This universal surname of WAHLEN is of varying origins. It was an Ashkenazic Jewish name, which according to Jewish tradition was taken from the German word WAHL meaning election, choice. The name was adopted by people who claimed descent from Saul Katzenellenbogen (1541- circa.1617), who according to a Jewish legend was elected king of Poland for a single day at the time when Poland was an elective monarchy. The name was also a topographic name for someone who lived by a stone-wall, one used to fortify a town or to keep back the encroachment of the sea. The name was rendered in ancient documents in the Latin form VALLUM (rampart, palisade). As a Swedish surname it was a name which was applied to someone who lived by a grassy bank or grazing ground. Other spellings of the name include WALLE, WALLS, WALLMAN, VAN DEN WALL, WALLNER, WALLENBERG (pasture hill), WALGREN (pasture branch), WAHLQUIST (pasture twig), WAHLSTED (pasture homestead) and WALLSTROM (pasture river). It was not until the 10th century that modern hereditary surnames first developed, and the use of fixed names spread, first to France, and then England, then to Germany and all of Europe. In these parts of Europe, the individual man was becoming more important, commerce was increasing and the exact identification of each man was becoming a necessity. Even today however, the Church does not recognise surnames. Baptisms and marriages are performed through use of the Christian name alone. Thus hereditary names as we know them today developed gradually during the 11th to the 15th century in the various European countries. 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. The eagle depicted in the crest is emblematical of fortitude and magnanimity of mind. The Romans used the figure of an eagle for their ensign, and their example has been often followed. It is the device of Russia, Austria, Germany and the United States of America.
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