Recorded in many forms including MacNicol, McNicol, McNichol, McNickle and others, this is a Scottish surname of great antiquity. It originates from the Gaelic MacNeacail, meaning "son of Nicol". Nicol is derived from the Ancient Greek "Nikolaos", and means literally "The conquering people" . The name was popular among Christians throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, largely as a result of the fame of a 4th Century Lycian bishop, about whom a large number of legends grew up, and who was venerated in the Orthodox Church as well as the Catholic. A small sept of Macnicols in Wester Sutherland and in Skye are now generally called Nicolson. The Glenorchy Macnicols are said in local tradition to have sprung from one Nicol M'Phee who left Lochaber in the 16th Century; they are properly therefore M'Phees. A half part of the land of Fortar in Angus was let to the Maknychol recorded below. Early recordings include: Gilbert McNicol, who was a charter witness in 1533; Thomas Maknicoll, a witness in Glasgow in 1553; and Malcolmuill McNicoll, recorded in Cawdor in 1585. In Ireland the name is mainly found recorded in County Tyrone, and the name without the prefix "Mac" is usually of 17th Century or earlier immigrants. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Thomas Maknychol and dated 1470, in the Rental Book of Cupar-Angus, Scotland, during the reign of King James 111 of Scotland, 1460 - 1488. 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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