Walters Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Walters Surname Meaning

Walter and Walters are surnames of German origin, from the Old German name Waldhar (from wasl meaning “rule” and hari “an army”). The Walter surname has been common throughout Germany.

Walter was also the early surname in England and Wales. The transition to the patronymic (“son of”) form of Walters began in the 14th century and somewhat later in Wales.  An alternative English spelling is Waters (probably from the medieval pronunciation of Walter as Wauter).

The current breakdown of these names in the English-speaking world is Walter 18%, Walters 50%, and Waters 32%.  Meanwhile the Dutch equivalent of the surname is Wouter, the French Gautier.

Walters Surname Resources on The Internet

Walters, Walter, and Waters Surname Ancestry

  • from South Wales, England, Ireland and Germany
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

There are some 90,000 in Germany today with the surname Walter plus an additional 15,000 in Austria and Switzerland. An early example of Walter appearing as a surname was Conrad Walteri in Wurzburg in 1214.

The Walter name first came to England around the time of the Norman Conquest and to America with the religious refugees from the Palatine that started arriving in the 1720’s.

Wales.  Walters has been a name primarily in south Wales. 

Pembrokeshire.  A Walters family was prominent here for well over two hundred years. The first in this line was John Walter, born in 1470, who held the title of Approver and Chancellor of the county. He apparently adopted his mother’s surname.

Their family homes were at Y Garn and Roch castle, although the latter was burnt down during the Civil War. William Walters lived through this troubled time in London. His daughter Lucy Walters became the mistress of Charles II. Their son James, created the Duke of Monmouth, started an ill-advised revolt against James II in 1685 which resulted in his death.

Elsewhere.  The Walters name extended eastward into Carmarthenshire and Glamorgan. John Walters, the 18th century cleric and scholar, was the son of a timber merchant from Llanedi in Carmarthenshire who died when he was young. John moved to Glamorgan where he was instrumental in setting up the county’s first printing press on which was printed his English-Welsh dictionary.  His son John was a clergyman as well and also published poetry.

England. Richard Wartyr was a merchant in York and recorded there as its mayor in 1436 and 1451.  A descendant was said to have been Robert Watter of Crundal, himself mayor there in 1591 and 1603.

He died in 1612 and the following inscription was put on his gravestone: “Sir Richard Watter, knight, alderman and twice lord mayor of the city. A father to the poor, a friend to the communality of this city, and a good benefactor to this church of the Crux, who died May 12, 1612.”

Later Waters in England seem to have been more concentrated in Shropshire and other English counties bordering Wales. Waters at Ludlow date from the 1500’s and Waters from Shropshire were among the early settlers in Virginia a century later.

Walter/Walters. The alternative spelling in England was Walter which, like in Wales, often became Walters.

The name William Walters was recorded in the subsidy toll of Staffordshire in 1327. It was said that the illegitimate children of Walter de Elmedon, the rector of Weston, took the name of Walters and made their home in Pylatonhale. Staffordshire has had subsequently sizeable Walters numbers.

William Walter was prominent in the affairs of Salisbury as early as 1410; while the Walter name continued to flourish at Stalbridge and at Blandford in Dorset in the 17th and 18th centuries. An account of these and other Walter families in England was given in Frederick Walters’ 1907 book The Family of Walters of Dorset and Hants.

John Walter was born in London in 1738, the son of a prosperous coal merchant.  It was he who started a small newspaper known as the Daily Universal Register in 1785.  Renamed The Times three years later, it was to become the premier English newspaper of record.  After his death two further John Walters, his son and grandson, were proprietors of The Times until Arthur Fraser Walter of the next generation changed the paper into a limited liability company in 1908.

Ireland. Waters was the spelling in Ireland. The name could either have been brought from England or have been an anglicization of a Gaelic name. 

Waters in Cork is thought perhaps to have been derived from the Anglo-Norman name Auters. This Waters merchant family of Cork was expelled from the town in the 1640’s but returned and were to be found at Tramore in the 19th century. Eaton Walters narrated the family history in his 1939 booklet The Waters Family of Cork. A related Waters family at Newcastle in county Limerick fled to Paris at the time of the siege of Limerick in 1690.

The Gaelic septs of O’hUisce in Connacht and O’Fuaruisce in Donegal were two septs which sometimes anglicized their name to Waters.  

America.  Walter, Walters, and Waters all came to America. In terms of ship arrivals, the largest numbers were Walter, coming from Germany, followed by Waters and then Walters. There were more Waters and Walter in the 1840 US Census than Walters.

However, the largest numbers of these names in America today are Walters, suggesting that many with the surname Walter in particular anglicized their name to Walters. There were also later families that adopted the Walters name, such as the Jewish forebears of the TV presenter Barbara Walters.

Waters. Edward Waters was an early arrival in Virginia, after many adventures, in 1617. He died in England in 1630 but left his family back in Virginia.

One line through John Waters settled in Maryland. A Waters home there in Montgomery county was built in 1755 and was home to five generations of Waters.  They lost their home after the stock market crash in 1929; while the house itself finally succumbed to a hurricane in the 1970’s.

Waters in this family included:

  • Richard Waters, a surgeon during the Revolutionary War.
  • Somerset Waters, an antebellum farmer in Carroll county, Maryland
  • and the present Baltimore-based film director John Waters. 

Another Waters home in Montgomery county built in the 1750’s was Belmont. The Waters line in Baltimore extended to Francis E. Waters who operated a successful lumber business in the late 19th century.

The Waters name also occurred at an early date in Salem, Massachusetts.  Richard Waters, a gunsmith from London, was recorded there in 1637. His descendants, who moved to Millbury in Massachusetts, carried on his gun-making tradition. This line was traced in Wilson Waters’ 1882 book Ancestry of the Waters Line of Marietta, Ohio.

A branch of the family moved further west in 1895 to Nebraska and they ran grocery stores there.  These Waters later returned to Massachusetts where Jim Waters started an instrument company in Framingham in 1958.  This is now the $1.9 billion Waters Corporation.

Walter.  The early Walters in America from Germany were migrants from the Palatinate who arrived in Pennsylvania in the early 1700’s.

Hans Conrad Walter, aged 58, left there with his two sons Hans and Bernard in 1732.  The family settled in Northampton county and were farmers. Jacob Walter was a merchant miller there in the late 19th century and a charter director of the Easton & Northern Railroad that ran through his property.

Frederick Walter came to Philadelphia from Germany sometime in the 1760’s. His son Joseph was a bricklayer in the city, his grandson Thomas Walter the famous architect who designed the dome of the US Capitol in Washington DC in 1850 and saw it completed fifteen years later.  Thomas’s grandson Thomas was also an architect, practicing in Birmingham, Alabama at the turn of the century.

Christian Walter, from the lower Rhine provinces of Holland, came to America around 1780, settling first in Pennsylvania and then migrating to Tuscawaras county, Ohio. John and Catherine Walter were another family who moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio in the early 1800’s, in this case to Stark county.

Fred Walter meanwhile had arrived in Ohio with his parents direct from Germany in 1833. He was drawn to California by the Gold Rush in 1850, prospered there as a brewer, but then in 1868 returned to Ohio where he ran a liquor business in Richland county.

Walters.  A southern Walters line began with Robert Walters from Scotland who had come to Pittsylvania county, Virginia sometime in the 1740’s and later moved to Georgia. His family was covered in Bettye Watters’ 1993 book Walters, Watters, Waters.

Six of his sons remained in Georgia. But Moses migrated south to Mississippi and then in the 1830’s to Texas. Moses’ daughter Elizabeth Walters had an illicit affair while they were in Mississippi. His son Robert lived on Walters’ Bend on the Sabine river in Texas where he operated a ferry.

An English Walters family came to central Pennsylvania in the 1790’s.  A descendant was William T. Walters, born in 1820, who moved to Baltimore as a young man and made his fortune in the grain and railroad businesses. He and his son Henry became avid art collectors and their collection has formed the basis of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.  

Canada. The Walters family of Lunenburg in Nova Scotia were mariners and fishermen, starting with Captain William Walters who died in Newfoundland sometime in the 1850’s.

His seafaring life was passed down to his son Elias and to his grandsons, Angus and John. Angus Walters became famous as the man who built and raced the Bluenose schooner in international competitions, winning five titles in the 1920’s.

John Walter from the Orkneys, like his father, enlisted in the Hudson Bay Company and departed for Canada. He headed for Edmonton in 1870 and stayed. He was one of the city’s pioneers, beginning with boat-building and expanding into lumber and other industries.

On his death in 1920 the Strathcona  Evening Chronicle wrote: “There is no more progressive and public spirited citizen than John Walter. All in all he has probably done more for the city than any other of its residents.”  

Australia.  Aaron Walters was a seaman in 1814 on the Broxbornebury which numbered among its passengers the convict Susannah Libemont. As the vessel was approaching Sydney, Aaron for some reason jumped ship. A reward was put out for his capture. In any case he married Susannah in Sydney a year later. He went on to farm in St. Albans, NSW, raise a family there, and keep a public house known as The Industrious Settler Inn.

William and Catherine Walter were free settlers from the small village of Bradworthy in NW Devon who came to Australia in 1851 and settled in Dunkeld, Victoria.

New Zealand.  Another William, this time Walters, came to New Zealand in 1846 with his father John, a copper miner from Cornwall. William married in Auckland in 1848 and later founded the Glenora Park Stud and Takanini racecourse.

Walters, Walter and Waters Surname Miscellany

Walter, Walters, and Waters Today

thousands Walter Walters Waters
UK     5    31    22
America    18    35    22
Elsewhere     7    19    15
Total    30    84    59
Percent   18%   50%   32%

Lucy Walters, the King, and Their Progeny.  Lucy Walters, mistress to King Charles II, had connections with some of the leading county families of west Wales.

Her great grandfather William Walter had purchased Roch Castle in Pembrokeshire in 1601 and her father William had been born there four years later. During the Civil War Roch Castle was taken by the Parliamentarians, recaptured by the Royalists, and then fell once again to Cromwell’s forces before being burnt down.

William and his daughter Lucy, however, spent much of this time in London. How Charles II, then the young Prince of Wales, came to meet Lucy Walters is not known.  She was with the exiled court at the Hague in the summer of 1648 and subsequently in Paris.  Their son, James, was born in Rotterdam a year later.

In 1656 Lucy returned to London and was arrested as a suspected spy and lodged in the Tower.  She was later discharged and deported.  She died two years later in Paris at the tender age of 28.

Charles II, who acknowledged the paternity of James, got possession of the child. After the Restoration James was created the Duke of Monmouth.  In 1685 he led a doomed rebellion against King James II and lost his own life as a result.

The Walters of Stalbridge in Dorset.  The first Walter appeared in the parish records there in 1606.  But their presence in the village grew when Peter Walter acquired Stalbridge Park in the 1690’s.  He was a scrivener (money lender) and thereby became a wealthy man, although not a respectable one.  Jonathan Swift wrote of him as follows:

  • “That rogue of genuine ministerial kind,
  • Can half the peerage by his arts bewitch,
  • Starve twenty lords to make one scoundrel rich.”

He was a neighbor at Stalbridge of the writer Henry Fielding who used him as a model for Peter Pounce, the rascally steward in his novel Joseph Andrews.

When Peter died in 1746 he left estates in Dorset, Somerset, and Surrey and a fortune estimated at over £300,000.  This eventually went to his grandson Edward.

Edward was able to live the life of a country gentleman,  Although he served as the local MP for twenty years he had little interest in Parliament.  Only the one vote recorded below was made by him over all those years in the House.  A fellow MP wrote of him in 1761:

“Before I left town I had a visit from Mr. Walter, a man of near £10,000 a year in the west; not only respectable for that but for his way of living likewise, which is generous and open.  He wished through me to request your Lordship to make his sister-in-law Mrs. Cockburn bedchamber woman to the Queen.  He said it was the only request he should ever make.”

Edward died without male issue in 1780 and the line ended there.

Arthur Fraser Walter of The TimesArthur was the second son of John Walter, the MP for Berkshire and proprietor of The Times.  As a second son, it was expected that he would choose some profession or simply be a country gentleman.

But that idea was abandoned when his elder brother John was drowned on Christmas Eve 1870 in the lake at the family estate at Bear Wood near Reading.  He had been attempting to rescue one of his brothers and a cousin who had fallen through the ice. By the untimely death of his brother, young Arthur became, while he was still an undergraduate at Oxford, the destined successor to his father in the management and chief proprietorship of The Times.

In 1880 Arthur was formally appointed as Joint Manager; and, on the death of his father in 1894, became the newspaper’s chief proprietor.  He retained that position until 1908 when he stepped back and The Times Publishing Company was formed with a capital of £750,000.

Unlike his father who was an MP and prominent in political life, Arthur preferred a quieter life.  He took a great interest in landscape gardening and was often actively engaged in the carrying out of his ideas. He inherited a taste for bricks and mortar from his father and set a high standard of building for the workmen’s cottages on his estate.

Edward Waters’ Adventures in the New World.  In 1610 Edward Waters, a gentleman, joined Sir George Somers in his expedition to Virginia that was shipwrecked in the Bermuda islands.  Sir George died shortly after reaching the islands.  His men embalmed his body and set sail for England to bury him, leaving three men – including Edward Waters – behind.

Marooned on the islands, the men decided to try to build a boat in order to reach  Virginia.  No sooner had they made that decision than they spied a sail standing near the shore.  This turned out the be an English ship captained by Master More.  Waters departed Bermuda with More.  Later he embarked on a voyage with More again to these waters.  But they got lost en-route and ended up in the Canaries.

In 1617 Edward Waters did get to Virginia.  There he married the fifteen year old Grace O’Niell.  A son William and a daughter Margaret were born to them.

His family was caught in the great Indian massacre of 1622.  Practically all of the white inhabitants in the area were murdered, but Edward Waters, wife, and two children were made prisoners by the Nandsamund Indians. During a storm, a boat load of supplies was washed ashore on the Nandsamund. The Indians holding the Waters discovered this and became so preoccupied with looting that the Waters family managed to make their escape in a canoe and crossed about 10 miles of water to an English settlement at Kecoughtan.

After that Edward’s family remained in Virginia. But in 1630 Edward returned to England where he died.  His will was executed in part by his brother John of Middleham in Yorkshire.

Somerset Waters and His Slave-Owning in Maryland.  The film director John Waters appeared in a 2021 edition of the PBS TV series Finding Your Roots where he was disturbed by the actions of his ancestor Somerset Waters.

In the 1850’s Somerset Waters was a farmer in Carroll county, Maryland.  According to records from the 1860 census, Somerset Waters (who died that year) held four people as slaves, three males and one female.

John Waters was shown a newspaper ad that his great great grandfather had placed in 1858, offering a $500 reward for a runaway slave, “a Negro woman calling herself Caroline Gassaway,” if she was “apprehended and returned” to him.

In state archives, researchers found court documents dated shortly after Caroline Gassaway ran away, that showed four men, three of them freed people of color, were arrested for helping her escape. They found news articles showing that they were found guilty and ordered to be sold into slavery.

To make matters worse, two of the freed men were purchased by Somerset Waters himself, for $800 and $175, in what may have been the worst possible situation for them.

Elizabeth Walters and William Taylor.  Elizabeth Walters was born in 1814 in a part of the Mississippi territory that later became Madison county, Alabama. She was the only daughter of eight children born to Moses Walters and Elizabeth Cawthon.  Moses later moved his family to the newly created Attala county in Mississippi.

Elizabeth began a relationship there with a married man named William Taylor.  As a result of this relationship, she gave birth to two children – William Taylor in 1834 and Lavina Taylor in 1836.  By the time of the birth of the second child, Elizabeth had moved to Texas with extended members of the Walters family. There is no evidence to indicate that Taylor accompanied Elizabeth and her family on their move to Texas or that he was present when Lavina was born.

After living for three years in Texas, Elizabeth married Zachariah Bottoms in Cherokee county.  The Walters family believed that Bottoms was part Choctaw Indian and had traveled west from Georgia in 1831 with his father and others on the “Trail of Tears.”

The story of Elizabeth’s early life is an interesting one, a life in which she and William Taylor had apparently defied society’s conventions of the time. But her story is also one that illustrates how living in remote areas during pioneer times was not conventional at all.

Thomas Walter and the Construction of the US Capitol.  By the time the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter in April 1861, the US Capitol building in Washington DC had been under construction for more than a decade. The new Senate and House wings remained unfinished and its dome rose to less than half its final height.

The Civil War that would test whether the nation would survive was a trial for the building itself, and also its long-suffering Philadelphia architect, Thomas Ustick Walter.

In May 1861 the project was halted “until after the war.” Thus Walter was forced to leave his greatest work unfinished.  In addition, after getting his wife and son to the safety of Philadelphia, Walter abandoned the DC townhouse that he had designed and built for his family in the 1850’s.

Walter’s family was numerous.  He fathered 13 children, 10 of whom were still living at the outbreak of the Civil War. Like so many families at this time the Walters were divided by the war. Sons Horace and Robert and son-in-law Martin Harmstead joined the Union Army, but Walter’s namesake, Thomas, joined the Confederate Army in Virginia. In an angry 1862 letter to his “traitor” son, the architect recounted how his own views of the war and slavery had taken a 180-degree turn following the outbreak of hostilities.

By the spring of 1862, when fears of an imminent Confederate invasion of Washington had subsided, work on the Capitol was officially restarted.  This was  good news for Walter, not only because he was once more receiving a paycheck, but it allowed him for the next three years to continue his work unmolested by the political infighting that had harried him for much of his Washington career. 

The Apotheosis of Washington was the crowning achievement for the Capitol’s interior. Inspired by the Panthéon in Paris, Walter designed a concave canopy to be suspended over the interior dome with sufficient space between to allow natural light.  Work on the painting was begun in 1863 by the Italian-born artist Constantino Brumidi.  The Apotheosis was completed in January 1866 and Walter, who had by now retired, called it a “decided success.” 

Angus Walters and the Bluenose Schooner.  In the early 1900’s, there existed a friendly rivalry between the fishermen of the United States and Canada along the East Coast to determine who had the fastest boat.  This rivalry resulted in 1920 in the first International Fishermen’s Race being held between the fishermen of Gloucester, Massachusetts and those of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

Unfortunately, Angus Walter’s schooner broke a mast and he lost the trial for the race.

After that a group of Halifax businessmen, wanting to give Canada a better chance to win, established a racing committee. They approached a Halifax marine architect to design a ship. Walters was approached to be the captain and shipbuilders Smith and Rhuland were chosen to build Bluenose. In March 1921 the Bluenose was launched.

In October 1921 the first race was held and Walters led Bluenose to victory.  He was now in a position to represent Canada in the Second International Fishermen’s Race.  Bluenose won and continued to win five international titles under Walters’ command.

Walters, Walter, and Waters Names

  • Lucy Walters was a mistress of Charles II who bore him the ill-fated Duke of Monmouth. 
  • John Walters was a notable 18th century Welsh cleric who published An English–Welsh Dictionary in fifteen parts
  • John Walter was the founder of The Times newspaper in London in 1788.
  • Thomas Ustick Walter was the architect who designed the dome of the US Capitol in Washington DC in 1850 and finished it fifteen years later.   
  • Catherine Walters, known as “Skittles,” was one of the last great courtesans of Victorian London.
  • Barbara Walters, from a Jewish family, is an American broadcast journalist and author. 
  • Julie Walters is a popular English actress.

Walters, Walter and Waters Numbers Today

  • 36,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hampshire)
  • 75,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 26,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Walters and Like Surnames   

Patronymic surnames can be with either the “-son” or the shorter “s” suffix to the first name.  The “s” suffix is more common in southern England and in Wales.  Here are some of these surnames that you can check out,


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Written by Colin Shelley

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