This famous surname recorded in almost every European country since the late Middle Ages, and in such forms as Dennis, Dionis, and Denes, and diminutives such as Deniset (France) Niset, Niesel, Nieass (Germany) Nijs (Dutch), and Divisek (Czech), with patronymics Addionisio (Italy), Denisov (Russian), and Dzeniskevich (Ukraine), is of pre Christian, Ancient Greek origins. It derives from the name "Dionysios" meaning "the divine one of Nysa", a reference to an early god, who was believed to be the protector of the vine.It is also said that Nysa was a mountain in the modern Afghanistan, where celebrations were held by the Greek army of Alexander, The Great. Whilst St Denis, the bishop of Paris, France, was an early Christian martyr of the 3rd century a.d., it must be said that like most surnames of Christian origins, the "modern" surname owes its popularity to the famous "crusades" of the 12th century, when successive European kings launched expeditions to free the Holy Land from the Saracens. All were unsuccessful, but returning warriors and pilgrims commemorated their exploits by naming their children after ancient or biblical heroes, some of whom only had the very faintest of associations with Christianity. The first country in the world to adopt both hereditary surnames and proper register recordings was England, and it is there that we find the earliest examples of this surname. The first recording of the family name anywhere in the world and in any spelling is believed to be that of Walter Denys, a witness in the year 1272, at the Assize Court of the county of Staffordshire. This was during the reign of King Henry 111 of England, 1216 - 1272. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" in their spellings, often leading to astonishing variants of the original.
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