Watts Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Watts Meaning
Wat as a given name in England dates back to the 8th century and an early Saxon king
of Sussex (who was recorded in charters at the time as Wattus
). A later Wat was Wat Tyler,
leader of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. Wat de Carnegy appeared
in Scotland in 1446. Wat by this time was
short for Walter, a popular name in medieval times derived from the Germanic Wattier or Wautier brought to England by the Normans.
The surnames Watt
and the patronymic Watts later emerged, as did
other forms of the name such as
Walters, Watson,
Watkins, and Watkinson. Some of the Watts in America were
originally Watz who had come from the German state of Hesse.

Watts Resources on

Watts Ancestry

Watts was a surname of southern England, but was widely spread
there. It was found on the east coast and the west coast, with
the largest numbers in London.

Richard Watts,
born near
Rochester in Kent, was a successful London merchant during
Elizabethan times and a benefactor to the city. Isaac

the famous hymn writer, born into a Nonconformist household in
Southampton, lived in Stoke
Newington on the outskirts of London for most of his life – from 1690
and 1748. Watts from Odiham in Hampshire
date from the
1700’s and possibly earlier.

Watts, initially de Wath and Wathes, were to be
found at Eston in Worcestershire from the 14th century.
One later line of this family was the Watts of
Hawkesdale Hall in Cumbria.

There were other Watts in the north. A Watts family, dating back
Manchester to the 1730’s, were small farmers in the area who also
engaged in handloom weaving. James Watts founded with his elder
brother Samuel what was to become the largest wholesale drapery
business in Manchester.

Watts was the classic type of Manchester
entrepreneur: son of a self-made man, a free trader and a dissenter. He was concerned not only with business
success, but also to make a social mark.”

was mayor of Manchester in 1855 and bought
Abney Hall in Cheadle where many distinguished visitors later


Scotland. As
Watt and Wattie, the surname was to be found in Aberdeenshire and
Banffshire in NE Scotland.. There was a fishing
village in Banffshire where, amazingly, 225
out of
the 300 inhabitants once had the name of Watt.

Watson rather than Watt has been more common in Lowland
Scotland. But James Watt, renowned for
his development of the steam engine, was born in Greenock on the
Clyde. One son Gregory Watt, a promising
geologist, died at a young age in 1804. Another son James Watt – who
carried on his father’s work – died unmarried, the last of the direct
1848. A line did run to Robert
Watson-Watt, born in 1892, who was one of the pioneers in the
development of
radar. Another line, the Gibson-Watts, was
to be found in Wales.

Watts of Rose Hill near Edinburgh were
staunch supporters
of King James VI of Scotland in 1596.
Watt, subsequently Watts, emigrated to America around the year
1700. The Rose
section of Manhattan, which his family later acquired,
was named after the Scottish home.

America. Edward Watts
from Somerset was an early arrival in America, coming to Virginia first
in 1640 and marrying in Stafford county and then travelling between
England and Virginia over the rest of his life. Later Watts of
this line were to be found in South Carolina, Georgia, and
Alabama. Thomas Watts became Governor of Alabama at the time of
the Civil War.

Frederick Watts came to America from Wales in 1762 and settled in
Pennsylvania. He was a Brigadier General during the Revolutionary
War. He and his wife Jane raised six daughters and their
youngest, David, a son. His son Frederick Watts, a prominent
agricultural reformer, was the founder of Penn State University.

Early Scots Watts in America included Robert Watts, whose family
settled in Manhattan, and John Watts, an Indian trader and interpreter
out of Virginia who worked primarily with the Cherokees. His
mixed race son John Watts, born in 1753, was a leading chief of the
warlike Chickamanga faction of Cherokees that waged war on the American
frontier. Descendants were later to be found in Georgia and

A German Watz family was in the Carolinas by 1820. They then
spread throughout the South, most notably settling in Tennessee,
Alabama, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Several Watz have at least
partial Cherokee blood and a number served in the Civil War.
Today many of the descendants bear the Watts name. Most Watz who
arrived later in the 19th century settled in New York and the Upper

Canada. Two
Watts brothers, William and Matthew, made the long sea voyage from
Ireland to
Canada in 1850. They were boat-builders
and set up shop on Georgian Bay near Toronto to supply fishing boats
for the
local fleet. Twenty years later William
Jr. moved to Vancouver to build boats for the west coast market. The business passed from William to son Fred,
but there the tradition stopped. It
struggled through the late 1930’s and early 1940’s until Fred Watts
lost his
battle with cancer in 1947.

and New Zealand.
John Cliffe Watts was an Irishman who joined
the British army and came to Australia in 1813.
He became Governor Macquarie’s aide-de-camp and was an architect
many of the new buildings in Sydney. He
later settled in Adelaide where he took up the position of Postmaster

Scotland came:

  • John
    Brown Watt, who
    arrived in Sydney from Edinburgh in 1840 and prospered in business
    there. One son Ernest followed in his
    business footsteps, another son Oswald (known as Toby) was an aviation
    whose life was cut short by drowning in 1921.
  • and
    James Michie Watt, a farmer from Aberdeen who came to Melbourne around
    the year 1843. His son William rose to
    become Premier of Victoria in 1912.

and Sophia Watts
came to New Zealand on the Oriental from
Kent as early as 1841. However, they
were not happy there and, after a few years, settled in Jamberoo, NSW. However, one son Edward returned to New
Zealand and was one of the Kaikora pioneers in Hawkes Bay.
His farm remained in family hands until 1960.


Watts Miscellany

Richard Watts, Elizabethan Merchant and Benefactor.  Richard Watts was a prominent merchant in Elizabethan London who was noted at the time for his philanthropy.  The following memorial was later erected on his behalf:

to the memory
of Richard Watts Esq;
a principal benefactor to this City,
who departed this life September 10, 1579
at his
mansion house on Bully-hill, called Satis
(so named by Queen Elizabeth of
glorious memory)
and lies interred near this place,
as by his will doth plainly

which will, dated August 22
and proved September 25, 1579
founded an almshouse for the relief of poor people
for the reception of six poor travelers every night
for employing the
poor of this City.  The
mayor and
citizens of this City,
testimony of their gratitude & his merit,
erected this monument in 1736.
Watts Esq, then mayor.”

Isaac Watts’ First Hymn.  A famous story about Isaac Watts tells how it all
began.  The teenage Isaac complained bitterly to his father about
the dreary
Psalms sung in church.  He said the tunes were tiresome and the
meaningless.  His father encouraged him to see what he could do
“to mend
the matter”.

Isaac went to his room and wrote his first hymn.  The
next Sunday, Behold the Glories of the Lamb was sung
in the Congregational
chapel to which the Watts family belonged in Southampton.
The year was 1693 and Isaac was about nineteen
years old at the time.

The Last Years of Gregory Watt.  In 1801 Gregory
Watt set off on European travels in the hopes of recovering his
health.  He first
stayed in Paris where he met the Scottish-American geologist William
Maclure and
together they traveled through war-torn France and Italy.  In Naples, despite Watt’s consumption, they
climbed and descended into Vesuvius and saw other evidence of recent
volcanism.  At the time Watt thought this
experience would change his mind about geological, especially volcanic,

was inspired on his
return home to make experiments on melting basalt and to study its
history and to also attempt a “lithological” map of Italy.  The first work led Watt to “sit on the fence”
over the then much-debated question of the origin of basalt.  He believed it could have originated either
from the action of heat or from water.  Meanwhile
Watt’s early 1804 map was a brave attempt to delineate up to 46
lithologies on a “proto-geological” map of Italy.

may well have met William Smith, the
English pioneer of modern geological cartography, in Bath later in 1804
before his death, but there is no further evidence.  The
previous year he had become the main
critic on matters geological for the Edinburgh

and published there nine reviews, mainly on mineralogy. He
died in 1804, aged just twenty seven.

The Watts Family and Rose Hill, New York.  The first Rose Hill in New York was the farm
acquired in 1747 by the John Watts who represented the city for many years in
the Colonial Assembly.  It contained over
130 acres and lay on the East River between what were to become 21st
and 30th
streets and between the future Lexington Avenue and the water.  Watts’
residence in town was at 3 Broadway,
facing Bowling Green.  Watts himself was the son of Robert Watts
of Rose Hill
near Edinburgh who had come to New York around the year 1700.
John Watts
named the farm in honor of his father’s
house back in Scotland

Loyalists, John Watts and his wife departed for Britain
in 1775 and never returned.  They left Rose
Hill and the house at 3 Broadway in the hands of their son John Watts
who post-Revolution
became a lawyer and politician in the city.

main house at Rose Hill burned in 1779
during the British occupation, but a deed from the 1780’s mentions
“houses, buildings, orchards, gardens” on the land.  Parts
of Rose Hill Farm were being sold off in
the 1780s and in 1786 Nicholas Kruger acquired a lot at the north edge
of the
property, consisting of most of what is now the block bounded by 29th
and 30th
Streets and Second and Third Avenues.  There were at that
time some venerable elms which stood at the corner of 28th Street and
Lexington Avenue.

Frederick Watts and the Mechanical Reaper.  The whole idea was silly.  Some “new fangled” machine to cut
wheat?  When folks around Carlisle,
Pennsylvania learned that attorney Frederick Watts was going to
demonstrate a
mechanical reaper on his farm to harvest a field of wheat – some new
variety of
winter wheat imported from southern Europe that he insisted would ripen
a full
week before their own – they were astonished.  Surely
nothing could replace a team of
hard-working men with grain cradles!  “Watts’
Folly,” they called it.

didn’t mind the robust skepticism.  He
was out to improve agriculture and show farmers that farm work could be
and easier.

on a warm, sunny summer day in 1840, a crowd of between 500 and 1,000
gathered at his farm, saw that, indeed, the grain was ripe and they
the machinery as they prepared to witness the spectacle.  A
horse and rider drew the equipment into the
field followed by a man who was to rake up the wheat as it was cut.

The contraption clattered and rattled as it
began to cut the wheat and the rake man had some trouble keeping up,
began to cause difficulties with the machine.  The
people hooted, jeered, and laughed. They
knew it wouldn’t work!

Watts was
beginning to get embarrassed.  But then a
man stepped forward from the group and showed everyone the proper way
to work
with the harvester.  He was Cyrus
McCormick, the inventor of the machine called “McCormick’s Reaper.”  The fool thing worked after all!  The
dubious Scots-Irish farmers were suitably

Gentleman farmer Watts had successfully
demonstrated that farm work could be made less burdensome and more
two major objectives of the new way of farming that Watts and others
sought to encourage.

A Watts Family in Australia.  It would
seem that many Watts from Stroud in Gloucestershire emigrated to Australia in
the mid-19th century.  Samuel Elijah Watts
was born there in 1845 and worked for a firm of solicitors in
Birmingham before departing
for Australia in 1863.

He and his wife
Lydia, whom he married in Sydney four years later, had no children.  Even so, they were
part of a large Watts family who had settled in various parts of
Australia.  It was through Samuel’s gift
of writing poetry and song that researchers were able to connect
several of
these branches of the family.  He was the
nephew of Henry and Joseph Watts of Smithfield, NSW (Joseph, who died
in 1873, donated
land for the building of the Smithfield Methodist church).
was also named as executor in several family wills and witnessed
several legal
documents for other members of the Watts family.

Samuel’s poetry writing was much admired and
some thought that there was a family relationship to Isaac Watts the
writer.  But this has not been confirmed.


Watts Names

  • Isaac Watts was an 18th century English
    hymn-writer credited with being the father of English hymnody. 
  • James Watt was the Scottish inventor
    and mechanical engineer whose improvements to steam engines were fundamental to
    the changes wrought during the Industrial Revolution.
    He developed the concept of horsepower and
    the watt unit of power was named after him. 
  • James Watts was a prominent cotton trader and wholesale
    distributor in Manchester in the mid-19th century. 
  • Alan Watts was a British-born writer and speaker in America, best known as an interpreter and popularizer
    of Eastern philosophy. 
  • Naomi Watts is a British-born Hollywood actress.

Select Watts Numbers Today

  • 46,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Gloucestershire)
  • 31,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 22,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Watts 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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