This interesting and unusual surname is of pre 8th century origins. It is a diminutive of "Snell" and is probably of Norse-Viking descent. It was baptismal and described a person who was active or bold, or in the case of an infant presumably the hope of the parents was that he would grow up to be such an individual. The probable but unproven origination, is from the Viking 'snajallr' to the Anglo-Saxon 'snel'. There are a number of spellings, a tribute to its popularity, these include Snell, Snel, Sneller, Snelgar, Snelling,Snellman, and the extraordinary 'Snowling'.Snell(ing) is a good example of a sizeable group of early European surnames that were gradually created from the habitual use of baptismal names. In this case the name, as a surname, is first recorded in the Knight Templar (Crusader) rolls, see below, although as "Sellinc" ( a given name only pre-dating surnames) it is recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book for the county of Cambridge. Other recordings include such as Andrew Snelling in the Patent Rolls of 1222, and Brithmarus Snelling in the rolls of the abbey of Ramsey, Suffolk, in 1250. An unusual spelling variation is that of William Snowling, whose daughter Sophia was christened at St Lukes, Finsbury, London, on July 15th 1864. It maybe that he is the same person, who with his wife Sarah was recorded at St Peters, Cornhill, on June 26th 1859, as William Snelling. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of William Snel, which was dated 1185, in the "Records of the Knight Templars of England", during the reign of King Henry 11, known as "The Builder of Churches", 1154 - 1189. 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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