This interesting English surname with variant spellings Parnell, Parnall and Parnwell derives from the medieval female given name Parnell, a diminutive of the Latin Petronilla, feminine of Petronius (Peter). Petronilla, was the name of a saint much invoked against fevers and regarded as a daughter of St. Peter. It became one of the most popular of girl's names, the vernacular Parnell being still used as a christian name as late as the 18th Century in Cornwall. The name Purnell (without surname) appears in the Cartulary of Oseney Abbey, Oxfordshire (1249) and the surname is also first recorded in the mid 13th Century. Other early recordings of the surname include; Agnes Peronell recorded in the Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield, Yorkshire (1274), and Edith Purnele in the Ministers Accounts of the Earldom of Cornwall (1298). A famous neambearer, Robert Purnell was a baptist elder and author and he was a chief founder of the first baptist church at Bristol in 1653. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Johanna Peronele, witness, which was dated 1250, Fine Court Rolls of Cambridgeshire, during the reign of King Henry 111, "The Frenchman", 1216 - 1272. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was 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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