This English surname of WHITNALL, which is also spelt Whitenhall and Whitnall, has the associated coat of arms recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884. (WHITNELL). Registered in County Kent. The name was derived from the Old English word Hwitanall, literally meaning the dweller on the White Island. Local names usually denoted where a man held land. Early records of the name mention Witenal (without surname) listed in the Domesday Book of 1086. Warin de Whytanell was documented in the County of Essex in the year 1295. John Witnell appears in the year 1327 County Surrey and Edward Wittnel of Yorkshire, was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379. Originally the coat of arms identified the wearer, either in battle or in tournaments. Completely covered in body and facial armour the knight could be spotted and known by the insignia painted on his shield, and embroidered on his surcoat, the draped garment which enveloped him. Between the 11th and 15th centuries it became customary for surnames to be assumed in Europe, but were not commonplace in England or Scotland before the Norman Conquest of 1066. They are to be found in the Domesday Book of 1086. Those of gentler blood assumed surnames at this time, but it was not until the reign of Edward II (1307-1327) that second names became general practice for all people. Many factors contributed to the establishment of a surname system. For generations after the Norman Conquest of 1066 a very few dynasts and magnates passed on hereditary surnames, but the main of the population, with a wide choice of first-names out of Celtic, Old English, Norman and Latin, avoided ambiguity without the need for a second name. As society became more stabilized, there was property to leave in wills, the towns and villages grew and the labels that had served to distinguish a handful of folk in a friendly village were not adequate for a teeming slum where perhaps most of the householders were engaged in the same monotonous trade, so not even their occupations could distinguish them, and some first names were gaining a tiresome popularity, especially Thomas after 1170. The hereditary principle in surnames gained currency first in the South, and the poorer folk were slower to apply it. By the 14th century however, most of the population had acquired a second name.
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