The exact origins of the name Cornelius are unclear. It was likely from an old Roman family name and possibly a derivative of Latin “cornu” horn (i.e. cornucopia). Cornelius does have several variants: Dutch: Cornelis. French: Corneille. Polish: Kornel(i), Korneliusz. Czech: Kornel.
Biblical & Historical. From the Cornelian gens, meaning “horn of the sun,” i.e. “kingly; powerful.” It has the feminine Cornelia. Usage: America, England, Holland, Ireland.
The Latin name. Some translate it “horn.” Littleton says, “à belli cornu.” The name in Greek is Κορνήλιος (Kornelios), which some translate “horn of the sun.” If so, it must come from χερας horn, and ηλιος. Viscount Gort (N. Q. 4th S. x. 300) says the name Connor has been transformed into the classical name Cornelius. (Prænomina, Charnock, 1882).
Cornelius was a centurion in what was called the Italian Regimen once stationed at Caesarea. A devout and generous man, his prayers and alms were accepted by God, one of whose angels directed him to send to Joppa for Peter, who would indicate to him the path of duty. He did so, and Peter was prepared for the coming of Cornelius’s messengers by the vision of the sheet let down from heaven with the animals clean and unclean, the latter as well as the former to be slaughtered if he liked it for food.
Peter responded to the invitation, went with some Christian friends from Joppa to Caesarea, preached the gospel to Cornelius, and was the means of converting him and his household, Divine confirmation of what had been done being at once given by the descent upon them of the Holy Ghost, with the impartation of the gift of tongues. The event was one of prime importance in the early Church, commencing as it did the long-promised calling of the Gentiles (Acts x. 1-48).
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.” (Acts 10:1-2).
Although this interesting name usually has Roman origins, the “modern” name owes more to French influence during the medieval period. It derives from the Latin “Cornelius” meaning “horn”, through the later French “corneille”. The cathedral of St Cornelius in France was for many centuries a place of particular pilgrimage. In the middle ages however the name may have taken on a different meaning. “Corneille” described a crow, and hence the name and surname was probably a nickname for a talkative person!
The name was introduced into England after the Norman Invasion of 1066, and it also spread rapidly across the whole of Northern Europe as far as Russia. The surname now has over fify spellings which range from basic forms such as Cornel and Quernel, to patronymics such as Nilles, Cornlissen, and Kornilyev. The earliest examples of the name recording are to be found in England. This was the first country to adopt hereditary surnames. Examples include William Corneille in the pipe rolls of Oxford for the year 1206, and Henry de Cornell who is mentioned in the Poll Tax Records of Staffordshire in 1229.Amongst the early settlers to the New England colonies of America, was a Fleming by the name of Pierre Cornille. In 1621 he was given special dispensation to emigrate to Virginia. His occupation is given as “wine dresser”.
The first recorded spelling of the family name anywhere in the world is shown to be that of Herbert Corneilla, which was dated 1148, in the charters of the county of Hampshire, during the reign of King Stephen of England, 1135 – 1154. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to “develop” often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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