This Ashkenazic Jewish surname of NISWONGER 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 NEWSWENGER, NESSWENGER, NISWENGER, NISSEL, NISSANI, NISSANY, NISEL, NISSENSOHN, NISANOV and NISELEVICH. The surname is still mainly confined to its original home in Schleswig. Elizabeth, daughter of Peter Sauder, of Lancaster County, Pennsylvannia, married David NEWSWENGER, of Caernarvon township, circa. 1830 Among the humbler classes of European society, and especially among illiterate people, individuals were willing to accept the mistakes of officials, clerks and priests as officially bestowing a new version of their surname, just as they had meekly accepted the surname they had been born with. In North America, the linguistic problems confronting immigration officials at Ellis Island in the 19th century were legendary as a prolific source of Anglicization.
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