Recorded in many spellings forms and found throughout Europe and Scandanavia, this is a surname of truly ancient origins. However spelt and there are an estimated eighty spellings including: MacNeill, O'Neill, Neal, Neale, Neil, Niall, Neill, or the patronymics Neals, Neilsen, Neilson, Nielson, Neelson, Nealon, and Nelson, the origination is from the pre 7th century Gaelic name 'Niall' meaning 'champion'. This is a translation which over the many centuries has done no harm at all to its popularity both as a personal name and a later surname. It is claimed that the personal name was 'borrowed' from Ireland by the Norse-Vikings, and introduced into Scandanavia as 'Njall', before being taken to Normandy by the 'Norsemen' in the 8th and 9th centuries. It was then 'returned' to the British Isles with the Norman Conquest of 1066, as Neil or Nell. What is recorded in the surviving ancient charters is that the O'Neil's were the chief clan of County Tyrone in Northern Ireland from the 10th century, whilst in Scotland during the reign of King James Vth of Scotland, the Neilsons were the hereditary Lords of Bute. At various times the name has been spelt in differing forms and these include:Neilsoun in 1554, Neylsone in 1560, Nelsonne in 1580, and Nilson in 1685. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of John Neilson. This was dated 1314, in the Royal Charter of Craigcatte, during the reign of King Robert of Scotland, known as 'The Bruce',1306 -1329. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was sometimes known as the 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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