This popular surname can be either Indian (Gujarati) or French, although the two (national) origins are completely different and have no association. The Indian 'Patel' is one of a group of sub continent surnames such as Khan, Raja, and Singh, which indicate status. The strict translation in this case is the headman, or village chief. In the past this was often a hereditary position, very similar to the Irish "erenagh", where nameholders held the status over many generations and eventually the family became known by the status description.The French surname as Patel is usually an occupational metonymic for a baker or maker of pastry from the word "pastel", but can also be a nickname from the word "pate" meaning head with the diminutive suffix "-el" meaning little. A recording example is that of George Patel of Pagny sur Meurthe, Northern France, on February 21st 1729. Prior to the 20th century in India and in the near and far east generally, few (sur)names, although hereditary, were "locked" in their spelling, and recorded as such, and it was in western countries that they were first recorded as surnames. It is said that Patel's of Indian extraction were recorded in New York city in about 1855, and in parts of Africa shortly afterwards, although we have not been able to obtain conclusive proof. Certainly it was only as recently as 1935 that most countries of the Middle and Far East began to adopt "locked" spelling hereditary surnames, with Turkey being the leading exponent. Before that date in many areas, each new generation created its own version of the name, a mix of baptismal, religious, and family or tribal elements. Such customising did not make for easy operation of the developing bureaucracy of the 20th century, and even less the telephone system! Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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