Daniels Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Daniels Surname Meaning

Daniel and its patronymic form Daniels derive from the Hebrew scriptural name Daniel, meaning “God is my judge.” Its long popularity as a name throughout Europe has come from the Biblical Book of Daniel which described how Daniel’s life was saved in the lion’s cage. Daniel was also the name of a second century Christian martyr and a ninth century hermit, legends of whose life were popular during the Middle Ages.

Daniel grew in popularity as a name in England after the Crusades of the 12th century when it was brought back by soldiers or pilgrims returning from the Holy Land. Arnaut Daniels from Normandy was a troubador in the court of Richard the Lion Heart around this time.

Daniels Surname Resources on The Internet

Daniel and Daniels Surname Ancestry

  • from England, Wales and France
  • to America, Caribs (Barbados) and New Zealand

Daniel and Daniels have appeared as surnames in various forms throughout Europe. Today the Daniel name numbers some 20,000 in France and 10-12,000 in Germany; Daniels 4-5,000 in Belgium. Both Daniel and Daniels appear in England and America. But Daniels in each case is the more common.

England. Early spellings were various but probably Danyell was the most common. The Danyell family of Cheshire dates from the 14th and 15th centuries and was to be found at Daresbury, Over Tabley and Rydelegh. There were also Danyells at Walsoken in Norfolk (and John Danyel a Norwich merchant and its mayor in 1406) and in London and Bristol at this time.  Early Daniels in Sussex may date from Roger Daniel whose name appeared in the Domesday Book.

The transition from Danyell or Danyel to Daniel and later to Daniels began in the 16th century. For instance:

  • Edward Danyell bought Newbury Manor in Flitton, Bedfordshire in 1524. His descendants there became Daniel.
  • John Daniell was a wealthy landowner in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire in 1522. His descendants too became Daniel.
  • and Captain William Daniel, descended from the Cheshire Danyells, was born in Wigan, Lancashire in 1623.

West Country.  The musical Taunton family in Somerset at that time were sometimes Danyel and sometimes Daniel – father John a music-maker whose “harmonious mind made an impression on his son’s genius,” his elder son Samuel a poet, and his younger son John a lute player and songwriter.

Cornwall records showed a prosperous family of Daniels at Truro and Penzance in the early/mid 1600’s and another Daniel family at Zennor (followers of John Wesley) at a slightly later date.

Wales.  The surname Daniel (and sometimes Daniels) was also to be found in Carmarthenshire and Glamorgan in south Wales. John Daniel established a printing business in Carmarthen in 1784 and was made a freeman of the town in 1800. Another John Daniel married in Abergwilly some two years later.

Joseph or Job Daniel who lived in Carmarthenshire around this time emigrated to America. His grandson Jack Daniel founded the Jack Daniel brand of whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee in 1875. David Daniels was a police constable in Llandeilo in the late 1870’s. His grandson is the English TV magician Paul Daniels.

The Daniel name also cropped up in Glamorgan. A Daniel family were seafarers and shipowners out of Penygraig and then out of Morfa Borth near Cardiff from the late 1700’s. H.W. Harrison’s 1995 book Daniel Family History covered the main Daniel Glamorgan lines.

America. Daniels came first to New England.

New England.  Robert Daniell and his family from Suffolk were part of the Puritan exodus to the Massachusetts Bay Colony that developed in the 1630’s. They came to the Watertown settlement along the Charles river in 1636. Robert’s descendants in Medfield and Medway became Daniels. One branch of the family moved to Vermont in the 1770’s and then to Ohio in the 1840’s.

William Daniel was first recorded in Massachusetts when he married Katherine Greenway in Dorchester in 1645. They settled in Milton and William ran the first tavern there. Later Daniels (the name also became Daniels) were to be found in New London, Connecticut and nearby Salem. This line was covered in James Daniels’ 1952 book The Daniels Family.

The South. There were a number of noteworthy Daniels in Virginia in the 17th and 18th centuries.

One prominent line began with William Daniel who was first recorded in Middlesex county, Virginia in the 1670’s. James Daniel was the father of :

  • Peter V. Daniel, a Supreme Court Justice from 1841 to 1860
  • and that unreconstructed Democrat John W. Daniel, the Virginia Senator from 1891 to 1910
  • while a branch of the family migrated to Kentucky in the 1790’s. Henry Daniel was elected a Congressman there and later became a successful horse breeder.

Robert Daniell, the son of a London ship-owner, came to Charleston, South Carolina on his ship Daniell in 1669 and stayed. He was active in various military expeditions against the Indians and Spanish and was in later life was Governor of both Carolinas. He died in 1718.

William Daniel was recorded in Halifax county, North Carolina in the 1760’s. From his line came John Reeves Daniel, a lawyer and politician in North Carolina during the 1840’s and 1850’s. His son Junius was a Confederate Brigadier General who died of his wounds during the Civil War in 1864.

Thomas Daniel from Ulster arrived with his family at Roanoke island off North Carolina in 1784. The line through his son Clifford ran to Josephus Daniels, a ship carpenter at Wilmington who was killed on a steamship in 1865 at the end of the Civil War:

  • his son Josephus, just three at the time, grew up to be a prominent newspaper editor and publisher in New Carolina before he was appointed by President Wilson to be the Secretary of the Navy during World War One.
  • and his son Jonathan was also a newspaper editor and writer.

Both were fans and supporters of FDR and the New Deal.

Other Daniels.  Some Daniels came to America from Germany and France and also from Ireland (where their Daniels name was probably a corruption of the Irish McDaniel or McDonnell) and even a few from Scotland. The actress Bebe Daniels was born into a Scottish family, her father having changed his name in America from MacMeal to Daniels.

Caribbean. John Daniell, a shipwright, appeared in Barbados in 1655. Some have linked him with either the Danyells of Cheshire or the Daniells of Charleston. The Barbadian historian Peter Campbell speculated as follows:

“My guess is that Robert Daniell of South Carolina was a brother or cousin of John Daniell of Barbados. Robert probably stayed with John Daniell on his way to South Carolina in 1677 and again when he paid a visit to Barbados in 1679.

Whatever his origins he was the forebear of the Bristol-based Daniel family of West India merchants. His great grandson Thomas acquired the Sunbury plantation in Barbados in 1835 and re-established the family presence on the island.

New Zealand.  In 1880, at the age of 24, Charles Edward Daniell emigrated from Gloucestershire to New Zealand and was one of the first settlers of Masterton in the Wairarapa region.

He set up a timber mill and then a hardware store and designed and built many of the Wairarapa’s large homesteads and farm buildings. Such ventures meant that Daniell was the largest employer in the Wairarapa for many years. The local historian Tim Shoebridge described his life in his 2009 book The Good Citizen – The Life of C.E. Daniell.

Daniel and  Daniels Surname Miscellany

Daniel and Daniels Today

Numbers (000’s) Daniel Daniels Total
UK    11    22    33
America    22    39    61
Elsewhere*     5    14    19

*  In Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. 

The Danyells of Cheshire.  It was said that this early Cheshire family could trace their lineage back to the Roger Daniel who had come over with William the Conqueror in 1066.  In reward for his services he was granted lands at Filsham in Sussex.  His name was recorded there in the Domesday Book of 1086.

Some of his descendants may have moved north during the 13th century.  Robert D’Anyers was recorded in Cheshire in 1291 and from him came the Danyers and Danyells of Daresbury in the next century.  Thomas Danyell appeared at Over Tabley in the 1380’s and a later Thomas Danyell married Maud Leicester there in 1440. Meanwhile Robert Danyell who served with John Devereaux in Scotland made his home around 1390 at Rydelegh.

From the Daresbury line is thought to have come the Thomas Danyell who held lands at Frodsham in Cheshire and first appeared in records in 1440.  He was at various times a royal favorite, accused twice of treason and then pardoned each time.  He died in 1482.  During the turmoil of the War of the Roses he was considered a clever, charismatic, unscrupulous rogue whose exploits were recorded widely in contemporary documents.

Reader Feedback – Early Daniels in Sussex.  Firstly, the very influential poet and troubador, Arnaut Danielz (as his name appears in ancient documents written during his lifetime) was born in Riberac in the Dordogne in South West France and not in Normandy. He seems to have been a member of the Court of Richard 1 of England but as far as is known, he did not give rise to a lineage in England.

Next, I have extensively researched Roger Daniel of Sussex whose name appears in the Domesday Book. There are no documents that show any connection between him and the Cheshire Daniel/s.  The far more likely scenario is that he is an ancestor of the Daniel/s families of Kent and Sussex.

There is a dearth of records between 1086 and the early 1200’s. However, there are extant records in Kent of Henry Danyel, a nobleman in Canterbury that suggest that he was born in 1240. A genealogist has speculated that he may have been a descendant of Roger Danyel who appears in the Domesday Book. The basis for the speculation was:

  • that Henry held lands in south west Kent close to the Sussex border where Roger Danyel held land
  • that Henry was likely to have had Norman origins
  • and that he was a prominent noble.

There are no existing documents that show shared paternal line origins between the Cheshire Daniels and those of Kent and Sussex.

On the other hand, family connections cannot be ruled out. Having examined what information exists it is possible that there may be links between the apparently separate lines paternally and maternally but the available evidence does not permit anything more than tentative suggestions.

Dr. John Daniels (professorjohndaniels@outlook.com)

The Daniel Family of Truro and Penzance.  It was Richard Daniel, born in the parish of Kenwyn near Truro in Cornwall in the year 1561, who first established the family fortunes.  He apprenticed himself to a draper in London and later became wealthy as a merchant in Germany and Holland.

His son Alexander was sent in 1599 at a young age to Truro to live with his uncle Jenkin.  Jenkin Daniel had received some of his brother’s wealth and became the mayor of Truro in 1615.  His son Jacob followed him as mayor in 1632.

Alexander by this time had married and moved to Madron near Penzance.  He kept a journal where he displayed his particular view of life. For instance, he believed that God took a personal interest in his life and he even thanked Him for saving his sight when an apple fell in his eye.

He died in 1668 and was buried in Madron churchyard with the following inscription: “Belgia me birth, Britain me breeding gave Cornwall a wife, ten children and a grave.”

One son George became a successful businessman in Penzance and founded a school for poor children in Madron on his death in 1710.  This school was still in existence as a voluntary school in 1937.

Reader Feedback – Early Daniels in Virginia.  I am the founder in 2002 and project manager for the Daniel DNA Project which has over 500 Daniel men participating.  They represent dozens of unrelated Daniel families.

The notion that the family of William Daniel of Middlesex county, Virginia was the principal southern Daniel line is incorrect. There were several other major Daniel lines, as proved by Y DNA testing and primary record research.

Other prominent 17th century southern Daniel lines with large numbers of descendants and extensive properties and lands were:

  • Deputy Governor Robert Daniell of North Carolina who arrived in South Carolina in 1669.
  • John Daniell whose will was probated in Isle of Wight county, Virginia in 1679.
  • John Daniell who made his will in York county, Virginia in 1684.
  • James Daniel, first recorded aged 30 in Essex county, Virginia in 1694.
  • and William Daniel, a carpenter of Essex and Caroline counties in Virginia.  He already had a plantation in Essex county when he first appeared in records there in 1707.

Best Regards
Kevin Daniel (kevin@kevindaniel.com)

Reader Feedback – Early Virginia Daniel Families.  Further research and analysis of Y DNA and primary records has proved that William Daniel of Middlesex county was born much later than estimated by early researchers, probably in the 1640’s and that he came to Virginia in the 1670’s where he first appeared in records of Middlesex county.

Prominent later Daniels – Peter Vivion Daniel, John W. Daniel and Henry Daniel – were descendants of James Daniel.  He was raised by William Daniel as his own son, but was actually the son of his second wife Jochebed through her previous marriage, possibly to a man named Davis. This has been proved using analysis of primary records and Y DNA testing.

Other early Virginia Daniel lines – John of York county and Roger of Warwick county – have not been proved using primary record and Y DNA evidence. It is uncertain if these lines are represented by any living Daniel men in America.

Lines of other early Daniel men in Virginia – William Daniel of Middlesex county, James Daniel of Essex county and William Daniel of Essex/Caroline – have been proved using primary record and Y DNA evidence and Daniel men from these lines living in the US today have been proved.

Proof of the line of John Daniel of Isle of Wight County has not been effectively presented. It is uncertain if this line has been proved.

Kevin Daniel (kevin@kevindaniel.com).

Reader Feedback – Thomas Daniels at Roanoke Island off North Carolina.  I am from the Daniels’ Family of Wanchese, North Carolina as my great great grandmother Mary T. Daniels married Daniel Baum III.  Mary was born in 1833 and died in 1908.

The family has it that this family, along with the line of Josephus Daniels, came to New England and then was at Roanoke Island in North Carolina in 1765. The earliest known was Thomas Daniels, said to have been from Northern Ireland, but some have said New England and originally from Devon in England.

Thomas had a son Josephus who had a son Clifford who was the father of Josephus Daniels, born in 1828.  He in turn was the father of Josephus Daniels (1862-1948) of newspaper fame.

The Josephus of 1862 had a sister Mary T. Daniels who married Daniel Baum III.  Josephus and Mary were in fact half siblings and Mary’s mother was Milly Daniels, the daughter of another Josephus who married Julie Beasley whose line traced to the famed Lost Colony of 1590.

The Josephus who married Julie was the son of William Daniels, the brother of Thomas mentioned above.  I have these lines to the 1760’s but am curious if they would be from the Devon Daniels line in England.  I have looked into books about the Virginia Daniel(s) family and ones that come further west in North Carolina.

Have you ever heard of where these could be from?

Clyde Gallop (cgallop2018@gmail.com)

Reader Feedback – Daniels in North Carolina.  I have been continuing Daniels research which includes 52 years of my entire research.

I later learned that my great uncle Charles Clifford Shannon proved the line from Clifford Daniels and that my 2nd great grandmother was of this line. I also learned from Frank Daniels, the son of Josephus of the News & Observer newspaper, that the family knew of my 2nd great grandmother as an aunt of Josephus of the N&O.  It is of note that Josephus’s father Josephus of 1828-65 did go to Rhode Island and worked on shipbuilding and that he later returned to North Carolina because of the Civil War.

Clyde Gallop (cgallop2018@gmail.com).

The Daniel West India Merchants.  On the north wall of the cloisters in Bristol Cathedral there is a headstone inscribed as follows:

“Sacred to the memory of Thomas Daniel esq, a respectable merchant of this city who was born in Barbados on March 14, 1730 and departed this life on February 23, 1802.”

He had come from a mercantile family that had settled in Barbados in the mid-17th century.  In 1764 he returned to England where he developed a substantial business in the Caribbean sugar trade out of Bristol.  He owned ships that would bring the sugar from Caribbean plantations back to England.  This business he handed over to his son Thomas Daniel Jr. on his death in 1802.

Thomas Jr. acquired slave plantations throughout the Caribbean, including the Sunbury plantation in Barbados in 1835.  He became so rich and powerful that he was known as the “king of Bristol.” In Barbados he was a great friend of the notorious buccaneer Sam Lord of Sam Lord’s Castle close to the Sunbury estate.  Thomas in fact installed chandeliers at Sunbury to match those at Sam Lord’s home.

The Sunbury plantation remained in family hands through Daniel’s niece and her descendants until 1981.  It now functions as a restaurant and museum.

Jack Daniel and Whiskey.  Jack Daniel was the founder of the Jack Daniel whiskey distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee in the late 1800’s.  Exactly when he founded it is not quite clear.  Early records were destroyed in a courthouse fire.  The company says it was founded in 1866.  Others have maintained that it was not founded until 1975.

Jack “the Lad” Daniel was the grandson of Joseph or Job Daniel who had emigrated to North Carolina from Wales in the late 18th century.

Family members back in Wales claim that his whiskey recipe came from Wales. The recipe apparently first surfaced in an 1853 book written by a Llanelli herbalist in Carmarthenshire whose name was Daniels. Lillian Daniels Probert, still alive at 97, remembered her grandmother using the book to make herbal remedies and ointments and was given the book by her. 

Bebe Daniels the Actress.  Bebe Daniels was born by chance in Dallas, Texas in early 1901, the only child of Danny and Phyllis Daniels.  Her emigrant Scottish father had changed his name from Daniel MacMeal to Danny Daniels when he founded his California-based traveling stock company.  His wife and leading lady had given birth to Bebe as the troupe toured through Dallas.

By the age of four Bebe was a frequent actor in her parents’ company, by seven she had made her movie debut, and at fifteen she was playing the leading lady to Harold Lloyd in Hal Roach’s Lonesome Luke silent-film series.  Cecil B. De Mille discovered her dancing in a restaurant and took her to his Paramount Studios at ten times her old salary. Her film career extended into the 1930’s.

She had by that time married the actor Ben Lyon and after the war enjoyed a second career in London, writing and producing the hugely popular Life with the Lyons which featured the whole Lyon family. It played on radio for twelve years between 1950 and 1962.

Daniel and Daniels Names

  • Samuel Daniel was the English poet of the early 1600’s who was for a short time poet laureate. 
  • Jack Daniel was the American distiller in Tennessee who founded the Jack Daniel whiskey distillery in 1875. 
  • Bebe Daniels was an American actress, singer and dancer of the 1920’s and 1930’s. 
  • George Daniels who died in 2011 was a contemporary English watchmaker by hand, considered to be the best in the world during his lifetime. 
  • Jeff Daniels is a well-known American actor and playwright.

Daniel and Daniels Today

  • 33,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 69,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 19,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Daniels and Like Surnames   

Patronymic surnames can be with either the “-son” or the shorter “s” suffix to the first name.  The “s” suffix is more common in southern England and in Wales.  Here are some of these surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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