Neil - Origins


The Gaelic name was adopted by the Vikings and taken to Iceland as Njáll (see Nigel). From Iceland it went via Norway, Denmark, and Normandy to England. It was first mistakenly being translated into Latin as Nigellus from Niger, meaning black. The name also entered Northern England and Yorkshire directly from Ireland, and from Norwegian settlers. Neal or Neall is the Middle English form of Nigel.

As a first name, during the Middle Ages, the Gaelic name was popular in Ireland and Scotland. During the 20th century Neil began to be used in England and North America, and grew in popularity throughout the English-speaking world; however, in England, it has recently been eclipsed by the Gaelic form.

The surname Neil is a reduced form of the surname McNeil (from the Gaelic Mac Néill, "son of Niall"), or variant form the surname of Neill (from the Irish Gaelic Ó Néill or the Scottish Gaelic Mac Néill, meaning "descendant of Niall" and "son of Niall".

The name passed from Ireland to Scotland where it had the Mc/Mac prefix. Some Scottish McNeill's returned to Ireland in the 1300s and are associated with MacNeill, MacGreal, MacReill, and Mag Reil surnames.

The Manx version of the name is Kneal (1598), Kneale (1655), or Kneel (1636). It evolved from McNelle (1408) and MacNeyll (1430) becoming Kneal by 1598. The name is believed to have been bought to the island by Norwegian Vikings.

In some cases, the English-language surnames Neilson and Nelson, are ultimately derived from the Gaelic Niall, as patronymic forms of the Anglo-Scandinavian personal names Nel or Neal. However, these two surnames are sometimes Americanized forms of unrelated Scandinavian-language surnames. For example, the English Nelson is sometimes derived from the Norwegian Nilsen, the Danish and German Nielsen, and the Swedish Nilsson. Also, the English Neilson is sometimes derived from the Swedish Nilsson. All these Scandinavian-language surnames are ultimately derived from a cognate of the English given name Nicholas. The English Nelson may also be derived from the feminine name Eleanor, as a matronymic.

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