Watson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Watson Meaning
Watson is patronymic, from “son of
Wat”. Wat was a medieval
abbreviation of the Germanic name Walter, coming from wald meaning “rule” and heri
meaning “army.”  The
surname sprung up in the Scots Lowlands and in the north of
Watson Resources on

Select Watson Ancestry

Scotland. Watson, Watt,
and MacWatt are all names in Scotland derived from Wat or

Watsons in
Edinburgh dates from 1392. The Watson family of Saughton near
Edinburgh was
influential landowners in the area for about three centuries from
George Watson
was a wealthy Edinburgh banker who, on his death in 1723,
bequeathed the bulk of his fortune to what was to become Watson’s
College in
the city.

Walter Watson was recorded as a landowner in Dumbarton on
Clydeside in
1494. A number of his descendants became magistrates and provosts
(mayors) there. The Watsons have also been long-established at
in Arbroath.

England. A Watson family has been at Rockingham
in Northamptonshire since 1530 when Edward Watson,
the founder
of the
Watson dynasty, first leased the castle. The direct family line
the death of the 3rd Earl of Rockingham in 1746.

Another line,
continued with Charles Watson-Wentworth, Lord Rockingham, who was twice
Prime Minister in the late 1700’s. Some of the Watson families in
Yorkshire may also have had a lineal descent from these Watsons.

A line of Watsons held the old Malton priory and later acquired Bilton
near Harrogate in Yorkshire. Joseph Watson started his soap
business in
Leeds in
1830. This was transformed by his grandson Joseph into the
largest soap
manufacturer in the north of England. The firm was known as

One Watson family history began with the birth of John Watson
Renwick, Cumberland in 1721. They later
spread across Cumberland and Northumberland, as well as abroad.

Ireland. Many
Scots Watsons migrated to Ulster during the 17th
century. Watsons from Ayrshire were in
county Down as early as 1607 as part of James Hamilton’s plantation. A number of Watsons were involved in the
defense of Londonderry during its siege in 1689, including Captain
Watson, Master of the Gunners, and Captain George Watson, a signer of
letter to William and Mary.

Many Ulster Watsons left for America in the 18th
century. Others stayed. Robert
was a
pioneer of the linen industry in Lurgan, Armagh. In
1808 he built one of the first hand-loom
factories in Ireland.

America. Thomas Watson came to Salem,
from Devon in England in 1640. A much
later Thomas Watson, who worked with Alexander Graham Bell on the
was born in Salem in 1854. Whether the
two were related is not known.

The majority of the Watson arrivals, however, were Scots or
Scots Irish.

Thomas Watson
the Scotchman
came to Cherrystone Creek in
Pittsylvania county, Virginia sometime in the 1740’s when it was still
territory. His descendants, at first
Presbyterian and then Methodist, were still living at the Scotchman’s
homestead in 1892 and are still in the area today, the last five of
them being
named Fletcher Watson.

Others who stayed put were the Watsons on land between
the Edisto and Saluda rivers in South Carolina.
William Watson had arrived there in 1745 in a circuitous route
that had
taken in New York, Virginia, and North Carolina. He
himself met his death in a fight with
Cherokee Indians on the Edisto river, supposedly through the treachery
of false

Among the Scots Irish Watsons were:

  • Matthew Watson who arrived in Boston
    from Derry in 1718 and settled in Leicester, Massachusetts shortly
    thereafter. He was not to live long,
    however, being hit by a falling tree in 1720. But
    his son Matthew, born in 1696, lived onto 1803.
  • John Watson from
    Donegal who came to Lancaster county, Pennsylvania in 1730.
  • and other Watsons
    who came to Pennsylvania at that time and later moved onto South

Asia. Thomas Boswell Watson, born on
outskirts of Edinburgh, moved to Asia in the 1840’s and started a small
business in Hong Kong. From these
beginnings came the Watson chain of beauty and health stores in SE Asia.

Australia. John Watson had come to
Tasmania in 1833 from
a shipbuilding family in Beverly, Yorkshire.
He built clippers and whalers there, many of whom his brother


Watson Miscellany

The Watsons at Rockingham Castle.  Rockingham
castle in Northamptonshire had been built by
William the Conqueror on the site of an ancient fortress commanding the
of the Welland river.  It remained a
royal residence for close on five hundred years.  However,
despite its admirable hunting
grounds, the castle was not well frequented by England’s monarchs.

In 1530 Edward Watson, a local landowner,
obtained a lease of Rockingham from Henry VIII and set about restoring
remained of the Norman castle, converting it into a comfortable Tudor
house.  He had grown rich in wealth and influence through his marriage to Emma
Smith, the niece of William Smith the Bishop of Lincoln and a great
favorite of
Henry VII.  His own line extended back to
an earlier Edward Watson who had been living at Lydington in Rutland
county in
1460 and was the father of fifteen children.

Edward’s son, also named Edward, had suspect recusant tendencies
even attended the funeral of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587 after her

His grandson Sir Lewis Watson
bought the castle freehold from James I in 1619 in more favorable times.  Sir Lewis supported the Royalist cause in the Civil War and as a result was created Baron Rockingham.  Apart from a brief period when Roundheads occupied the castle during the Civil War, the Watsons have lived there ever since.

Watsons of Saughton.  The lands of Saughton lay within the village of Corstophine, some three miles outside of Edinburgh.
They had been held by the Abbey of
Holyroodhouse until they were divided up among various families in the
century.  Richard Watson was the first of
the Watsons there in 1537.

Watson line at Saughton extended until 1818 and
James Watson, but no further.   His
sons were reported killed in the Boer War.

mighty oak was the symbol of the
family.  Their coat of arms showed two
hands extending out
of clouds gripping a young oak sapling with roots extending.  There were five oak trees leading up the lane
to the estate at Saughton.  When a school
was built on this estate in 1920 after Saughton House had burned down,
children re-planted the five oaks on the road into Broomhill Primary

George Watson and His School.  George Watson was born in Edinburgh in 1854, but orphaned at
an early age.  Thanks to an aunt, he was
sent at the age of 18 to be educated in book-keeping at Rotterdam.  He returned to Edinburgh to be the private
secretary to Sir James Dick in 1676.
Based partly on this experience he became one of Scotland’s most
accountants of his time.  He was
appointed chief accountant to the Bank of Scotland when it was founded

He died in 1723 a wealthy man.
There is a memorial plaque to him in Greyfriars
churchyard.  His
fortune was estimated at £12,000, a vast sum in those days.   Most of that money was bequeathed to
found a
hospital school for “entertaining and educating the male children and
grandchildren of decayed merchants in Edinburgh.”
Its foundation stone was laid in 1738 and
the building was completed early in 1741.

In 1870 the Merchant
Company of Edinburgh was granted powers by Parliament to reform all the
hospital schools under its management.
George Watson’s Hospital was then remodeled into a day school.  It first opened as George Watson’s College
that year, with a roll of 1,000 pupils.
It still operates on that basis today.

Watsons of Lurgan.  The Watson name appeared in the records of Lurgan in county Armagh as early as 1667.

It was
Robert Watson, born there much later, who was to make his mark on the
town.  His linen factory was founded at The Flush, so called after the river
which flowed through the site in 1808.  The
factory was sited at the end of Flush Place at the point where the
main street of Lurgan branched in three directions, to Belfast,
Waringstown and
Gilford.  It was thus very much at the
road transport hub of the linen industry in the area.  It is
considered by many industrial historians to have been one of the
earliest hand
loom factories in Ireland.

Watson made his home at Lakeview.  He
died in 1848 and he was succeeded in the company by his son Francis and
his son
Thomas followed him in turn.
were known in the area for the interest they took in their
employees.  In 1861 when Shankill Parish
Church was rebuilt, the principal window in the chancel consisting of
lights was presented by Francis Watson; and, when a peel of eight bells
installed in 1878, the largest subscription of
£200 came from William Watson.

Watsons were still living at Lakeview in
the mid 1950’s and their company was
manufacturing fine quality handkerchiefs until the early 1960’s.  But then, like others in the area, competition
drove it out of business. The factory
site is now long gone.

Thomas John Watson the Scotchman.  Thomas John Watson was known as “the Scotchman” in
Virginia.  Legend has it that he had been
sentenced to be executed for his religious beliefs (he was a
Presbyterian), but
had subsequently been pardoned.  It was
said that he had come to America in search of a brother who had been an Admiral in the British Navy.

made his home at Cherrystone Creek in
Pittsylvania county around the
year 1740 and was one of the very first
European settlers there.  Eight
generations of the family have gone by
and the Watsons are still there in what is now the town of Chatham.

Judge Fletcher B. Watson
IV is the present incumbent.  He
resides at the Whittle Street Watson home,
on a ridge
above Cherrystone Creek, that was
built in
1894 by the first Fletcher Bangs Watson, a veteran of the Civil
War.  Prior to that time the family had lived in the Scotchman’s
old homestead.

The Watsons were
instrumental in establishing Methodism in the area. Today’s Watson
United Methodist Church stands on North Main Street. 

The Watson Brothers in Tasmania.  One of the pioneers of the shipbuilding industry at Battery Point in Hobart was John Watson.  After his arrival in 1833 he began his Tasmanian
career as a shipbuilder in the government yards at Port Arthur.  His brother George was also well-known as a
in Tasmania’s shipping world.  He had
arrived three years earlier at the age of 29 with his wife and two

John Watson and Captain George Watson – one a
and the other a ship’s captain – induced young men to build ships and
to take
them to sea. They did this with the convict lads from Point Puer at
Port Arthur
and also with the roughest and toughest of the adult convicts there.

John Watson built the Blue Gum Clippers
it was his brother George who navigated them.  Their
main business was whaling.  Whaling
activities in fact reached their peak
in Hobart in the late 1840’s.

Chale Watson, George’s eldest son, left
Tasmania and made his way to Victoria and then to Queensland to fulfill
dream of becoming an explorer.  Sprinkled
within his journal notes are many references to his boyhood days when
he spent
time onboard boats that visited Tasmania.  He
had fond memories of time spent with the sea
captains who enjoyed the hospitality of his family household.


Watson Names

  • George Watson was a 17th century Edinburgh banker who founded Watson’s College, one
    of the leading private schools in the city.
  • Thomas Watson worked with Alexander Graham Bell on the invention of the telephone.
  • William Watson was a coal
    mining baron in West Virginia in the early 1900’s.
  • John Watson was the fictional
    associate of the detective Sherlock Holmes.
  • Robert Watson-Watt was the
    Scottish pioneer of radar.
  • Thomas J. Watson was the
    founder of the computer giant IBM.
  • Tom Watson is an American
    golfer, the great rival to Jack Nicklaus in the 1970’s.

Select Watson Numbers Today

  • 181,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 90,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 64,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Watson and Like Surnames  

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




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