Recorded in many forms including MacNeill, McNeill, O'Neill, Neill, Neil, Neale, and many others, this is a surname of pre 8th century Gaelic origins. It derives from the word 'niall' meaning 'champion', a meaning which no doubt greatly assisted its popularity through Northern Europe. In a sense by a transposition of identity it can be Irish, Scottish or Norman-English. Originally the name was adopted in Ireland by invading Scandinavians who made Dublin their capital. Then in the form of "Njall", it was introuduced both to Norway, Iceland and the Isle of Man as well as into what became known as Normandy (in France) during the 9th century. Tow centuries later these former 'Vikings' now Normans, crossed the English Channel and conquered England introducing the name into southern parts after 1066. However, it was also introduced directly into North West England by Norsemen from Ireland, who conquered the region. 'Neil' as a first name was often Latinized in England as "Nigel(lus)", through an incorrect association with "niger", meaning black. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Willelmus Nigelli, which was dated 1195. This was in the tax registers known as the "Feet of Fines" for the county of Wiltshire", and during the reign of King Richard 1st, known as "The Lionheart", 1189 - 1199. Unfortunately Richard may have been "lionhearted" in battle, but he wasusually broke as well. His expeditions to free the Holy Land and known as the Crusades, being a terrible drain on England. 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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