Recorded in several spellings including Fennel, Fennell, Fennill, Fennelly, Fenley, Finleyl, and possibly others, this is an Anglo-Irish surname. If definately English, and this is sometimes difficult to tell, as it was both a native and a settler name in Ireland, it is or was an occupational surname for somebody who either grew and or sold fennel. This is from the pre 7th Century word "fenol", itself from the Roman (Latin) "fenuculum". Fennel was widely cultivated for its qualities as a medicinal herb as well as a vegatable and a seasoning ingredient in sauces. If definately Irish it derives from a totally different source. This is the Gaelic O' Fionnghail, from "fionn" and meaning the male descendant of the fair one, possibly a reference to a Norse Viking. Thje Norse were fair haired and fair skinned, and controlled much of Ireland as they did England, from the 8th to the 11th centuries. The Irish clan Fennell is from Counties Dublin and Clare, whilst the O' Fionnhalaigh or Fennelly nameholders, the surname means basically the same, are from Counties Kilkenny, Limerick, Leix and Offally. Early church recordings include Issabell Fennell, who was christened on April 7th 1554 at St. Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey, in the city of London, and in Ireland, John Fennell was a baptism witness at Kilcommon Beg, Tipperary, on September 11th 1660, as was John Fennelly, at Grean, County Limerick, on June 10th 1866 . The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of William Fenigle. This was dated 1327, in the Subsidy Tax Rollsof the county of Sussex, during the reign of King Edward 111rd, known as the Father of the English Navy, 1327 - 1377. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was sometimes 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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