AMERICAN FAMILY NAMES
Family Historians, whether
their efforts are based on traditional genealogical paperwork research or now on
the results of DNA tests, they need to eventually understand the meaning and
source for the surnames they are researching. The research for the Knowles
Progenitors is no exception to this premise.
A quick way to identify the many possible
variant spellings for your surname is by using the program
List (SSL) by Matt Combs. This
program is designed to assist you is searching the Internet for your surname
variants. The SSL program is available
to download for free with the stipulation that you make a small donation to the
developer, if the program was useful to you. The
SSL will create three (3) lists of similar sounding surnames.
The lists are based on how good a sound match the other surnames are to the
primary spelling of your surname.
new reference book, the "Dictionary
of American Family Names"
published by the
University Press in 2003 (Patrick Hanks, editor) is now available to assist
us understand the origins of our surnames. This handsome
three-volume set of hard-back books containing nearly 2,000 pages covers names
from Aaberg to Zywicki. The DAFN is
sold by Oxford University Press and is available in most good genealogical
DAFN is the first major attempt to
explain the history and origin of the 72,000 most frequent family names in the
United States. The General Introduction in Volume One is an outstanding overview
of the history of surnames from around the world as well as a discussion of
surname frequencies and the source for the definitions used in this work.
This series of articles covers the origins of surnames in England, Scotland,
Ireland, Wales, France, Germany, Scandinavia, Finland, Spain, Portugal, Italy,
Greece, Poland, Russia, Hungary, India, China, Korea and Japan as well as
Jewish, Slovenian, Latvian, Arabic and Muslim family names.
DAFN surname entries are structured to
provide the surname (with alternate spellings), a comparative frequency of the
surname in the U.S., the source language and origin of the surname, original
spelling, typology, etymology and, in some cases, an identification of
DAFN does a great job explaining the
typology of family names, including; patronymic, metronymic, habitational,
topographical, regional, occupational, status, nicknames, anecdotal, seasonal,
humanistic, ornamental, as well as variants resulting from diminutives,
augmentatives and pejoratives.
DAFN is a book about the history of
names, not the history of families; however, there are examples where the
bearers of some American surnames are almost certainly all descended from a
single progenitor from the old country.
The following listing contains examples
from the DAFN pertinent to members of the KKNFA (the number in parenthesis
following the surname refers to the frequency of the surname in the sample of
88.7 million listings in the DAFN database):
(141,823) English and Scottish: extremely common and
widely distributed topographical name for some one who lived on or by a hill,
Middle English hill (Old English hyll). 2. English: from the
medieval personal name Hill, a short form of Hilary (or Hillary)
or of a Germanic (male or female) compound name with the first element hild
'strife', 'battle'. 3. German: from a short form of HILDERBRAND or any of
a variety of other names, male and female, containing Germanic hild as
the first element. 4. Jewish (American): Anglicized form of various
Jewish names of similar sound or meaning. 5. English translation of
Finnish Mäki ('hill'), or any of various other names formed with this element,
such as Mäkinen, Heinämäki, and Kivimäki.
(4,441) English (southeastern): 1. variant of
HILL. 2. patronymic from HILL 2.
(332) 1. North German form of Knoche. 2. German: possible a
habitational name from Knock near Emden. 3. English: topographical name
for someone living by a hill, from Middle English knocke 'hill' (Old
(214) German (Knöll): nickname for a peasant or for
a crude uncouth person, from middle High German knolle 'sod'., 'lump of
(272) English: Variant spelling of KNOWLES.
(3,945) 1. English and German: topographic name for someone living near a
hilltop or mountain peak, from Middle English knolle ‘hilltop’, ‘hillock’
(Old English cnoll), Middle High German knol ‘peak’. In
some cases the English name is habitational, from one of the many places named
with this word, for example Knole in Kent or Knowle in Dorset, West Midlands,
etc. 2. German and Jewish (Ashkenazic) nickname for a peasant or a crude
clumpsy person, from Middle High German knolle ‘lump’, ‘clod’,
(118) German: variant of Knoll.
(108) German: topographical name for someone living near the summit of a
hill or mountain.
(10,731) 1. English: topographic name for someone who lived at the top of
a hill or by a hillock, from a genitive or plural form of the Middle English knoll
‘hilltop’, ‘hillock’ (Old English cnoll or habitational name from any of
the many places named with this word). 2. Irish: Anglicized form of Gaelic
(3,243) English: habitational name from either of two places so named, one
in Dorcet and the other in Kent. Both are named in Old English as ‘the
settlement (tun) by the hilltop (cnoll)’.
(14,847) 1. Scottish, northern England, and northern Irish; from a
genitive or plural form of Old English cnocc ‘round-topped hill’,
hence a topographical name for someone who lived on a hilltop, or a habitational
name from one of the places in Scotland and northern England named with this
element, now spelled Knock, in particular one in Renfrewshire. 2.
The surname is also borne by eastern Ashkenazic Jews as an Americanized form of
one or more like-sounding Jewish surnames.
(1,419) English: 1. nickname for a person considered prodigious in some
way. From Middle English, Old French merveille ‘miracle’ (Latin mirabilia,
originally neuter plural of the adjective mirabilis ‘admirable’, ‘amazing’).
The nickname was no doubt sometimes given with mocking intent. 2. (of Norman
origin): habitational name, from places called Merville.
(39,082) English, Scottish, and Northern Irish of Norman origin:
Habitational name from a place in Calvados, France, so named from Old French mont
'hill' + a Germanic personal name composed of the elements guma 'man' + ric
'power'. In Ireland this surname has been Gaelicized as Mac Iomarie
and in Scotland as Mac Gumaraid.
(12,001) 1. English and Irish; variant of Neville. 2. English variant of
Noel. 3. Irish (north County Kildare): Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó’Tnúthghail,
’descendant of Tnúthgal’, a personal name composed of the elements tnúth
’desire’, ’envy’ + gal ’valor’.
(646) English: topographical name for someone who lived by an oak tree,
from misdivision of Middle English atten oke 'at the oak'. 2. South
German from Tyrolean nock, nog 'rounded hill', 'rock', hence a
topographical name for someone who lived by such a feature, or a nickname from
the same word used in the sense 'short and fat'.
(9,087) English and French: nickname for someone who had some special
connection with the Christmas season, such as owning the particular feudal duty
of providing a yule-log to the lord of the manor, or having given a memorable
performance as the Lord of Misrule. The name is from Middle English.
Old French nouel ‘Christmas’ (Latin natalis (dies) ‘birthday’).
It was also used as a given name for someone born during the Christmas period.
(631) 1. German (Nöll): habitational name from any of several places in
Rhineland and Westphalia named Nöll. 2. Catalan: nickname from Novell ‘young’,
‘new’ (Latin novellas ‘new’).
(104) 1. German: respelling of NOELL. 2.
Respelling of French NOEL.
(124) German (Nóske): nickname for someone with a
remarkable nose, from Sorbian nósk, a diminutive of nos, nós,
(1,198) An altered spelling of Knowles.
(4,241) 1. German: from a short form of any of various medieval
personal names derived from Germanic personal names ending in -n + wald
'rule', for example ARNOLD and REINWALD. 2. South German: nickname
for a rotund or naive person, from Middle High German nol 'hillock',
'knoll'. 3. Jewish (Ashkenazic): of uncertain origin; perhaps an
occupational name from Yiddish nol 'awl'.
(125) 1. German: variant of NOLL. 2. North German:
habitational name from the Nolle district in Westphalia. 3. North German (Nölle);
topographical name from Middle High German nol, nel(le) 'peak', 'summit',
also the name from several streams so named in Westphalia. 4. German (Nolle):
variant of NOLL 1. 5. French (Nollé): variant of NOLET.
(2,143) English: variant spelling of NOEL.
(106) Altered form of NOWELL or NOEL.
(233) English (East Anglia): nickname for a fine or handsome fellow, from
Middle English prety, prity ‘fine’, ‘pleasing’, ‘excellent’
(Old English prættig ‘clever, ‘artful’, ‘wily’).
(790) English (East Anglia): elaborated form of Pretty, or an occupational
name for a servant of someone called Pretty.
Robert B. Noles