Nowell Name Study

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Date: [unknown]
Surnames/tags: Nowell Knowell Nowel
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How to Join

Please contact the project leader Dola Acree or post a comment to the right. If you have any questions, just ask. Thanks!


This is a One Name Study to collect together in one place everything about the surname Nowell and its variants. The hope is that other researchers like you will join our study to help make it a valuable reference point for people studying lines that cross or intersect.

Project Members and their interests

A lis of project members, with information about the focus of their research, can be found at Nowell Name Study: Project Members. Do feel free to contact them via the Wikitree messaging system.

Surname Variants

These variants are included as part of the Nowell Name Study:

  • Nowel
  • Knowell

A number of other variant spellings of the Nowell surname are encountered, and where individuals with those surname spellings connect to families within the study, the study extends to them. The main ones are:

  • Knowles
  • Noell
  • Nowill

Most Noel families are almost certainly unconnected to members of the Nowell family. But some records for early members of the family from which the Noel Earls of Gainsborough came use the spelling Nowell, and this family may be connected with Nowells of Yorkshire; and the Noel spelling is found in some other Nowell family lines.

Nowell Crest

The Nowell crest on this page is "Or, fretty gules, a chief azure." "Fretty" means covered with fret, which represented the old iron grill work on castle and city gates. "Or" means gold, "gules" means red, and "azure" means blue. Hence, the top of the shield is azure and the bottom is the gold and red plaid with lots of grill work around. This is the crest of one of the main Nowell families of medieval England, based in Lancashire. Several branches of this family used variations on it.

Origin of the Nowell surname

The most widely accepted explanation of the Nowell surname is that it derives from the French word Noel, meaning Christmas. It may have started as a nickname for someone born in the Christmas period.

Another explanation seen sometimes is that the name derives from a place-name, Noailles, in France: there are several possible contenders, including one in Northern France and one in the Limousin (from which the family of the Dukes de Noailles, which became prominent in 16th century France, derived their name). There is no firm evidence to link the name with places in France, though knights from much of France joined in the Norman conquest of England. Despite claims on websites like, there appears to be no evidence that a Robert Noel accompanied William the Conqueror and was given extensive lands in England: the name does not appear on any version of the Battle Abbey roll, nor does it feature in the Domesday Book; and this story appears to derive from fanciful traditions written down around the 14th century by the monks of Ronton Priory, Staffordshire - see

Nowell or Noel or variants were also used as first names, and some families may owe the surname to an early forebear being called Noels or Nowells – that is, son of someone with a first name Noel/Nowell.

Origins of Nowell families

The first recorded Nowell in standard pedigrees (like that in the Lancashire volume of Foster’s Pedigrees of the County Families of England) is Adam de Nowell of Read in Lancashire, sometimes called Adam de Reved (an old spelling of Read). He was alive in the reign of Henry I (1100-1135). Many descendants of Adam remained based in Lancashire; some had Yorkshire connections; and some were established in London and at Edmonton, Middlesex by Tudor and Stuart times. It is probable that some descendants of this family migrated to North America in the 17th century: as part of this name study it is hoped to establish such links more firmly.

Other Nowell families can be found fairly early in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Kent and elsewhere. It is not at present clear how far, if at all, they are connected to the Lancashire Nowells.


Some Nowells associated with North Carolina, who may be descended from the Lancashire family, have the haplogroup I-M253, which is particularly common in Scandinavia. Like many medieval families of Northern England, the Lancashire Nowells may well have had Viking ancestry.

Notable Nowells

  • Alexander Nowell, c.1516-1602, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, England
  • Laurence Nowell, c.1530-c.1571, antiquarian, cartographer, Anglo-Saxon scholar
  • Increase Nowell, 1593-1655, a member of the Great Migration, who played a major role in early colonial Massachusetts

Task List

1. Improve Nowell profiles, including unsourced, orphaned, or unconnected profiles.

2. Add photos to profiles.

3. Add one-name study stickers to key profiles.

4. Attempt to take Nowell family lines further back in time.

5. Research how far different Nowell family lines can be linked together.

6. Establish more firmly the British origins of North American Nowell families.

7. Investigate the geographical occurrence of people with Nowell surnames.

8. Look up name origin, heraldry or coat of arms and meaning, legends, etc.

9. Use the categorization facilities on Wikitree to assist research.

Project-related free-space pages


Please note that the listing of a webpage here does not mean that the Project Team vouch for its accuracy. There are demonstrable errors on some of these sites.

Images: 1
Nowell crest
Nowell crest

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On 31 May 2018 at 14:57 GMT Bobby Nowell wrote:

Dola, I would like to help on this project, I will do what ever you need me to do for research, etc. You might have to guide me a little on what we need to pursue.

On 30 May 2018 at 19:36 GMT Michael Cayley wrote:

I have a gaggle of Noel/Nowell people (the spelling varied between these two main forms) linked to Cayleys or families intermarried with Cayleys. I am glad you have started this study. It will prompt me to do more work on them and add details to Wikitree. ‘My’ Nowells are all English. What do you want to do about categorisation? Do you want them all categorised under the main Nowell Name Study category? Do you want to think about creating some sub-categories? Happy to have private message exchanges on this if you prefer.