An anglicized form of the Gaelic Niall, the name is of debated meaning, it could either mean “cloud”, “champion” or “passion.”
It was borne by Niall of the Nine Hostages, a 6th-century Irish king and eponymous ancestor of the Uí Néill clan who ruled Ireland from the 6th-century to the 10th-century.
The name caught on among Viking settlers in the form of Njal and it was brought back to Iceland and became popular in other areas of Europe with large viking settlements. It was through the Normans, (descendants of Viking settlers), that the name was first introduced to England and it came to be Latinized as Nigellus later evolving into the common British name, Nigel.
Nigellus is actually derived from the Latin word niger (black) but was only ever used as a form of Niel. It was incorrectly believed by the early Norman clerics that the Norman form of Néel was from the Norman word for black. The common Middle English spelling was Neal.
Currently Neil is the 683rd most popular male name in the United States, (2010). Its original Gaelic form of Niall (NIE-all) is the 91st most popular male name in Ireland (2010) and the 95th most popular in Northern Ireland (2010). Meanwhile, its late Latin equivalent of Nigel is the 932nd most popular male name in the United States and the 239th most popular in the Netherlands (2010).
A feminine offshoot is the floral, Nigella, borne by British TV chef, Nigella Lawson. It is also the scientific name for the plant known as Love-in-the-Mist.
Other feminine forms include the Scottish Neilina, the Icelandic Njála and the continental Scandinavian Nilsine.
Other masculine forms include: