (son of) with the above given name. Christopher Bethell was bishop of Bangor from 1830 to 1859, and Richard Bethell was created first Baron Westbury in 1861. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Amicia Bethel, which was dated 1279, in the "Hundred Rolls of Oxfordshire", during the reign of King Edward 1, known as "The Hammer of the Scots", 1272 - 1307. 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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