Heller is a surname which is Norman-French in origin from Jersey, one of the Channel Islands which in the eleventh century fell under dominion of the Duke of Normandy William the II. The name is derived from a Belgium hermit by the name of Helier who was martyred by Saxon pirates in 555 AD. The Heller’s crossed the channel in 1066 AD with William the Conqueror and settled initially in the Devon region. Hillersdon Estate is said to have originated in the time of Conquest, therefore Heller is also a place name.
As with names given to early medieval personages based on their occupation. Heller was originally in Devonshire used to denote someone who lived on a hill. Hill dweller, over the years combined hill and dweller to make the surname we see today. Heller, Hillers, Helier, Huller, Hull, the name has multiple spellings with the linguistic drift common with Norman names, as there are no rules in association as to how a Norman-French name could be translated into an Anglo-Saxon culture.
The Duchy of Cornwall has historically had a population of Heller surnames. Specifically within the township of Lostwithiel. Situated where the Fowey river estuary opened to the sea, it became a major port for export on the Cornish coastline. A place once famed for its tin mines going back to the Norman invasion. During the 13th century it became the capital city of the Duchy until the river Fowey which runs through the district silted up the harbor which in the 13th century made it too hard to continue exporting Tin.
One such place name derived from Heller is Kingston of Hull. It is part of the East Riding of Yorkshire. Another location name to the north of Devonshire where the first name was recorded. Hull was a popular name with English colonists coming to the Americas. There are three locations in Canada and nine locations in the United States of America named Hull.
In the later half of the 19th & early part of the 20th centuries, many Ashkenazic Jews, (Jewish people primarily from Yiddish speaking parts of Europe, Germany, Poland and Russia) were prompted to change their surnames to better blend in with different cultures.
As Heller sounds similar to Haler which is a South Western German /Yiddish word for someone who has a fair or having a light complexion it became a popular name to assimilate with. Because of the cultural exchange between Germany and the Kingdom of Hungary, the Heller surname can also be found in Hungarian families. Additionally the name Heller/Haller is a German name for a small silver coin used in the medieval period originally from Swabia.
In the midst of massive migrations from various locations in Europe to the United States it was not uncommon for a name to be changed at the port of entry. Heller is one such name, with its popularity primarily originating in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore.
Census records from the US Government show some of the first recorded Heller families to immigrate to the United States of America occurred in 1780 in Charleston,South Carolina followed shortly thereafter in Virginia in the Albermarle region. Both locations were places where the British authorities used German troops to maintain garrisons.
The American war for independence did not officially end until the treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. During the war, large contingents of Hessian and other German principalities’ mercenaries had been captured by the continental army were sent to an internment camp located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
The first immigration records show a progression of the immigrant census data which parallel the colonists in their successful campaign against the British. First in the deep southern campaign, then the mid-Atlantic region and lastly the upper portion of the colonies. At wars end large numbers of former German prisoners of war asked if they could be allowed to stay in America. It is estimated this was as high as one sixth of the total amount of troops deployed. Mercenaries within the British ranks made up almost a full quarter of all of the troops who served in the former colonies.
People of note by the last name of Heller:
Joseph Heller writer of Catch-22.
Sir Michael Aron Heller, Philanthropist, Businessman.
Steve Heller, Founder, Publisher of Cornish News, a humorous look at life in the Duchy of Cornwall.
US Senator Dean Arthur Heller, Jr Senator from the State of Nevada.
Max Moses Heller, Mayor of Greenville, SC and past Chairman of the South Carolina Development Board.
Lukas Heller screenwriter for movies such as Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, and What ever happened to Baby Jane.
Bruno Heller, screenwriter and producer of the HBO series Rome.
Dick Anthony Heller, Special Police Officer, Washington DC.
Laszlo Heller Hungarian inventor of the indirect cooling system for cooling power plants, through the use of heat exchangers.