About Names: Famous Neils have made giant leaps throughout history

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 13th column, he looks at the history of the name Neil.

Neil is the English spelling of Niall, an Irish Gaelic name so ancient its derivation is unclear. “Cloud,” “passionate” and “champion” are all possibilities. The original Niall was Niall of the Nine Hostages, a king who lived in the fifth century. Few facts are known about him, though legends say he led the raid on Britain when St. Patrick was brought to Ireland as a slave.

The 1850 United States census includes 1,801 men called Neal, Neil or Niel — a third born in Ireland or Scotland. When Social Security’s yearly baby name lists started in 1880, Neal ranked 270th and Neil 292nd. Neal fell off until Neil became more common in 1912 — still ranking 292nd.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Neils in history!