Waugh Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Waugh Surname Meaning

Waugh derived from the Old English word walh meaning “foreign” and, like the surname Wallace, was a term used to describe outsiders – in particular, it is thought, the Welsh-speaking Strathclyde Britons who survived as a separate group in Scotland well into the Middle Ages.

Waugh is usually pronounced as “Waw,” rather than “Woff” or “Woch.” The possessive apparently is “Wavian.” Wauchope which comes from similar roots has a “ch” which is pronounced as in “loch.”

Waugh Surname Resources on The Internet

Waugh Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Borders) and Northern England
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada and Australia

Scotland. The first record of the Waugh name was to be found in Dumfriesshire on the Scottish borders about the year 1250, in a place called Wauchopedale.

Wauchope and its abbreviation Waugh emerged as Border clan names, notably in Roxburghshire. The Waughs of Heap or Hope in Wilton held their land from the 13th to the 17th century. Many Waughs then dispersed as the English and Scottish crowns began to pacify the region.

There were still Waughs in the Borders as the 19th century proceeded, in Dumfriesshire and Roxburghshire, but they were fewer in number. Many had crossed the Irish Sea as part of the Protestant plantation, in particular to Armagh (Waugh’s Farm in Armagh was the ancestral home of the America general Stonewall Jackson). Other Waughs later migrated to Glasgow or south across the border into England.

EnglandWaughs in England were outnumbering Waughs in Scotland by almost three to one by the mid 19th century. Most of these Waughs were to be found in the Border counties of Northumberland, Durham and Cumberland. Robert Waugh, for instance, was baptized around the year 1750 in the village of Alston in Cumberland.

From slightly further afield came the Victorian social reformer the Rev. Benjamin Waugh, born in Settle in north Yorkshire; and the Lancastrian writer Edwin Waugh, born in Rochdale.

One famous Waugh family in England had its Border roots in East Gordon, Berwickshire where John Waugh was a tenant farmer in the early 17th century. It was Dr. Alexander Waugh, a powerful preacher and anti-slaver, who brought his family to England and they eventually settled in Midsomer Norton in Somerset in 1865.

The line of descent then went to: Alexander Waugh, the surgeon; Arthur Waugh, the writer and literary critic; Evelyn Waugh the novelist; and Auberon (Bron) Waugh, the journalist and satirist. Evelyn’s mother Catherine said:  “The Waughs were very middle class, but clever and original.”

Alexander Waugh’s 2004 book Fathers and Sons: The Autobiography of a Family described five generations of this family, beginning with his namesake whom he called “the Brute.”

Dr. Alexander Waugh had a brother Thomas and his line descended to William Waugh, a wealthy English merchant, and to Alexander Waugh who emigrated to Australia in 1848.

Ireland. Scots Waughs were present at the siege of Londonderry in 1690 and were later among the early 18th century settlers in Londonderry, New Hampshire. The Waugh name also appeared in Derry Protestant householders in 1740, notably in Tamlaught Finlagen parish. The 19th century records show Waughs as landowners in Ballymoney, Antrim.

America. The Rev. John Waugh, or Parson Waugh as he was remembered at the time, had come to Virginia from Scotland sometime in the 1670’s and served as a minister at the Overton parish in Stafford county. His son John was curiously nicknamed Poison to distinguish him from Parson. Later Waughs settled in Ohio in the early 1800’s.

Scots Irish.  Some of the early Waugh arrivals had come via Ireland. Several Waughs, for instance, had left Scotland in 1688 for religious reasons and established themselves in Londonderry.

A party – including three Waugh brothers – set sail for America in 1718, landing on the coast of Maine and making their way to Londonderry, New Hampshire. One line of these Waughs settled in Litchfield, Connecticut. Later Waughs were to be found in Ohio and Indiana. The Litchfield Waugh line was traced in Patricia Waugh’s 1986 book A Waugh Family History.

Another early Waugh line, also Scots Irish, began with William and Jane Waugh who came to Pennsylvania in 1735 and farmed at the Marsh Creek settlement. A long line of these Waughs can be found at the Marsh Creek graveyard. A descendant was the 19th century Philadelphia portrait painter Samuel Waugh.

Canada.  Wellwood Waugh, a Lowland Scot from Dumfries, set off with his large family for Canada in 1772.  They eventually settled in virgin lands at Tatamagouche near Pictou in Nova Scotia where they farmed. The Waugh river there was named after them. 

James Waugh was an early settler in Hamilton, Ontario. He married Elizabeth Bawtinheimer in Ancaster nearby in 1817 and he and his son James were farmers there. Later in 1848, Francis and Anne Waugh arrived from Fermanagh in Ireland and settled in Wellington county, Ontario.

An even later arrival, from Melrose on the Scottish borders, was Richard Waugh who came with his family to Winnipeg in 1882. He had been a builder in Scotland. But in Winnipeg he pursued a second career as a writer and promoter of the Manitoba dairy industry. His son Richard Waugh was elected mayor of Winnipeg in 1912.

Australia. Waughs from the Scottish border family, known as the “Aussie” Waughs, had come to NSW in the first half of the 19th century. William arrived in the 1830’s but was murdered in Newcastle in 1854. His family later settled in Tenterfield. His cousin Alexander came to NSW in 1848 and he and his wife Elizabeth also had many descendants.

Waugh Surname Miscellany

Waughchope and Waugh.  There are two Border place-names Wauchope or Wauchopedale, one in Dumfriesshire and the other in Roxburghshire (Wauchope means “foreigner” and Wauchopedale “valley of the foreigner).”  Neither of these places was apparently ever held by the Wauchopes or Waughs.

Wauchope Castle was located southwest of Langholm in Dumfriesshire, along the north side of the Wauchope Water.  It was an early stronghold of the Lindsay family and was built shortly after Sir John Lindsay was granted Wauchopedale in 1285.  The Lindsays, close associates of the Wauchopes, held Wauchopedale for the most part until 1707.

Wauchope Tower was to be found by the Wauchope Burn and Wauchope Forest in Roxburghshire close to the English border. It stood on former Wauchope property (the other Wauchopedale).  But it was the Turnbulls, in possession in 1530, who probably built the tower.

There were prominent Wauchope families in Midlothian (Niddrie-Merschell), Roxburghshire (Edminstone), and Aberdeenshire (Castle of Leys).  Early Waughs were probably Wauchopes.  Robert Waugh of Heap in Roxburghshire who rendered homage to the English King in 1296 was probably the Robert de Wauchope who also rendered homage. 

Waughs in England and Scotland in the 1881 Census

England Numbers Percent
Northumberland   750   28
Durham   540   20
Cumberland   280   11
Yorkshire   280   11
Lancashire   270   10
Elsewhere   530   20
Total  2,650
Scotland Numbers Percent
Lanarkshire   310   27
Midlothian   180   16
Stirlingshire   180   16
Roxburghshire   170   15
Dumfriesshire   160   14
Elsewhere   150   12
Total  1,150

Dr. Alexander Waugh.  There were two Dr. Alexander Waughs in the family, but of very different temperaments.

The first Dr. Alexander Waugh was born in 1754 in East Gordon in Berwickshire where his father was a farmer.  He licensed as a minister in Edinburgh.  But it was in London where he practiced that he made his name as a powerful preacher and campaigner against slavery.

He died in 1827 and was remembered with great affection by his congregation:

“Dr Waugh was perhaps one of the most amiable men that ever existed.  His character was pure and spotless; his benevolence unbounded; his philanthropy unqualified.  His manners were mild, gentle, and highly prepossessing and his piety sincere and ardent and wholly without any portion of that gloominess which has been erroneously believed to belong to heart-felt religious feeling.  So far from this, he was lively, cheerful, and humorous, and delighted in innocent mirth and raillery.

To those of his countrymen who came to London, his house and table were ever open; and his advice, counsel, and assistance in furthering their views, always at their service.  His kindness in this way indeed, he carried to an almost blameable extent.”

Two generations later, the Waughs had moved to Midsomer Norton in Somerset and Dr. Alexander Waugh, a surgeon, was a man of a completely different character.  He was described as follows by a later Waugh of his family:

“Dr. Alexander Waugh was a repulsive, red-faced little fat man who would drunkenly smash ornaments in the hall, scream at the servants and flagellate an Irish setter with an ivory-tipped whip.  If a wasp should settle on his wife’s forehead; instead of brushing it off, he would squash it with the ivory tip so as to ensure that she would not escape the sting.”

A Story Attributed to the Rev. Dr. Alexander Waugh.  Dr. Waugh was staying in Plymouth and one hot summer evening in August he went out after dinner to sit by the sea. There he found an old fisherman waiting for the tide to go out and fish, and they sat together and talked for a long time.

They stayed so long that they heard the church clock strike midnight.  They both counted the strokes and to both of them it seemed to strike thirteen.  “Well”, said the old fisherman, “I’ve lived here forty years or more and I’ve never heard that old clock strike thirteen before. The tides turned so I’ll be off.  Goodnight Sir”.  Dr. Waugh then went home and retired to bed.

A week or so later, he woke up in the night and though he heard a voice saying: “Go to Launceston – go to Launceston”.  He said to himself; “I must have bad indigestion. What have I had for dinner?” and went back to sleep again. A second time he was awakened by a voice saying “Go to Launceston” and again a third time.

So in the morning he went to Launceston where the coach drew up at the village inn.  Dr. Waugh got out, not knowing exactly why he had come.  He asked the landlord, “Is there anything special going on at Launceston now?” “Only the assizes, Sir”, said the landlord.

So Dr. Waugh went to the court where the Assizes were being held. There he saw the old fisherman in the dock accused on that night in August when they had both sat by the sea. Dr. Waugh at once said, “My Lord, I beg to  be sworn”, and he went into the witness box and gave evidence that he was sitting with the fisherman all that evening at Plymouth. He particularly remembered they were there until midnight as they had both though the church clock had struck thirteen.  He had made a note of the date in his diary.  And the old fisherman was acquitted.

Alexander Waugh’s Fathers and Sons.  Alexander Waugh’s book, Fathers and Sons: The Autobiography of a Family follows the male relationships through five generations of Waughs – starting with the author’s great great grandfather Alexander Waugh, known in the family because of his sadism as “The Brute.”

His son Arthur reacted against his childhood to wallow in sentiment, so smothering his eldest son Alec with love that he bred a ferocious resentment in Alec’s brother Evelyn. “I think these patterns will have been repeated in thousands and thousands of families,” said Alexander. “You’ve got a bully and sadist (the brute) who produces someone who does the absolute reverse – to spoil and indulge.”

One of the things Alexander’s book tried to do was to redress the myth of Evelyn Waugh as a horrible father – a myth that his son Auberon did much to encourage in his autobiography Will This Do?  Notoriously, Bron claimed that Evelyn after the war had made all his children sit round and watch while he scoffed their banana rations with cream and sugar.

However, when Bron was in hospital after a near-fatal machine-gun accident in Cyprus and his survival seemed uncertain, he lodged with his bank a letter to be sent to Evelyn in the event he should predecease him.  It began: “Dear Papa, just a line to tell you what for some reason I was never able to show you in my lifetime, that I admire, revere and love you more than any other man in the world.”

It was a dictum of Auberon Waugh that if enemies did not present themselves, it was important to go and seek some out.  And the Waughs were nothing if not good feuders.

Evelyn persecuted throughout his fictional career his undergraduate history tutor CRMF Cruttwell, whom he accused of sodomizing dogs. Bron laid about Jimmy Goldsmith, spent four decades persecuting Quentin Crewe who had reviewed his first novel unkindly, and attacked the Australian journalist John Pilger who “was so terrified of my father that he used to blanch at the sound of his name.”

Edwin Waugh, Dialect Writer.  Edwin Waugh might have passed his life in relative obscurity if his early years were anything to go by.  He was born in Rochdale in 1817 and apprenticed there as a printer. He married in 1847, but this marriage was not a success.  He became addicted to snuff and alcohol and they had money problems.  His wife left him and he and Mary were to separate permanently in 1855.

But 1855 was to be an important year for him in other ways.  He wrote and published his first book of prose, Sketches of Lancashire Life and Localities.  The next year he wrote what is possibly the most famous dialect poem in the world, Come Whom to thi Childer an’ Me, for the Manchester Examiner and for which he was paid one guinea.  Thousands of copies were sold as penny broadsheets and this brought him instant fame.  In 1857 he wrote Poems and Lancashire Songs, which some have classed as his best dialect poems.

As a writer he would spend much time at Fo’ Edge Farm east of Edenfield.  The farm is now derelict.  But nearby there is Waugh’s Well that was dedicated to him in 1866. Some have maintained that his surname should be pronounced “Woff,” rather than the “Waw” of Evelyn Waugh.

The Waughs of Litchfield, Connecticut.  The Waugh homestead in Litchfield has been in family hands from 1718 when John, the first of the Waughs, arrived.  Township records show Alexander Waugh marrying Elizabeth Throop in Litchfield in 1766.  Families of her name continued to live near what was known for 170 years as the Waugh farm.

Alexander Waugh and Thomas, his elder brother, distinguished themselves in the Revolutionary War.  Thomas was said to have saved the life of General Marion.

“Thomas saw a soldier taking aim at his General and said to himself: ‘A man as brave as Marion, who can live on potatoes and salt, is too good to be shot by a sneaking Redcoat.’  The aim was taken at General Marion.  But the musket of Thomas Waugh laid the Redcoat low.”

For this act of bravery Thomas was at once promoted.  However, he was killed soon after.

His hat survived and it appeared at an 1878 exhibition of Revolutionary War relics at Washington’s Headquarters on the Hudson river. The hat was a Continental shape, turned up on one side, with a large rosette fastened where the side turned up.  The hat bore the name of Thomas Waugh and hung in a glass case with other souvenirs of the War.

Wellwood Waugh, A Pioneer in Nova Scotia.  Wellwood Waugh, a Lowland Scot from Lockerbie in Dumfries-shire and a sturdy Covenanter, set out with his family in 1772 for Charlottetown in Prince Edward Island.  However, he and his family were soon forced to leave there for Pictou in Nova Scotia where the Highland Scots had settled.

“They made their escape to Pictou in the greatest poverty and must inevitably have perished had it not been for the kindness of the Highlanders who supported them until they could provide for themselves.”

Wellwood would later describe his own origins as follows:

“This narrative, relative to the name of Waugh, is traditionary. They were originally from the Highlands of Scotland. When they left that place, the chieftan of their clan, enquiring for a certain person, was answered according to the native idiom of speech, ‘He’s awa,’ from which the name Waugh has been considered to have originated.

James Waugh, of the Brown Rill of Dunscore, being one of the lineage of the Waughs of the Kere, and his wife Mary McKeg lived both to a very great old age, died at the same time, and were interred in the same grave, leaving four sons and two daughters.

The youngest son Alexander was married to Catherine Calvin in the parish of Lockerton in the year 1711.  Their eldest son Wellwood was born there on the 10th day of February, 1741 and married Nellie Henderson in the year 1760.”

The Waugh family stay in Pictou, however, was short.  Wellwood was thought to have been an American sympathizer at the time of the Revolutionary War.  They soon departed for virgin lands at Tatamagouche thirty miles away.  There the Waughs farmed and raised a large family (they numbered close to sixty at the time of Nellie Waugh’s death in 1795).  The nearby river Waugh in Colchester county was named after them.

Richard Waugh, Mayor of Winnipeg.  Richard Waugh was the mayor who introduced playgrounds to Winnipeg.

In 1907 as chair of the Parks Board, he had tried to convince the council to begin to develop American-style playgrounds.  “Small areas of land fitted with amusement paraphernalia. Skilled instructors with the highest moral training,” he argued.  City Council refused.

A year later a model playground was set up at Central School funded by an $800 grant from the Manitoba branch of the Canadian Council of Women.  It proved a big success.  Seven playgrounds were set up in 1909 and, by 1920, 20 playgrounds were operating.

Waugh was elected mayor of Winnipeg in 1912.  These were Winnipeg’s glory days with civic growth and prosperity at an unparalleled rate. Waugh proved a popular mayor.  He is remembered today through Waugh Road in Winnipeg.

But he found that his stint as mayor became an intolerable burden on his private business life. His partner Thompson Beattie who had run their business had perished on the Titanic.  Waugh had to return to private life to rescue his real estate and law business.

Waugh Names

  • Samuel Waugh was one of the most famous portrait painters of Philadelphia in the 19th century.
  • Edwin Waugh was a 19th century writer from Lancashire who wrote in the Lancastrian idiom.
  • Evelyn Waugh was the English novelist best known for his work Brideshead Revisited. 
  • Steve and Mark Waugh, twin brothers, were born into a sporting family in Sydney, Australia.  Both brothers were Australian cricketers and Steve Waugh captained his country from 1999 to 2004.

Waugh Numbers Today

  • 8,000 in the UK (most numerous in Edinburgh)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in Ohio)
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Waugh and Like Surnames

These were names originally given to outsiders in the British Isles that became surnames.  Thus Walter the Scot became Walter Scott.  Outsiders could also have been Welsh, Irish, French or Flemish.  These are some of the “outsider” surnames which are covered here.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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