Mainly North American: transferred use of the surname, in origin a local name from any of various places in England named with the Middle English phrase atten whiten ey ‘by the white island’. In the 1980s its popularity as a girl's name was enhanced by the fame of the American singer Whitney Houston (b. 1963).
English: habitational name from places in Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, and Staffordshire called Hartwell, from Old English heorot ‘stag’, ‘hart’ + wella ‘spring’, ‘stream’. In some cases the surname may have arisen from Hartwell in Hartfield, Sussex or Hartwell in Lamerton, Devon.