Recorded in a wide range of spellings including Denwell, Donwell, Dunwell, Dunhill, Dunnell, Dunnill, and Dunswell, this is an English locational surname. It originates from a little hamlet called Dunswell, meaning "brown stream", near the town of Beverley in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Surprisingly for a locational surname, all its various forms seem to be found in Yorkshire itself. This is unusual because almost all locational surnames are "from" names. That is to say names given to people after they left their original homes to move elsewhere. It was in past centuries and to some extent it remains the case, that the easiest way to identify a stranger was to call him or sometimes her, by the name of the place from whence they came. Spelling being at best indifferent, and local dialects very thick, soon lead as with this name, to the development of variant forms. Early examples of the surname recording taken from surviving church registers of the county of Yorkshire include: Elen Dunwell, the daughter of Thomas Dunwell, who was christened at St. Peters church, Leeds, on March 29th 1588, and Esther Donwell, the daughter of Richard Donwell, who was christened at Rylstone, near Skipton, on April 10th 1626.
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