ABCs & Our Family Trees: Letters N & O

I have always been fascinated by language, specifically where it originates and how it adapts, mutates, and relates to other languages. That is why I found the recent series of blogs by Andrew’s Kindred so intriguing. It combined my love of etymology with my love of genealogy. I was so inspired, in fact, that I decided to try my hand at chronicling the origins of our families’ surnames.


This is the thirteenth installment of a series of posts documenting the etymology of many of our families’ surnames (recent and distant, direct and indirect.)

Well, since I already covered the M names, let’s now address the letters N and O:

Neitzel/Nitzel (my father’s maternal line)
Germany— Eastern German (under Slavic influence) from a pet form of the personal name Nikolaus; a personal name formed from the Middle High German word nit, meaning hostility. It might have been a nickname for an obnoxious person.

Nellison (my mother’s paternal line)
English—This patronymic form of the given name Nel(le) comes from the Old Gaelic Irish personal name Niall, meaning champion. This was adopted by Norsemen in the form Njall and was brought to England both directly from Ireland by Scandinavian settlers. Among the latter, it had taken from the Latin word nigellus, derived from the word niger, meaning black or dark.

Ness (my spouse’s brother-in-law’s family)
Scottish—Generally believed to be Gaelic or Scottish but may in fact be Norse-Viking or Old English, the word nes means headland. As such it is either residential for a person who resided \on a headland or locational from one of the many places called Ness in both England and Scotland.

Nestel (my spouse’s mother’s maternal line)
German—The roots of this surname lie in the former duchy of Swabia and is derived from the Middle High German word nesteler, meaning “maker of thread or string.” It is therefore likely that the progenitor of this name held such an occupation.

Nettles (my mother’s paternal line)
Cornish (English)—This is probably a topographic name for someone who lived at a place overgrown with nettles, from the Middle English word, net(t)el.

Neville (my mother’s paternal line)
English—This is a habitational name from Neuville in Calvados or Néville in Seine-Maritime, both from Old French words neu(f), meaning new (from the Latin word, Novus), and ville, meaning settlement.

Newgate (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
English—This locational surname is derived from the settlement of Newdigate in the county of Surrey.

Newman (my mother’s paternal line)
English—This is a pre-medieval nickname for somebody new to a particular place. The derivation is from the word neowe, meaning new, and the suffix mann, meaning a friend or foreman.

Nial (my brother-in-law’s family)
English—This surname is derived from a given name of Gaelic origin, “Niall”, thought to mean “Champion.”

Nicholson (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
English—Introduced to England by returning Crusader knights from the Holy Land in the 12th century, this surname derives from the ancient Greek name Nikolaos, meaning victory-people.

Nix (my mother’s paternal line)
English—This uncommon and intriguing name is of early medieval English origin, taken from a short, pet form of Nicholas, which is derived from the ancient Greek Nikolaos from nikan, meaning to conquer, and laos, meaning people.

Noel/Noell (my father’s maternal line)
French—This surname is for someone who had some special connection with the Christmas season, such as owing 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 the Old French word no(u)el, meaning Christmas.

Nolette (my brother-in-law’s family)
French—This surname is a variation of Nolet, a diminutive (nickname) for a name ending in -naud, such as Arnaud, Bernaud, Renaud

Norton (my mother’s paternal line)
English—This locational surname comes from the Old English word, north, meaning north, and tun, a farm or settlement, hence a homestead or village north of another.

Norwich (my mother’s paternal line)
English—This habitational surname comes from the Old English words north, meaning north and wic, meaning trading center, harbor, or a topographic name with the same meaning.

Nye (my spouse’s brother-in-law’s family)
English—This topographical surname was for someone who lived by a river or on an island. The name derives from the Old English phrase, aet thaem ea, meaning at the river, or aet thaem eg, meaning at the island, which became in Middle English atten (e)ye, shortened to Nye.

Oberkirsh/Overcash (my stepfather’s family)
German/Swiss—This is a locational surname for someone who lived in our near the town of Oberkirch, from the German words ober, meaning upper, and kirch, meaning church.

Oliver (my mother’s maternal line and my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
English—This surname is either Ancient Greek or Roman in origin and is associated with the olive tree or olive branch, the symbol of peace.

Orieldis (my mother’s paternal line)
English—Adapted from the Germanic name Aurildis, comprised of aus, meaning fire, and hild, meaning battle.

Ordóñez (my mother’s paternal line)
Spanish—This surname means son of Ordoño. Ordoño is derived from the Latin personal name Fortunio, which means fortunate.

Opdyck (my brother-in-law’s family)
Dutch—This is a topographic surname for someone who lived on the dike, from the words op, meaning up, plus dyck, meaning dike.

Otterbach (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
German—This locational surname from the Otterbach region of German, named after the Otterbach River, from the words otter, meaning otter, and bach, meaning brook.

Otey (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
English—This locational surname is from the parish of Oteley found in the counties of Shropshire, Suffolk, and the West Riding of Yorkshire. It is derived from the Old English elements ote, meaning oats, and leah, meaning a clearing.

Owens (my brother-in-law’s family)
English—A patronymic of Owen, this surname is derived either from the ancient Celtic personal name Owain, adapted from the Latin eugenius, meaning wellborn, or from the Old Welsh word oen, meaning lamb.

Well, that’s it for the N and O surnames… Next up are the P and Q surnames.


For more information on the origins of many surnames, check out Almwch Data, Behind the Name, Irish Origenes, Surname Database, Surname Meanings and Origins, Surname Web, and Wiktionary.

#etymology     #familytree     #surnames

Categories: Cole-Marriner Line, Extended Families, Harwick-Bush Line, Noel-Ardinger Line, Spangler-Kenney Line, Surnames from A to Z, Watts-Stark Line, Williams-Stott Line | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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