According to Black’s Surnames of Scotland, Norvell is a shortened form of Normanville. There are two small towns in Normandy, France, named Normanville. One is located between the coastal town of Fecamp and the more inland town of Yvetot, the other town is further Southeast and even more inland, about 6 km North of Evreux. A couple of researchers have indicated a preference for the more coastal town between Fecamp and Yvetot as the place of origin.
The first record of the Normanville name in Scotland appears in a land grant of 1190 where a John de Normanville witnessed the transaction for Bernard de Hauden. The form of the name “John de Normanville” simply means “John from Normanville.” At this time in history, common surnames had not yet come into existence. People were signified by the place name their location of birth.
What can the name Normanville tell us about the history of the name? The place-name is found in Normandy, France, an area settled by Vikings(Northmen) from Scandinavia. A town called Normanville would indicate a place settled predominantly by Northmen/Vikings. By the way, the Normans were in England and, to a lesser extent Scotland, for some two hundred years BEFORE the so-called Norman conquest. The only battle in that conquest was between WIlliam I and his cousin Harold II, who was also of Norman descent! It seems to have been something of a family affair.
When the first Normanvilles arrived in England, there was a gradual cultural pressure to anglicize their Norman names to fit in with the prevailing local place-name forms. To digress a moment on place names; a small settlement in Germany is called a burg, as in Hamburg, or Wolfsburg. That same situation in France is called a ville, as in Abbeville and Normanville. In England, they were called towns, as in Southampto(w)n or Littlehampto(w)n. When Normanville was anglicized to Norville, the outward meaning of the name changed from ‘Norman village’ to ‘North village.’ Prior to that point, some Normanvilles evidently migrated north into Scotland. Those who remained in England eventually further anglicized the name into Norton (for north town). Some of those Normanville descendants who stayed in England apparently became confused with the Norton family, descended from Seigneur de Norville, a constable of William the Conqueror. (not related, and from the town of la Norville, now a suburb of Arpajon, 33km South of Paris)
For those Normanvilles who followed William the ConquerorÕs foray into Scotland, there was not the same social place-name pressure driving name changes. In fact, when William I went to conquer Scotland, his Norman technique of razing the towns and reducing the populace to living off the country until they surrendered, failed absolutelyÑbecause there were only scattered settlements. In 1072, he eventually arranged, through church officials, a meeting with the Scottish King, Malcolm Canmore, where the two sovereigns worked out an agreement for Scotland to swear allegiance to William and not cause trouble. So when the name became shortened to Norvel/Norvell/Norval in Scotland, it either remained largely unchanged or was affected by the local gaelic pronunciations resulting in Norvyle, Norvald and other possible variants.
Somewhere in this historical tapestry, some people from Normanville, France, were swept into England and from there into Scotland where they settled down, and can be found today in places such as Edinburgh, Perth, Sterling and Glasgow. With the release of the motion picture Braveheart, one can only wonder which side the Norvells supported when William Wallace was fighting the English in 1297-8! By the1290s, the Norvells had been living in Scotland for at least 100 years, some four generations or more. I wonder if, by then, they thought of themselves as Scots, or did they still ally themselves with the English?
During the early years in Scotland, the name developed several variants: Norvaile, Norvil, Norwald, Nowell, Norvyle, Norrell, Norvill, Norwell and Norwald, to list a few. By the 1500s the name had generally settled into the Norvell or Norval form seen today. However the final “e” seems to recur as either a tag that different Norvells have used from time to time to separate one branch of the family from another, or as a note of confusion that creeps into written records due to inattentive or careless officials.