Recorded as Coal, Coale, Cole, Coales and Coles, this ancient surname can be English, Irish and occasionally Scottish. It has two possible origins. The first was as a medieval nickname form of the biblical and Ancient Greek personal name Nicholas, a name which was mainly introduced into Europe by returning Crusaders from the Holy Land in the 11th and 12th century. The second possible origin is from the pre 7th Century byname 'Cola', meaning black. In the British Isles this may well have been used as an ethnic descriptive name by the Anglo-Saxons for the Celts or Old English, who were generally of dark or swarthy appearance.Cola and Cole as personal names are recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, although the surname was only some seventy years behind, when Randolphi Cole appears in the Winton Rolls of Hampshire in 1148. The patronymic form of Coales and Coles is not recorded until the 16th Century, when George Coles appears in the register of Freemen of the City of York in 1555. In the modern idiom the surname has a number of variant spellings including Coales, Coules, Cowle, Cowles, and Coleson. Early examples of the surname recording include: Johannes Cole in the Yorkshire Poll Tax rolls of 1379, and Elias Cole in the same register. Other examples include John Coles who married Margarett Warton, at St. Stephen's, Coleman Street, in the ancient city of London on June 24th 1565, whilst one of the earliest settlers to the American colonies of New England was Thomas Coal, who was recorded as owning 39 acres on the island of Barbados in 1680.
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