This English, French, Spanish and Italian surname was a topographic name for someone who lived near the gates of a town (and in many cases in charge of them). The name was derived from the Old French word PORTE and rendered in medieval documents in the Latin form PORTA. It was also a name applied to someone who lived near a harbour or in a market town. Surnames derived from placenames are divided into two broad categories; topographic names and habitation names. Topographic names are derived from general descriptive references to someone who lived near a physical feature such as an oak tree, a hill, a stream or a church. Habitation names are derived from pre-existing names denoting towns, villages and farmsteads. Other classes of local names include those derived from the names of rivers, individual houses with signs on them, regions and whole countries. The name has numerous variant spellings, some of which include PORTALL, PORTAL, PORTE, PORTMAN, LAPORTE, PORTA, PUERTA, PORTAS, POORT and SAPORTA. For the majority of the English speaking peoples, the main sources of names have been the traditions of the various Germanic tribes of Northern Europe, and the names introduced by the Church, perhaps Hebrew names of the Old Testament, or Greek and Roman names of the New Testament and saints. Many names were brought over to England by the invading Anglo-Saxons, a mixed collection of people from various Germanic tribes, speaking various dialects which were called Old English. A Somerset family by the name PORTMAN still bear the arms first granted to Thomas PORTMAN by Edward I in the 13th century. His descendants include Sir William PORTMAN (died. 1555) who rose to be Lord Chief Justice of England. A notable member of the name was Charles Frederick Algernon PORTAL, Ist Viscount (1893-1971), the Chief of British air staff during World War II. After the war he was controller of the Atomic Energy Authority (1946-51) and became chairman of the British Aircraft Corporation in 1960. He was created a baron in 1945, and viscount in 1946.
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