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Origins of the Name

 

(The following draws much from the work of Fred Sproule and James Sproul as well as other sources)

The "Sproul" surname has many written forms today. Indeed, a variety in spelling has been present throughout history.  Forms of the name include Spreull, Sprule, Sprewl, Spreule, Spreuile, Spreall, Spruyile, Sprwl, Sproull, Sproul, Sproule, Sprool, Sproole, Sprowl, Sprowle, Sprall, Sprawl and Sproule. In some cases  "s" has been added to the end of the name. There appears to be some 30 to 40 variations on the same name. Current genetic research suggests that these are all variations of the same initial surname. The wide variation in the spelling of the name should not be surprising as spelling in the English language did not become standardized until the 18th century and surname spellings remained remarkably variable even after this time.  As late as the 19th century many people did not know how to spell and early written records of their names were written down in whatever fashion the local clergyman, government official or census taker wanted to. 

So, with all this in mind, what was the first version of the Sproul name and who bore it?  The earliest written records of any variation of the name Sproul come from western Lowland Scotland (current area of Dumbartonshire and Renfrewshire) in the 13th century. These records relate to a Walter Spreull. We are fortunate because there are a number of references to Walter Spreull and his descendants from the Medieval period forward. This lucky happenstance allows for tracing of the name, its subsequent evolution and its spread throughout the world.  The reason for the availability of these early records is that Walter was the seneschal (steward) to Malcolm, the 5th Earl of Lennox. He and his immediate descendants were granted written charters for land and as seneschal he was a witness listed on other charters.  Walter and his descendants are also mentioned in other early documents including court cases. The fact that he and his descendants were minor nobility (lairds) under the original Celtic Earls of Lennox and later Stewart Earls of Lennox provides us with early records of the family.

 

The time that we first encounter Walter Spreull is at the dawn of modern surname usage in Scotland. We find Walter Spreull listed as a witness to a land grant made by the 3rd Earl of Lennox around 1245 CE. We also find him mentioned as Walterum Sprewl in a latinized form in another similarly early document. He also signed fealty to King Edward I of England in the Ragman Roles (1291-1296). In these documents he appears twice in relationship to his estates in western Lowland Scotland - Wauter Spreul Wauter (del counte de Lanark) and Wautier Spreul (del counte de Dunbretan). Based on his early appearance and written records of the growth of his family, Walter Spreull is taken as being the potential patriarch of the family that gives rise to all the various iterations of the name today. There is also a later Medieval document (a property transaction from 1283) that mentions a “Nicholo dicto Sprowll” who was a burgess of Glasgow. This document is in latin and the latin word “dicto” means “called”.  So, by no later than 1283 the name was spreading and morphing.

Now what is the meaning of the surname Spruell? Why was Walter called by that name?  A number of people have speculated on this as recounted below. At this time many of the early surnames were derived from the father's first name. All the "Mac" and "Mc" surnames in Scotland and Ireland arose from this - Mac denoting 'son of'.  Other surnames came from a geographic location, such as the village of birth,  associated with a person. There is no strong evidence either of these situations was true in the case of Walter Spreull.  Perhaps the name came from some attribute associated with Walter and his family? In the part of Scotland where Walter resided names could be drawn from Gaelic, early English/Scots (Saxon-derived) or Norman French.  The name could have arisen from the Old Gaelic word  - Spruill(e) - meaning a fragment, and describe someone who was small.  It could also have arisen from Early and Middle English/Scots  such as the Middle Scots word - spreul - which means to sprawl or the Old English word - spreawlian - which means to move convulsively More positively, the name could arise from the Middle English word - sproul - which means energetic.  At this point I can find no Norman French possibility. The original meaning of the name  is a question that remains without a clear answer.

Research on the origins of the family name continue. Stay tuned for more!

The Name Today

Since the time of Walter Spreull there have developed many variations on the spelling of the family name. As discussed above, this is not surprising. DNA work by the Sproul DNA project shows that despite differences in spelling, many of these variations come from a common ancestor who at this point we might consider Walter Spreull being the working hypothesis. So, what are the most common variations today? Where are these different variations distributed geographically?  Thanks to the research of  https://forebears.io we have some insights.   They state they have a global sample of 4 billion incidence of names and from their 2014 data base. We can draw some important information of the name Sproul  and all associated names today.  It is likely that these numbers may either undertstate or in some cases overstate the actual numbers of people bearing the surnames listed below. These figures should be viewed as rough approximations. Below is the incidence and percentage of variations on the name Sproul and associated names from Forebears.io data.   There are 32,239 incidences of the names related to Sproul based on the forebears.io analysis of name similarity-

Global Count

NAME      INCIDENCE      PERCENT

Spruill       9,469            29.37

Sproule     5,475             16.98

Sproul       5,203             16.14

Spruell      2,209              6.85

Sproull      2,098              6.51

Sproles      1,884              5.84

Sprowl       1,430              4.44

Spruiell        992              3.08

Sproll          889              2.76

Spraul         596               1.85

Sprules        472               1.46

Sprole         207               < 1%

Spruiel        180

Spruel         177

Sprauel        162

Sprull          152

Sproules       112

Spruille         89

Spraley         71

Spreutel        49

Spreull          39

Spratler         37

Sprossel        33

Spruil           30

Sproulle        24

Sprawl          24

Sprooles       19

Spreuwel      14

Sprile           11

Sprutles        10

Sprowel        10

Variations with less than 10 recorded individuals - Spruielle,Sprouel,Sprottle,Spreuill,Spraull,Spreewell,Spraule,Sprol,Sprule,Sprulle,Sprul,Spruelle,Sprool,Sprutell,Sprotle,Sproulis,Sprolles, Spruielle,Sprouel,Sprottle,Spreuill,Spraull,Spreewell,Spraule,Sprol,Sprule,Sprulle,Sprul,Spruelle,Sprool,Sprutell,Sprotle

TOTAL        32,239

The family is small when compared to families with common English and Scottish surnames such as Smith (4,628,066 individuals in the data base) or Campbell (828,342 individuals in the database).

Global Geography

 

In terms of geographic distribution, most of the incidences of names associated with the family are found in the United States, Canada, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Below is the geographic occurrence of common variations of the mane based on data from forebears.io.

Name

Country                        Incidences                      Frequency

 

Spruill

United States                  9,449

Sproule

 

Canada                          2,162                            1:17,020

United States                  1,167                            1:309,556

Australia                         897                             1:26,504

Northern Ireland               464                             1:3,976

England                          286                             1:194,405

South Africa                     218                             1:247,590

Scotland                         141                              1:37,976

Ireland                             53                             1:88,175

New Zealand                     42                             1:107,797

Singapore                         19                             1:289,503

Sproul

United States                  3,820                           1:94,568

Canada                            600                           1:61,330

Scotland                          270                            1:19,832

England                           245                            1:226,938

Australia                          136                            1:174,808

South Africa                       44                            1:1,226,694

New Zealand                      31                             1:146,048

Jamaica                             30                            1:95,740

Wales                                 7                            1:442,049

Ireland                                3                            1:1,557,760

Spruell

United States                    2,179                            1:165,788

England                              17                            1:3,270,573

Australia                              6                            1:3,962,312

Canada                                3                            1:12,266,002

Germany                              3                            1:26,742,876

Scotland                              1                             1:5,354,592

Sproull

United States                   1,517                             1:238,135

Canada                             318                             1:115,717

Scotland                           102                             1:52,496

New Zealand                       67                             1:67,574

Australia                            46                             1:516,823

England                             44                               1:1,263,630

Sproles

United States                   1,854                            1:194,850

Australia                             28                            1:849,067

Chile                                    1                            1:17,616,546

England                                1                            1:55,599,742

Sprowl

United States                    1,320                           1:273,675

Canada                               93                           1:395,677

Scotland                              13                           1:411,892

United States Census Data

The 2010 US Census provides a tabular summary of the number of respondents by surname. This gives a snapshot of total number of members of the Sproul family surnames in the United States in recent years -