This German surname of NULL was a nickname for a raucous or disruptive person, originally derived from the Old German word KNELLEN (to make a noise, cause a rumpus). It was also a Jewish occupational name for a teacher in a traditional Jewish elementary school. Many of the modern family names throughout Europe reflect the profession or occupation of their forbears in the Middle Ages and derive from the position held by their ancestors in the village, noble household or religious community in which they lived and worked. The addition of their profession to their birth name made it easier to identify individual tradesmen and craftsmen. As generations passed and families moved around, so the original identifying names developed into the corrupted but simpler versions that we recognise today. Surnames are divided into four categories, from occupations, nicknames, baptismal and locations. All the main types of these are found in German-speaking areas, and names derived from occupations and from nicknames are particularly common. A number of these are Jewish. Patronymic surnames are derived from vernacular Germanic given names, often honouring Christian saints. Regional and ethnic names are also common. The German preposition 'von (from) or 'of', used with habitation names, is taken as a mark of aristocracy, and usually denoted proprietorship of the village of estate from where they came. Some members of the nobility affected the form VON UND ZU with their titles. A noteworthy person of the name was Sir Godfrey KNELLER (1646-1723) the German-born portrait painter, born in Lubeck. He studied at Amsterdam and in Italy, in 1676, went to London and in 1680 was appointed court painter. In 1691 William III knighted him, and in 1715 George I made him a baronet. His best known works are the 'Beauties of Hampton Court' (painted for William III), his 48 portraits of the 'Kit-Cat-Club' and of ten reigning monarchs (Charles II to George I, Louis XIV, Peter the Great, and the emperor to Charles VI). His brother, John Zacharias (1644-1702) architectural and portrait painter, also settled in England. The name is also spelt KNELER, and in England the name has been Anglicized to KNILL. In eastern Germany there was a heavy influence both from and on neighbouring Slavonic languages. Many Prussian surnames are of Slavonic origin.
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