This Ashkenazic Jewish surname of NISSLEY was from the Yiddish male given name NISN (from the Hebrew NISAN, the name of a Jewish month) presumably at first given to boys born in that month. It is also a German and Danish patronymic from the Scandinavian given name NISS, a contracted form of Nicholas meaning 'people's victory'. The name was popular among Christians throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, largely as a result of the fame of a 4th century Lycian bishop, about whom a large number of legends grew up, and who was venerated in the Orthodox Church as well as the Catholic. East European forms of this name are spelt with the initial M, as Mikulas in Poland. The name was sometimes borne by women in the Middle Ages. After the Crusades in Europe, in the 11th 12th and 13th century people began, perhaps unconsciously, to feel the need of a family name, or at least a name in addition to the simple one that had been possessed from birth. The nobles and upper classes, especially those who went on the Crusades, observed the prestige and practical value of an added name, and were quick to take a surname. The name may also have denoted someone who farmed land belonging to a monastery, and who paid rent in the form of provisions for the monks. Other spellings of the name include NISSEL, NISSANI, NISSANY, NISEL, NISSENSOHN, NISANOV and NISELEVICH. The surname is still mainly confined to its original home in Schleswig. When traditional Jews were forced to take family names by the local bureaucracy, it was an obligation imposed from outside traditional society, and people often took the names playfully and let their imaginations run wild by choosing names which corresponded to nothing real in their world. No one alive today can remember the times when Jews took or were given family names (for most Ashkenazim this was the end of the 18th century or the beginning of the 19th) although many remember names being changed after emigration to other countries, such as the United States and Israel in recent years.
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