Merrill family history and genealogy to the benefit of all.


Origin of Surnames
Battle Abbey Roll
Is the Name Anglo-Saxon?
The Huguenot Theory
Miriel, Meriel, Meurrill, etc.
Light Complexion, or Dark?
Merrill and Morrill
Variations in Spelling
Geographical Distribution
Numerical Strength
Merrills now in England

A Merrill Memorial

    Samuel Merrill, 1928, reprint 1983

Merrill: the Name and Its Variations - Chapter II, pp17-27

Miriel, Meriel, Meurrill, etc.

   The Duchess of Cleveland in “The Battle Abbey Roll” (vol. II, page 245), mentions “John and Richard Miriel, Norfolk; Adam de Miriel, Suffolk; and Matilda de Miriel, with her daughter Margaret, Kent, in the time of Edward I [1272-1307]. Nicholas de Meriel was of Yorkshire at the same date.”

   In Bray’s “Sketch of a Tour into Derbyshire and Yorkshire,” (published 1777), the village of Tidswell (now spelled Tideswell) in Derbyshire is described. In the chancel of the large parish church, the writer says, “there is also a raised tomb (on which bread is given away every Sunday) for Sampson Meurrill, with a date of 1388.” This was probably the year of Sampson Meurrill’s birth, for Guillim, in “A Display of Heraldry” (6th edit., 1724, page 266), tells of “Sir Sampson Meverell, Kt. who dy’d Anno 1462, and was buried in the Church of Tydeswall in the County of Derby.”

   The pedigree of Sir Sampson is given by Guill im thro’ a line of seven Meverell ancestors, together with a line of descent to Francis Meverell, four generations later. Francis Meverell, like most of the others mentioned in the pedigree, was of Throwley, in the neighboring county of Stafford. His arms were: “Argent, a Griffon rampant with Wings display’d Sable, beak’d and leg’d Gules, arm’d Or.” Sampson Meverell, eldest son of Francis, was living in 1569.

   Whether these Meverells or Meurrills of Staffordshire were related to the Merrells of Suffolk is not known; but their presence in England through all the centuries covered by the thirteen generations enumerated in the “Display of Heraldry” increases the difficulty of convincing a sceptic that the Merrills are of Huguenot extraction. Other instances also might be cited to show that the name, with some variation in spelling, was present in England at a very early date.

   It is much more likely that the American Merrills are descended from some one of these Miriels, Meriels, Meurrills or Meverells than that their ancestors were Merles in France in the sixteenth century. Nathaniel1 Merrill of Newbury was probably a native of Suffolk, and “Adam de Miriel, Suffolk,” cotemporary and subject of Edward Longshanks, may easily have been his kinsman. No one in this day, however, can hope to trace the connecting links through the three intervening centuries.

Light Complexion, or Dark?

   Again quoting the same letter from General Merrill (dated 2 Sept. 1884): “The Huguenot family from which we come, if I am right in my belief, were from Westphalia originally, and belonged to a light-haired people. They were not Latins, but Teutons, and the name is, I think, very clearly traceable to the Old High German Mär, which meant ‘illustrious.’ The Westphalian form of the name still exists, Mährle.”

   Marell, Märell and Mährle are given as German family names by Prof. Albert Heintze in “Die deutschen Familiennamen,” (Halle, 1903). These are all diminutive forms of Mar, and Mar has been employed in the formation of the names of persons, according to Heintze, since the first century. The word is derived from the Gothic mêrs, Old High German mâri, Middle High German maere, meaning renowned.

   This German derivation becomes unimportant, of course, if we dismiss the Huguenot theory as untenable.

   Mark Antony Lower, author of “Patronymica Britannica, a Dictionary of the Family Names of the United Kingdom,” (London, 1860), ignores Merrill, Morrill and Morrell as family names, but mentions Merrell as “probably the same as Murrell, Morell.” These two latter he considers variants of the same name. Merle also he gives as “perhaps the same as Murrell.” Mr. Lower ascribes French Huguenot ancestry to certain of the Morells of England, but he adds: “There were other and earlier importations of this name into England, the first on record being that of one Morel, who is mentioned in the Domesday of Norfolk [1086]. The word is a diminutive of the Old French more, a Moor, and refers to darkness of complexion.” (*)

   Another English writer, Charles Wareing Bardsley, in a posthumous work entitled “A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames” (London, 1901), groups Morel, Morell, Morrall, Morrell and Morrill together as having a common origin, and says they were used originally as nicknames, being derived from morel, meaning dark-complexioned. As between the theory that the earliest members of the family belonged to a light-haired race, and the belief that the family name is derived from a word meaning dark-complexioned, there is no occasion to make a choice. A lady of another family name, who took pride in a strain of Merrill blood, and sought my aid in tracing her Merrill ancestors, assured me that “all Merrills have light hair and eyes, and are below the average in hight.” Inasmuch as my father and three brothers all had dark eyes and hair, and averaged nearly six feet in hight, I had to disagree with her. And a correspondent once assured me that “all Merrills are very musical people,” a statement which any of my friends, who ever heard me attempt to sing, would dispute, probably with sarcastic comments.

   Such generalizations are never trustworthy. If a certain Nathaniel8 Merrill were descended from a line of ancestors among whom there had been no intermarriage of relatives, only 1-128th part of his blood could be considered to be derived from Nathaniel1 Merrill. In equal degree he would have inherited the blood of 127 ancestors in other families, 64 of the total being male and 64 female. A descendant in the direct male line inherits no more of the blood of Nathaniel1 Merrill than a descendant of a daughter of Nathaniel’s daughter, where the descent in every case follows a female line, with a change of name in every generation.


   Bardsley, in his “Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames,” explains Merrill, Merrall, Merrell, Murrell and Murrells as originally a baptismal name, signifying “the son of Muriel.” He adds: “From an early there was a disposition to pronounce this name [Muriel] Meriel or Merrell.” A little book devoted to the subject of baptismal names of girls—I have forgotten the title—explains Muriel as derived from the Greek µúpov, meaning myrrh.

* Lower tells of Morells living in England in recent years whose ancestor was a Huguenot refugee from Champagne. But the migration in this case followed the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685), many years after the Merrills became established in America.


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     © - Updated 1 December, 2009