Recorded in many spelling forms including Birtwistle, Birtwhistle, Birtwisle, Bertwistle and Birdwhistell, this unusual surname is English. It is locational from now "lost" or at least depopulated villages or hamlets called Birtwisle near the town of Padiham in Lancashire, or Briestwistle near Thornhill in West Yorkshire, or Breretwisel near Wath-upon-Dearne, also in West Yorkshire. The placename is believed to derive from the pre 7th century Olde Norse word "birki", meaning birch trees, but which may also refer to a bridge or causeway made of birch, plus the Olde English word "twissel", meaning a fork, and describing the junction of two streams. Locational surnames are usually "from" names. That is to say names given to people after they left their original homes to move elsewhere as an easy means of identification. In this case early examples of the recordings include Henricus de Birktwysell of Yorkshire in the Poll Tax rolls of 1379, John Brittwissil in the lists of members of the Preston Guilds, Lancashire, in the year 1397, and Gilbert Birtwisle of Love Clough, Lancashire in the Wills register of Chester, in 1594. The first recorded spelling of the family name is believed to be that of John de Briddestwysill. This was dated 1285, in the Assize Rolls of the county of Lancashire, during the reign of King Edward 1st of England, 1272 - 1307. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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