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FROM THE PERSONAL NAME WILLIAM TO THE SURNAME WILSON

Wilson means 'son of Will', Will being a shortened form of the personal name William, taken from the Germanic word 'Willa helm' later Normanised to William. Most writers agree that it originated in Old Germany but differ on the actual meaning of the word. William also became a personal name with the Franks, one of Europe's great barbarian tribes, as early as 800 A.D. The name William later arrived in Britain with both the Normans (of Viking ancestry), and the Flemings (of Frankish ancestry). In British medieval documents, following the arrival of William the Conqueror and his Norman and Flemish followers, new  personal names brought by both groups rapidly replaced the old ones, William itself is one of these new names. Many of the landowners and tenants adopted the newly introduced names to please their new Norman king and his rulers. The Normans also introduced new naming customs - one of which was to keep the same personal names within the family. Many children were named in honour of a famous king or local leader of the time. William in particular became especially popular in England after the Conqueror's arrival, and later, when he became King William I of England. Due to the above circumstances, and, as the population increased, so did the number of individuals in an area with the same personal names. This became problematic when it came to the keeping of written records and not being able to distinguish those with a similar name in documents. The situation was later resolved with the creation of individuals having a second name, we know today as our surname. Like the Norman custom of keeping the same personal names, these new surnames also became fixed within a family. An individual William's surname may have its origin in the profession his family was in, or, adopted from the place where he lived. Another common practice was for surnames to be created from an individual's father's personal name. For example, a John whose father was a William, or Will, could well have been recorded as John Wilson and from that point forward, Wilson became their family's fixed surname to be continued down through the generations to the present-time. Today, the various British Wilson families probably carry the blood of any one of the various peoples' who first settled in Britain many centuries earlier. And, we can only guess as to the original number of unrelated Wilson families which were founded in Britain. What is certain is that all the Wilsons found round the world today do not stem from just one original Wilson family or ancestor called William, but will represent an unknown number of original Wilson families. The Wilsons do not belong to one genetic group but many, each living Wilson represents his original founding Wilson ancestor who might just have been culturally a Celtic, Saxon, Danish, Norman or Fleming.


SCOTLAND – HOME OF MANY SONS OF MANY WILLIAMS

While William as a personal name was becoming well established in the years following William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066, it was a similar story north of the border in Scotland. By 1165, Scotland had a new king in the form of William the Lion, brother and successor of Malcolm IV. Both countries had now undergone a successful transformation to Norman ways and now both kingdoms could claim to have had a king named William. Even prior to William the Lion ascending the Scottish  throne, during his older brother’s reign the country had at least three abbots, a bishop, a chamberlain, a chancellor, a chaplain, a clerk,  a physician and sheriff all called William – and this does not account for the lower-classes of Scottish society who were alluded from being documented. Following the reign of William the Lion, Scotland’s next famous son was another William - William Wallace, sometime guardian of Scotland and a hero and supporter of Scottish independence from England. With a nation boasting so many Williams, many sons of those Williams would be destined to be the founders of a large number of Wilson families in early Scotland. In the Gaelic-speaking Highlands of Scotland, William as a personal name had established its self there too, as later records refer to a number of individual sons with a father named William and appear in the records as McWilliam, or MacUilleam in Gaelic.

 

FROM WILLIAM’S SON TO THE WILSON SURNAME

In the reign of Scotland’s king, Alexander I (1106 -1124), it was noted by one writer [Black] that no surnames appear in his charters until the reign of his brother and successor, David I (1124-1153), when they had come into use.  He goes on to state that it was probably around the end of the 14th century before patronymics became fixed surnames in Scotland. A patronymic is when an individual takes his father’s name and adds son to the end of it to be his second name. For example William’s son John would become known as John Williamson or Wilson, indicating that he is John the son of William. Whenever a family later adopted a fixed second or surname, all those born later in that family would all have the same fixed surname. One of the first Wilsons recorded in Scotland was a ‘John Wulson’ who was a merchant in the service of ‘Sir John Mountgomery’ in 1405. The Montgomery’s were an old Renfrewshire and Ayrshire family of Norman ancestry. This may indicate that John Wulson or Wilson was also from a Renfrewshire or Ayrshire family, living in the west of Scotland. Wulson is still the way some Scots say Wilson today. Certainly, soon after Wilson becomes numerous in the Paisley and Renfrewshire districts as a whole by the 16th and 17th centuries. Other contemporary Wilsons are recorded in Irvine, Ayrshire, in 1418 and slightly later in 1467 the surname was noted in use in the east side of Lowland Scotland at Berwick. On the other extreme, in the far north of Scotland, a Wilson held land in Orkney in the 1490s. All the above mentioned Wilsons were highly unlikely to be connected by blood and very likely had various ancestral roots in the earlier peoples who settled in their districts, possibly as Celts, Vikings, Normans and Flemings, to name but a few. By the 16th and 17th century, Wilson can be found being well-established as a family name in all corners of Lowland Scotland. In The Gaelic Highlands, fixed surnames did not come into extensive use until around the time of the second Jacobite Rising of the mid-1700s.

It could be envisaged that all of the name Wilson in early medieval Scotland were of a social level parallel to that of the merchant-burgess-classes and living within the country’s Royal burghs. And for those other Wilson’s living outside the burgh boundary, we're likely to be operating in daily life as tradesmen or holders of tenanted lands, held either from a local lord or Abbey. There are a good number of farming-tenants to be found in the various charters of lands held by Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Borders. Because Wilson is labelled as a patronymic, in Scotland they are generally regarded as being of the non-landed classes and essentially tenants of land and not owners of it.  If any landowning Wilsons were indeed around in early medieval Scotland, they were landowners on a very small scale and not apparently amongst the big landowning clans and families of Scotland at this period in time until later.

 

 THE RISE OF THE NOBLE NAME AND ARMS OF WILSON IN SCOTLAND

By the 15th century, Scotland’s population was now a mix of descendants of the original Celts, Irish Gaels, Danes, Vikings, Normans and Flemings who had all settled in Scotland earlier. As the Scottish Lowlands entered the final years of the 15th century and into the early 16th century, Wilson families begin to emerge on record and from the county’s general population as small landowners. Two particular land-owning Wilson families are found in such records at this period, the lairds (lords) of Croglin in Dumfriesshire held their lands, firstly from Baron Dunbar of Cumnock, and later from Baron Crichton of Sanquhar. The second family was the lairds of Haylee in North Ayrshire. As both families date from around the same period and with similar heraldry, this may strongly indicate that they were one and the same family, possibly descended from an earlier Flemish settler to Scotland. Both families’ heraldry also carries the red chevron of the ancient Earls of Carrick whose vast landholding was situated between the said two Wilson estates, and for their heraldic crest, the red lyon rampant of  the king of  Scots was used. Evidence also suggests that the Wilson of Croglin family was the first ‘user’ and ‘holder’ of the most ancient and plain coat of arms for the noble name of Wilson in Scotland today. This may be an important factor in establishing the Wilsons and to proclaim their official recognition as a well established noble and social community of long standing within the ancient realm of Scotland and to stand amongst the other great Scottish clans and families
 

 

 

Historic Coat of Arms of Wilson of Croglin (Image © 2012)







HISTORICAL EVENTS IN WILSON HISTORY

1263 AD
In this year the battle of Largs was fought near today's town of that name in north Ayrshire when a Scot's army defeated the Viking army of King Hakon of Norway.  It is also said the Wilsons (of  the later estate of Haylee) were part of a local infantry numbering around 500 men under the command of Alexander, the 4th High Steward of Scotland (1214 - 1283).

1528 AD
John Wilson of Croglin, along with many of the lesser barons of Nithsdale and Galloway, failed to answer the royal summons to muster with their men at Tantalon Castle. Tantalon was the seat of the Red Douglas family and King James V (1513 - 1542) was conducting a siege against the castle when Douglas (the young king's stepfather) attacked the royal besiegers.