Wilson: Origin and meaning of surname

The patronymic surname Wilson literally means “son of Will” with Will being a diminutive form of William. William is a compound name with Germanic origins. It was introduced into England by the Normans when William, Duke of Normandy (1027 – 1087), also known as William the Conqueror, invaded England. The two compound elements, will (meaning “desire”) and helm (meaning “helmet for protection”) together, forms william (meaning “desire to protect” or “resolute protector”).1-4  The surname may also have been derived from the small hamlet Wilson near Devon, Leicestershire hence the frequency of this surname.5

Since it is a patronymic surname, it originated independently in many areas throughout Ireland, Scotland and England, with a very high concentration in Northern England. Therefore, not all Wilsons today are related to each other.1-4  

Numerous variations of the surname such as Williams, Wilson, Willson, Willeson, Willison, Wilsone, Wilfson, Wolfson, Wulson, Wolsaun, Wylsone and others appeared over centuries, as spelling in medieval times was a highly imprecise process, even for the literate. English was also a developing language influenced by its ruling royalties, surrounding nations and the Latin-speaking Roman Catholic Church.6,7


  1. Last name: Wilson. http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Wilson
  2. Wilson surname meaning & statistics. http://forebears.io/surnames/wilson
  3. Wilson (name). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilson_(name)
  4. William. http://www.thenamemeaning.com/william
  5. Reaney, P.H. (& Wilson, R.M.) 1961. A dictionary of British surnames. 2nd Ed. Routledge and Kegan Paul: London
  6. Wilson Family History. http://mineralogicalrecord.com/wilson/family
  7. English-language spelling reform. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English-language_spelling_reform