"Vidal is/was a common sephardic surname. It isn't used very much anymore, and most bearers of the name can trace jewish heritage from spain. In the 1500s and 1600s MANY Spanish Jews left for the Netherlands. The flourishing jewish community of Amsterdam was for centuries composed mainly of Sephardic Jews. Catalunya was a large jewish center before the expulsion, centered in Barcelona. Most Jews of this region fled into France, and then north the Netherlands or England."
"In Gore Vidal's book "Palimpsest" he discusses his research into the family name and comes to the conclusion that his family was probably Jewish (I would look it up for you but it's not in the book's index). The name was popular among Jews who adopted Christianity in the Middle Ages. They had a penchant for adopting names that were noncommital yet sounded positive to Europeans. According to Gore, Vidal means 'life' and is probably the same as Vitale in Italy, which was also commonly adopted."
"The name Vidal is a catalan variant of Vital -- that is, alive or Life. Presumably, you have an ancestor with the Hebrew name Chaim, which means life, and in the secular world, he or his parents gave him the translated name Vidal."
"Vidal as a Jewish name is the translation of the Hebrew Chayim or Hayim. This means life in Hebrew. Being that you are in Belgium, and assuming your ancestors were there for generations, I would assume you have Sephardic heritage. Life is an important concept in Judaism. Its ritual and history celebrate life whereas Christianity being focused on death and resurrection have different emphasis. Chayim is a very common name as a result among Jews. Vidal Sassoon comes from Jewish family, I thing Gore Vidal's family were originally Italian Jews (although I don't think he is Jewish). Many Sephardim came to the Netherlands and Belgium to escape Inquisition persecution. Some re-converted to Judaism like the Espinosa, da Costa, de Castro's, Pinto's, etc. Some just wanted to be "unpersecuted Catholics". Your family could have fit into the second category. The desertion rate in Spanish and Portuguese vessels in the port cities on the Low Countries was quite high. You might want to visit the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam and the church close by to see some of the results of this."
"When I read your message I thought one moment I was reading in the newsgroup early music. Pierre Vidal is a rather famous "troubadour" from the southern part of France and a few times his name popped up in the early music group I regulary read. He was a poet and composer living around 1150 and when I remember it correct he was making love songs (courtly love) during part of his life at the court of Eleanor of Aquitania who was married with the English king Henry II. It may be he even went on a cruisade. The language in which the troubadours were writing was Occitan related to Spanish."
"There is a very old portuguese family VIDAL coming from the town of "Castelo de Vide". We know of several noble people using that name since at least 1400. There are other VIDAL portuguese families coming from other places. There were two "knights of the -portuguese - Order of Christ called José Jorge Vidal and Pedro Vicente Vidal circa 1770 whose family came from VALENCIA (Spain). The second one went to Portuguese India. "Castelo de Vide" was also the birthtown of other families called "de Vide" and "da Vide" (that became "David"), from whom we have news since 1200. "Vidal" and "Vide" use the same "cote d'armes". If you look in "Grand Larousse" I'm sure you'll find ONLY french people using the name Vidal (since the 19th century), but I have no idea where they came from. I disagree with Marcel when he says that "Vidal" is a typical Christian name. There isn't such a thing in what concerns the jews in Portugal and Spain. There were probably more than 150,000 jews circa 1500 in Portugal (and 1,000,000 portuguese?). To avoid being persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition many took christian (first and last) names. And what was a typical christian name became "everybody" name.
"The name VIDAL is indeed relating to jewish... VIDAL was name given to the jewish who had abjured their religion to be converted to christianism...you can also find VIDALOU... This is for the catalan origin. But another origin in the occitan areas of France is a corruption of the name VITAL (from St VITAL, name of 3 christian saints) . you can find the forms: VITAL, VIAL, VIALLET, VIDAL, VIDALENC, etc..."