Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Nigel

Nigel is an English masculine name which developed from “Nigellus”, a Medieval Latin form of Neil. Neil is actually an anglicized form of a long-enduring Gaelic name Níall (pronounced “neel”) used since the Middle Ages in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. Its root meaning is up for debate, but most etymologists believe it comes from a Gaelic words meaning one of three things: “champion”, “cloud” or “passionate, vehement”. All agree, however, that the usage of Niall/Neil started with a legendary late 4th/early 5th century High King of Ireland known as Níall Noígíallach (or Niall of the Nine Hostages) whose descendents from his Uí Néill dynasty would go onto rule Ireland for another 600 years. In Niall’s time, there were four kingdoms in Ireland - Ulster, Munster, Leinster & Connacht – and the most powerful king of the four enjoyed more central authority over the others (known as the High King of Tara). Níall was born one of five princely sons of Eochaid Mugmedón who held the distinction of being the High King of Tara. According to legend, the five sons were given a test to find water in order to determine which would inherit the throne. One by one, each brother came to a well of water guarded by a hideous old hag. They could only drink from the well if they agreed to kiss the repugnant woman (all refused). Only Níall passed the test when he agreed to the old lady’s request for a kiss. Not only was Níall recognized as the rightful heir, but the ugly hag transformed into the most beautiful woman in all of Ireland. Bonus points! After inheriting his father’s kingdom, Niall went about consolidating his power throughout the northern region of Ireland and dominating his enemies. He assisted the Scots and Picts in the Gaelic Dál Riata settlement (western coast of Scotland) against the pestering Romans, subduing the opposition by taking royal hostages (hence the Nine Hostages). The most famous hostage taken by Níall during one of his raids was a young Roman citizen who would later be called St. Patrick. Níall of the Nine Hostages was indeed a legendary “champion” and clearly a “passionate, vehement” Irish warrior of his day. The name Níall eventually morphed into Neil and Neal, but it is also the root origin of Nigel and Nelson. Nigel represents the Latinized form of Neil, although it is sometimes associated with the Latin word “niger” meaning “black”. It wasn’t until more modern times that Nigel found a wider audience in Great Britain, mostly due to Sir Walter Scott’s 1822 novel “The Fortunes of Nigel” (see literary references below).

All About the Baby Name – Nigel



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There’s no two ways about it. Nigel is one of those quintessential English given names. OMG it’s sooo British it practically begs to be pronounced with an English accent. Although the name dates back to the Middle Ages in England, Nigel wouldn’t cross the pond over to America until the 20th century in 1971. At first the name showed promising success as he reached the middle of the Top 1000 list, but then, after his peak popularity in the 1990s, old Nigel reversed his course. Usage of this name appears to have been just a minor and fleeting fad; Nigel dropped into obscurity very recently in 2011 when the name disappeared from the charts altogether. Out of circulation now, Nigel probably returned to England where he’s more comfortable. Some people think Nigel sounds just a little too British in that elitist, “look-down-upon-Americans” sort of way. Americans like to use the name Nigel when making light-hearted fun of English people. Remember the lead guitarist for the band “Spinal Tap” Nigel Tufnel in the cult-favorite 1984 mockumentary film “This is Spinal Tap”? That’s how we think of Nigel. Hilariously and unselfconsciously British. We think Nigel is the perfect name for a pet cat.

Quick Facts













Champion, Cloud, Passionate or Black




Highly Intuitive

Spiritual Teacher

Extremely Bright



Cultural References to the Baby Name – Nigel

Literary Characters


Nigel Olifaunt is the title character in Sir Walter Scott’s 1822 novel, The Fortunes of Nigel. Nigel is a young Scottish lord who travels to the court of King James the First in order to request protection of his estate through repayment of a royal debt to his father. Probably not a good idea to ask a king to pay you back. Caught up in the intrigues of court and victim to those who want his estate for themselves, Nigel is led astray. He endures many outrages before finding himself in the Tower, having imposed bodily harm upon a member of the court. Not to worry – there is a damsel to come to the aid of his distress – Margaret Ramsay, the watchmaker’s daughter, has taken a liking to him. She disguises herself as a boy (she’s been reading her Shakespeare) and appeals to the king to set him free. So peace and prosperity are restored, and Nigel weds Margaret, albeit based upon very little personal acquaintance with her. Nonetheless, he sorta owed it to her…and Margaret gets to step up in the world. In the eighteenth century, that’s a plus!

Childrens Books


We cannot find any childrens books with the first name Nigel

Popular Songs


That Must Be Nigel with the Brie
a song by Off With Their Heads

Making Plans for Nigel
a song by XTC

Famous People


Nigel Evans (British politician)
Nigel Harman (English actor)
Nigel Havers (English actor)
Nigel Hawthorne (English actor)
Nigel Keay (composer)
Nigel Kennedy (classical musician)
Nigel Olsson (drummer for Elton John)
Nigel Short (chess player)
Nigel Stock (English actor)

Children of Famous People


We cannot find any children of famous people with the first name Nigel

Historic Figures


We cannot find any historically significant people with the first name Nigel