There appear to be two clans of this name one of Barra and of Gigha. The use of fixed surnames or descriptive names appears to have commenced in France about the year 1000, and such names were introduced into Scotland through the Normans a little over one hundred years later, although the custom of using them was by no means common for many years afterwards. During the reign of Malcolm Ceannmor (1057-1093) the latter directed his chief subjects, after the custom of other nations, to adopt surnames from their territorial possessions, and there created 'The first erlis that euir was in Scotland'. At first the coat of arms was a practical matter which served a function on the battlefield and in tournaments. With his helmet covering his face, and armour encasing the knight from head to foot, the only means of identification for his followers, was the insignia painted on his shield, and embroidered on his surcoat, the draped and flowing garment worn over the armour. The name was derived from the Gaelic MacNeill, a baptismal name, the son of Neil. The earliest document relating to the name appears to be of Robert the Bruce who confirmed to John, son of Gilbert MacNeill, some of the lands of Larglanfeild in 1329. Nigel M'Nele, laird of Blarekanne is mentioned in documents in 1370-1380. Alexander Makneyell was a notary public in Edinburgh in 1526, and Hector MacNeill of Taynish witnessed a charter by Lord Lorne to Niall Campbell in 1633. Alba, the country which became Scotland, was once shared by four races; the Picts who controlled most of the land north of the Central Belt; the Britons, who had their capital at Dumbarton and held sway over the south west, including modern Cumbria; the Angles, who were Germanic in origin and annexed much of the Eastern Borders in the seventh century, and the Scots. The latter came to Alba from the north of Ireland late in the 5th century to establish a colony in present day Argyll, which they named Dalriada, after their homeland. The Latin name SCOTTI simply means a Gaelic speaker. The Norsemen early adopted the name, and it appears among them as Njal.
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