Recorded in many spelling forms including Nel, Nell, Nelle, Nelles, Nellis, Neill, and Nyles, all derive from the pre 7th century Norse-Viking personal name "Njall". Translating as "Champion",. the name in its many forms has become one of the most popular of all surnames. This is not surprising, given the meaning, and the fact that between the 6th and the 10th centuries a.d., the Vikings held sway over most of Western Europe. In those years, it would have been both politically correct, and probably expedient, to call ones eldest son in particular, Neil, Neal, or Niall. As both the personal name and the surname are now recorded, often in the same spellings, throughout Europe, it is difficult, except with absolutely localised spellings, to say where a particular surname spelling originates. In this case the surname is recorded very early in both Britain and Germany, with early examples including Robert Neel of Stafford in the year 1294, and Bertold der Nelles zu Bretten, in Germany in 1357. Other examples include Allis Nelle, who married Rychard Adalle, at St Margaret's, Westminster, on November 14th 1561, and Clem Nel who married Elizabeth Tanner, at St Gregory's by St Pauls (Cathedral), city of London, on July 1st 1619. A refugee example is that of Francois Neelz, a Huguenot, who was recorded at Threadneedle Street French Church, London, in 1705. The first recorded spelling of the family name is believed to be that of Henry Nel, and dated 1260, in the Assize Court rolls of the city of Cambridge, during the reign of King Henry III of England, who reigned from 1216 to 1272.
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