Wilson – from Conquerors to Presidents

History of the Irish name Wilson. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Wilson is one of the most common surnames in the English speaking world. Although many people in Ireland and of Irish descent around the world are named Wilson, it actually originated in Europe.

In the 8th and 9th centuries, the German word for desire, wil, merged with the word for helmet, helm, forming the name Wilhelm. This was first translated into English in the 11th century.

The English throne was about to be vacated by Edward the Confessor, and the Duke of Normandy battled English earl Harold Godwinson to take over as king.

History of Irish surnames

William the Conqueror

The Duke of Normandy killed Harold and was made king of England. The battle is now known as the Battle of Hastings and the Duke of Normandy became William the Conqueror.

During his reign, William became a popular name in England. The name Wilson then derived from that, as in a man who was ‘the son of William’.

The name was taken to Ireland by the Normans when they began their invasion in the 12th century, led by Richard de Clare, better known as Strongbow.

Many of the Normans settled in Ireland and were integrated into Irish society. Wilson then went on to be one of the most popular ‘Irish’ names.

As people of Ireland, England and Europe emigrated over the centuries, Wilson became one of the most popular names around the world.

One of the founding fathers of the USA

There have been Hollywood actors, sports stars, and successful politicians and musicians named Wilson.
Owen Wilson. Photo copyright Georges Biard CC3
James Wilson was one of the founding fathers of the United States and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States and held the post from 1913 to 1921. He attempted to mediate peace talks between England and Germany during the First World War, but neither side were willing to make any compromise.

Britain also had a leader named Wilson in the 20th century. Harold Wilson was twice elected as Prime Minister, and held the job from 1964-1970 and 1974-1976.

Hollywood actors and pop stars

Brothers Luke and Owen are two Wilsons that have become stars in Hollywood. Luke has starred in hit comedies including Old School and Legally Blonde.

Owen has formed a successful on screen partnership with fellow comedy actor Ben Stiller in films such as Starsky and Hutch, Zoolander and Meet the Parents.

Brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson formed the pop band, the Beach Boys in 1962, and Rainn Wilson is the actor that portrays the lovable eccentric Dwight Schrute in the American Office.

Wilson is also the name of the hugely successfully sports brand. They produce equipment for a variety of sports and supply the official ball used in the NFL.

Wilson are also closely associated with tennis equipment. Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf both played with Wilson racquets, as do current stars Roger Federer and Serena Williams.

History of Irish surnames