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Early American Dalzells and Delzells

The Origin of the Name Delzell or Dalzell

Nesbit, the celebrated herald, was told that “Dalzell” meant “I Dare” in Gaelic and there may be some truth to this. But in that old Scots language, which has given the names to almost every river, hill, dale, farm and place in the middle ward of Lanarkshire, Dalzell or Dal Geal as it is known in Gaelic, means the white or beautiful meadow, the field of the sunbeam, or the white dale. This ancient expression gave the name to the Dalziel Parish church in Motherwell, to the Barony of Dalziel, to the Dalzell Castle, and probably to our ancestors who lived on the banks of the river Clyde.

The name Dalziel first appears in recorded history as the name of the Dalziel Parish Church, a small plain Gothic building built in the 12th Century on the banks of the river Clyde within the present city of Motherwell, about ten miles upstream from the city of Glasgow.

Long before the Dalziel Church was built, the lands along the banks of the Clyde were settled by the Picts who were then driven out by the Britons, members of another Celtic tribe. Later came the Romans who built the Antonine Wall across Scotland roughly from Edinburgh to Glasgow in the year 131 AD to keep the Picts and Celts in their place. There were two Roman camps and a Roman road near the site of the Dalziel Church in Motherwell. By about 430 AD the Romans had left England and Scotland, leaving the Britons in the lowland areas of southwest Scotland.

The ancient name of Dalzell is first mentioned as the name of a person, rather than a place in the records of Scotland, in the year 1259 AD. The next recorded account of the name Dalzell was in regard to Hugh de Dalzell, the Sheriff of Lanark from 1288 to 1290. From all of the above it seems that the name DALZELL first appeared in the records about two hundred years after the Norman Conquest in 1066 AD, but that the origins of the name probably go back long before that date. I strongly suspect that the people who ended up with the name Dalzell were a wild mixture of Pict, Celtic, Roman, Angle, Saxon, Flemish, and Viking blood who lived on or near the river Clyde in the Lowlands of Scotland.

Hugh Wayland Delzell summed it up this way. “Considering all the foregoing, I believe there was a family which traced, in legends, its beginnings in Scotland back to when they were subjects of Kenneth (II) McAlpine. He was the Scot King who, about 842 AD, succeeded in uniting the Scot and Pict Crowns in his own person. It was about this time that the rescue of the nude body, which gave rise to the legend, is supposed to have taken place. Over a long period of time this family seems to have gained some prominence and influence. When it became the custom, about the time of the Crusades, to design, display, and bear arms, one branch of the family seems to have drawn on the legend (by now perhaps 300 years old or even older). At about this same time surnames came into use and this family gradually combined the legend and the armorial bearings with the motto and the surname. Whether the above is accurate or not, the DALZELL name is indeed one of the oldest of family names which have come down to us from Scotland.”

There is one consistent thing about the name DELZELL, in its many different spellings, and that is the way it is pronounced in Scotland and in Ulster. It is pronounced DEE-ELL. Hugh Wayland Delzell, in Delzell Ties, told the following story about the pronunciation of the name DELZELL, “ When I told my mother about finding a reference to the old Scottish pronunciation, she said she remembered the old folks in the community called my great grandfather William, Mr. Dee’el.”

Today, there are many variations of the name; Dalzell, Dalziel, Delzell, Daleyell, Dalzielle, Daliell, and many others. In order to keep things simple, this chronicle will focus on two namesDALZELLl and DELZELL, which are often exchanged in the records and which are most often found among the Scotch-Irish immigrants to America.

The story of the origin of the name DELZELL, passed down in my family, is that two brothers with the name of DALZELL, came to America, and on shipboard they had a serious falling out.  As a result, one of the brothers changed his name to DELZELL.

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