Bell – popular name with origins all over Europe

History of the Irish name Bell. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Bell is a popular surname in Ireland but it actually has many different origins in Ireland, Britain, France and all over Europe.

In Britain the name is most likely to come from northern England or Scotland. It originated before the 7th century and came from the Olde English word ‘Belle’ which meant ‘bell’. A common variation of Bell is ‘Belle’.

In some cases the surname is taken from the person’s occupation, eg a bell ringer or bell founder.

Other families took their surname from the place they live. Many people who lived near a church bell or town hall would have taken the surname ‘Bell’.

History of Irish surnames

Bells in France

In France the name is likely to have derived from the male personal name ‘Bel’. It could have also came from the old French nickname ‘Beu bel’ which meant ‘handsome’.

In some cases in France the name had ‘ami’ added to the end which came from the Latin for ‘friend’. The addition meant that the name became translated as ‘handsome friend’ and could have been meant literally or ironically. The name later became the modern Bellamy, Belamy or Belami.

Another possible French origin is from the female personal name ‘Isobel’ which was the French version of the name ‘Elizabeth’.

Irish and other origins

The Irish version of the name dates back to before the 13th century and comes from the old Gaelic name ‘MacGiolla Mhaoil’. The prefix ‘Mac’ means ‘son of’ while the rest of the name meant ‘servant of the devotee’.

There are also origins in Norway, where there was a place called ‘Bell’, and Germany, where there were two areas called ‘Bell and ‘Belle’. It is also possible that the German surnames Böhl or Böll were anglicised to ‘Bell’ in English speaking countries.

The surname grows in Ireland

While the name already existed in Ireland and Britain, there would have been a new influx of people named ‘Bell’ following the Norman invasions. The Normans, led by William the Conqueror, invaded Britain in the 11th century and killed King Harold in the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Having establish control of Britain over the following century, the Normans invaded Ireland in 1169 and 1171. The invading soldiers settled in Ireland and eventually integrated with the natives. They married and had children and their descendants became Irish.

Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell was a Scottish scientist and engineer. He lived from 1847 to 1922 and is most famous for inventing the first telephone. However, as his mother and wife were both deaf he dedicated much of his life as a scientist to helping the deaf.

Ironically, he refused to have a telephone in his study as he believed it was a distraction and could interrupt his more important scientific work.

Famous Bells

Jamie Bell copyright Georges Biard cc3
Jamie Bell

Colin Bell was an English soccer player. He became a legend at Manchester City and helped them win the English title in 1968. He is considered an all-time great by fans of the club and has a stand in the stadium named after him.

Jamie Bell is an English actor who shot to fame playing the title role in the movie Billy Elliot. He has appeared in many movies including King Kong, Man on a Ledge and The Adventures of Tintin. He won a BAFTA for Best Actor for his performance in Billy Elliot.

Lake Bell is an American actress. She has appeared in the TV series Boston Legal, Surface, Children’s Hospital and New Girl. She has also featured in movies such as Mr Peabody and Sherman, Over Her Dead Body, What Happens in Vegas and It’s Complicated.

Eric Bell is a musician from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He was a founder member of the rock band Thin Lizzy. He played on their first three albums and co-wrote much of their material. He left Thin Lizzy in 1973 as the pressures of being in huge band became too much for him. However, he remained in music and has played with various bands and as a solo artist ever since he left Thin Lizzy.

Drake Bell is an American actor and singer-songwriter. He started his career as a child actor in TV series such as Home Improvements. He later landed the lead role in the Nickelodeon children’s series Drake and Josh. His film credits include High Fidelity and Superhero Movie.

He has also released a number of alternative rock albums that have been well received by music critics.

History of Irish surnames