Recorded as Nicholls, Nichols, Nickols, Nickolls, Nicolls, Niccols, Nicholes, Nickoles and Nickels, this is a surname which is regarded as British, but is ultimately of Ancient Grek origins. It is a patronymic from the medieval given name Nicholas, itself from the Greek "Nikolaos", having the unusual translation if not meaning, of "To conquer people". As a personal name in England it is first recorded in the famous Domesday Book of 1086. The first surname recording is over a century later, and examples include: John Nichole in a catalogue known as the "Unpublished documents in the Essex Records Office", Chelmsford, of about the year 1170, and William Nicholas, in "A Descriptive Catalogue of Ancient Deeds, Berkshire" in 1265. Early examples of the name recordings from English church registers include the marriage of Ellen Nickolls and Humfry Walden on October 26th 1589, at St. Dunstan's Stepney, and the marriage of Elizabeth Nichols and Brian Webster on December 3rd 1592, at Prescot, in Lancashire. William Nicholls was recorded as resident in the parish of "Jordans Jorney", near Charles Cittie, Virginia in 1624, having arrived on the ship "Dutie" in 1618. A coat of arms associated with the name has the blazon of a blue shield, charged with two ermine bars, in chief three gold suns, the crest a gold ducal coronet, with a silver demi lion rampant. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Waleram Nicholai. This was dated 1198, in the Curia Regis Rolls of Suffolk, during the reign of King Richard 1st, known as "The Lionheart", 1189 - 1199. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was sometimes known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
An additional CONVERSATION about the Nichols surname: http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/NICHOLS/2004-06/1088397518