Wilcox Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Wilcox Surname Meaning

English surnames such as Wilcock or Hancock married the personal names of Will (a pet form of William) or of Hann (a pet form of John) with the suffix cock which was a nickname for a young lad.  

Wilcock, like Hancock, has been mainly a west country name. It appeared as Wilkoks in Wales, Wylcock in Somerset, and Wilcoc in Cheshire during the 13th century. Wilcox is the main spelling today. Other spellings are Willcox, Wilcock, Willcock, and Willcocks.

Wilcox Surname Resources on The Internet

Wilcox, Wilcock, Wilcocks and Wilcockson Surname Ancestry

  • from Western England
  • to Ireland, America, Hawaii, Canada and Australia

England. There had been a Wilcocks family at Lydd on the Kent coast since the early 1400’s. William Wilcocks of Jacques Court represented the port of New Romney in Parliament in 1572, as did his brother Edward. A descendant John Wilcocks moved to Hitchin in Hertfordshire where he died in 1636.

But the main Wilcox presence was west. Henry Guppy in his 1890 book Homes of Family Names wrote the following about Wilcox:  “Wilcox is characteristic of Somerset, Gloucestershire, and Nottinghamshire; Willcox of Somerset; Willcock and Willcocks of Devon; and Wilcock of Lancashire and the West Riding.”  

Wilcox has the largest numbers today. The name extended wider than Guppy had suggested – from Somerset in the south through Gloucestershire and Warwickshire northwards into Staffordshire and further:

  • in Bristol, Barnabus Wilcox was a Quaker who departed with his family for Pennsylvania in 1683. He was a rope maker by trade.
  • in Warwickshire, there were local gentry Wilcox at Wolston near Coventry and at Tysoe near Stratford (these Wilcox subsequently moved to Berkshire).
  • in Staffordshire, one early record was the marriage of Jone and Francis Wilcox at St. Mathew church in Walsall in 1598.
  • while Robert Wilcox, born in Chester in 1558, was a Catholic priest who was martyred in Canterbury in 1588.

Wilcock was the main spelling in Lancashire and across the border in Yorkshire. A Wilcock family in Chorley dates back to Alexander Wilcock who married Ann Finch, the daughter of his business partner, in 1629. These Wilcocks held Wilcock farm in nearby Rivington in the late 1600’s and later Wilcock House in Chorley (which still stands). Michael Wilcock, born in Chorley in 1780, was the forebear of Wilcocks who emigrated to Canada in the 1880’s.

A Wilcock line in Ribblesdale in north Yorkshire dates back to William Wilcock of North Cote in the hamlet of Selside in 1774. He and his descendants were farmers there and remained so until 1996 when the farm was sold.

Willcock and Willcocks  These have been mainly Devon names. Simon Willcock who died in Sheepstor in 1720 was the forebear of one Devon family. Thomas Willcocks was a piano builder in Exeter in the 1820’s. Sadly he and three of his children died during a cholera epidemic in the town in 1832. Mary Willcocks, born near Ermington in south Devon, was a successful writer of romantic novels in the early 1900’s.

James and Elizabeth Willcocks were married at Horton in nearby Dorset in 1745. By 1800 their family name had changed to Wilcox.

The origins of Captain William Willcocks of the Bengal Horse Artillery at the time of the 1857 Indian Mutiny are unclear. But the careers of two of his sons, both born in India, were remarkable:

  • Sir William was a civil engineer who proposed and built the first Aswan dam in Egypt
  • while Sir James was a British army officer who commanded the Indian troops in Europe during the First World War.

Wilcockson.  Wilcockson was another spelling variant, found really only in Derbyshire. Some Wilcocksons emigrated in the 17th century to America where they later became Wilcox.

Ireland. Wilcocks was a family name found in the 1659 Dublin census. Quaker Wilcocks, possibly from Bristol, settled there and prospered. Joshua Wilcocks was a Dublin merchant in the 1690’s, followed by his son Issachar. Robert Wilcocks grew rich at the Quaker stronghold of Mountmellick and had money enough to purchase the Palmerston estate outside Dublin in 1705.

When Robert died in 1711, he left the property to his nephew, also Robert. He and his son Robert held Palmerston until 1763. There were two later offspring – Joseph and Richard Willcocks, dubbed the traitor and the knight – who had contrasting fortunes:

  • Joseph left for Canada where he was considered a traitor.
  • while Richard stayed in Ireland, became Deputy Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and was knighted on his retirement.

America. There were three main early lines into New England, none of whom apparently coming from the west country of England:

  • William and Margaret Wilcockson from Derbyshire who arrived on the Planter in 1635 and settled in Stratford, Connecticut. The family name here became Wilcox by the 1700’s.
  • Edward and Susanna Wilcox from Lincolnshire who came to Rhode Island around 1638. Benjamin Wilcox of this family was among the Loyalists who departed for Canada with his family in 1787.
  • and John Wilcox from Suffolk who was recorded as one of the first settlers of Hartford, Connecticut in 1639. His son John moved to Middletown in 1653.

The line of William Wilcockson was covered in Thomas Wilcox’s 1963 book Descendants of William Wilcockson of Derbyshire and Stratford.

Among his descendants were Josiah Wilcox who migrated to Ohio, Abner Wilcox a missionary to Hawaii, and Edward Wilcox a doctor in Illinois, plus a number who made their home in upstate New York:

  • Levi Wilcox came to Ticonderoga as a practicing physician. His dedication led to his death in 1837, being thrown from his horse and getting killed while on a mission of mercy.
  • and Lester Wilcox settled in Montgomery county. His son William fought in the Civil War, but was captured in 1863 and spent fifteen months in Confederate prisons.

Pennsylvania.  Barnabus Wilcox was a Quaker from Bristol who emigrated to Philadelphia in 1683 with his wife and five children. Barnabus died there seven years later.

George Wilcockson from Derbyshire, also a Quaker, arrived in Chester county in 1719. John, maybe his son, was born a year later and married Sarah Boone, sister of the famous frontiersman Daniel Boone. They raised many children, went with Daniel into Kentucky, and were commemorated on the Fort Boonesborough monument.

John’s descendants were known as Boonies. Several of their lines did change their name from Wilcockson to Wilcox; while others held onto Wilcockson or a variation thereof.

One Wilcox line via Isaiah Wilcox led to North Carolina and the Baptist preacher the Rev. Billy Wilcox. Reuben Wilcox was a house member of the Greene County Assembly in 1818. One son John served in the Confederate Congress during the Civil War, another son Cadmus was a Confederate general.

California.  Harvey Wilcox, born in New York, and his wife Ida moved out to Los Angeles in 1883.  

“Harvey and Ida had one child, a son named Harry, who died in 1886 at the age of 18 months. Family tradition said that to console themselves over the death of their baby, Harvey and Ida would take buggy rides to the beautiful canyons west of Los Angeles. Harvey then purchased one of their favorite areas for $150 per acre.”  

His wife named the tract Hollywood. By the early 1900’s Hollywood had become the center of the American movie industry.

Hawaii.  There were two Yankee Wilcox lines in Hawaii.

Abner Wilcox from Connecticut arrived as a missionary in 1837 and made his home at Hilo. His sons Albert and George developed sugar plantations on the islands and became prominent landowners.

Captain William Wilcox from Rhode Island arrived on a whaling ship in 1843 and married a local woman. Their son Robert, known as the Iron Duke of Hawaii, took up the Hawaiian cause and led uprisings against both the old compromised monarchy and the subsequent American republic in the late 1800’s. He was elected as the first delegate to the US Congress from Hawaii.

Canada.  There were some early Wilcoxes from Rhode Island in America who came to Canada:

  • Benjamin Wilcox arrived in Nova Scotia in 1760 soon after the French had left. He was recorded as dying there in 1813 at the age of ninety-three. It is thought that James Wilcox – who was born in 1819 and established the Wilcox hardware business in Windsor, Nova Scotia – was a descendant.  
  • Hazard Wilcox, the son of Edward and Mercy Wilcox and an Empire Loyalist, fled with his family to Canada in 1777 after losing his property in New York following the Battle of Bennington. He died in battle three years later. His son Hazard made his home on land granted to the family in Leeds county, Ontario. However, he later returned to America, settling in Missouri in 1812.  
  • and another Benjamin Wilcox, the son of William and Deborah Wilcox and also a Loyalist, arrived from New Jersey in 1787. He settled in Grimsby in Lincoln county, Ontario. In later life he moved in with his son Richard near Simcoe in Norfolk county where he died in 1812. Many of Richard’s offspring later returned to the US.

William Willcocks and his nephew Joseph both left Ireland for Canada under something of a cloud – William because of his failed business enterprises and Joseph for his suspected support for the 1798 Irish Rebellion. Both ended up in Toronto. William’s failures continued. Joseph turned traitor and joined the Americans during the War of 1812.  

Australia.  Wilcox brothers from St. Neots in Huntingdonshire began emigrating to South Australia. First in 1858 came the eldest son Thomas who established a successful grocery and drapery business in Gawler. His brothers George, Emery and Joseph soon joined him.

It was George Wilcox who returned with his bride Annie on the City of Adelaide in 1864 who was to have the greatest success. His first business was based on his acumen in buying and importing goods from Britain and Europe and selling them in South Australia. He later became a wool and produce merchant, specializing in hides and skins.

Wilcox, Wilcock. Wilcocks and Wilcockson Miscellany

The Suffix “Cock” in Wilcock.  The Old English word cocc or cock meant a “‘male bird or fowl” and was applied to a young lad who strutted proudly like a cock.  It soon became a generic term for a youth.   The nickname may also have referred to a natural leader, or an early riser, or a lusty or aggressive individual.

The medieval personal name Cock was still in use in the late 13th century.

Wilcox and Its Variants Today

‘000’s Wilcox Willcox Wilcock Willcock Willcocks Total
UK    12     3     6     1     2    24
America    25     1    26
Elsewhere    10     1     1     1    13
Total    47     5     7      1     3    63

Wilcox has been mainly a west country name in England.  The Wilcock spelling has been strong in Lancashire, Willcocks in Devon.

Wilcockson Origins.  Wilcockson is a name found in England really only in Derbyshire.  Some have speculated that it has Welsh origins.

The root of the name here would be Will Coch where Will was indicative of the William mountain in Snowdonia and Coch meant “red” in Welsh.  John ap Will Coch lived in Montgomeryshire where he owned land and grew flax.  The Welsh ap Will Coch then anglicized as Will Coch son in Derbyshire which became Wilcockson.  However, there is a huge gap in time – close to three hundred years – between the Will Coch personage in Wales and the Wilcockson appearance in Derbyshire.

DNA testing has shown that the two Wilcockson lines in America – those of William in New England and John from Pennsylvania – are connected quite closely.

The Wilcox of Brandon and Wolston in Warwickshire.  A Wilcox family had been settled in the Brandon and Wolston area near Coventry since the late 1400’s. A prominent member of this family was Robert Wilcox of Brandon who flourished in the early years of the 17th century.  He was a Commissioner for the county and had his own seat adjoining the vicar at Wolston church.

The Wilcox pedigree was entered at the Heralds’ Visitation of 1682, though John Wilcox of Brandon was told that “he must make better proof of the arms on his seal before he can be permitted the use of them.”

In 1712 John had come into possession of the manor of Wolston through marriage.  After his death in 1732, the manor did leave the Wilcox family for a while, but was later re-acquired in 1826.  The house was located next to Wolston church.

Charles W. Wilcox, born in 1845, was the last of the direct male line to be lord of the manor.  His brother Henry meanwhile was the vicar at Wolston from 1876 to 1908. Charles had been a county magistrate for Warwickshire for over fifty years. He was at one period a member of the North Warwickshire Hunt and a prominent follower. His coverts usually held some stout foxes.

In his day the manor house was a large house which employed a considerable staff of cooks and butlers; while outside there were  grooms, gardeners, farm-hands and keepers. Joseph Drinkwater was the coachman to Charles Wilcox for fifty years.

When Charles died in 1926 the house was sold with its contents and then demolished.  The estates passed to his married daughter Mary and she later made them over to her son Charles who assumed the name of Wilcox.

William Wilcockson in New England.  William Wilcockson from Wirksworth in Derbyshire came to America on the Planter which sailed from London to New England on the morning of April 2, 1635.

The Customs House records in London stated that William was a linen weaver by trade and at the time of his departure was thirty-four years old. His wife Margaret was twenty-four at the time and their son John two.

William, having settled with his family in Concord, was made a freeman in the Massachusetts colony in 1636, prior to moving to Stratford, Connecticut in 1639.  He was a juryman in Hartford in 1647.  At the time of his death in 1651, he left behind a widow and five sons.

His sons Timothy and John remained in Stratford, but Joseph settled in Killingworth in 1661.  Samuel eventually settled in Simsbury and Obadiah in East Guilford (now Madison). 

The Two Willcocks Brothers – The Traitor and the Knight.  There were two Willcocks brothers born in Ireland who had contrasting fortunes. The elder son Richard became Deputy Inspector General of the Royal Irish Constabulary and was knighted; while the younger son Joseph emigrated to Canada and deserted to the Americans in the War of 1812.  If he had not been killed at the Battle of Fort Erie he would probably have been hanged.

Richard Willcocks

From 1807 to 1827 Richard worked in different parts of Ireland as a stipendiary magistrate.

His work was involved in “obtaining private information, apprehending the principal offenders, bringing them to trial, securing witnesses, and preventing them from being tampered with.”

In this he was very successful.  For instance, he was able to apprehend and commit to prison thirty-five persons concerned in Emmet’s insurrection in Dublin.  In 1814 Sir Robert Peel, then Secretary for Ireland, appointed Richard Willcocks as Chief Magistrate to command the first detachment of the newly-formed Peace Preservation Force.

He resigned from his position in 1827 because of ill-health and was bestowed a knighthood because of his exemplary service. He died in 1834 and, like many of the family, was buried in the family plot at Chapelizod near Dublin.

Joseph Willcocks

Joseph left his home in Ireland and emigrated to Canada in 1799.  He went to Toronto because he had been promised land there by his cousin William Willcocks already in Canada.

According to John Lee who has studied him:

”Joseph revealed himself as a scion of Anglo-Irish gentry.  His debts were to tailors and bootmakers.  He dressed the fine gentleman and had a cane made of oak with a fine brass monogrammed head. He was frequently drunk and drank heavily with his fellow radicals.  He loved good food, fine claret, fine clothing, and fishing, hunting, racing, shooting and boating.”

Joseph was a critic of British military rule and had been a troublemaker from the day he arrived from Ireland.  When the War of 1812 broke out, he found himself eyed with great suspicion by many who thought he had taken part against the British in Ireland in the 1798 Rebellion.

In 1813 he began corresponding with the American Secretary of State, passing on information about British troop movements. Later on that year he defected to the US army at Fort George and raised a force of expatriate Canadians calling themselves the Canadian Volunteers.  He was killed a year later at the Battle of Fort Erie when the British were successful in driving the Americans out of the fort.

George and Annie Wilcox and the City of Adelaide.  No passengers have been more closely identified with the City of Adelaide than George and Annie Wilcox.  Having been married only a few weeks, George, aged twenty-six, and Annie, aged twenty-four, first  boarded this brand-new ship in August 1864 to sail for South Australia and to set up home in Gawler.

They were aboard the same ship on a trip to revisit England when Annie gave birth at sea to a son, George Seaborne Wilcox, on 30 January 1873, twenty-five days before they docked in London.  In the following year Annie returned to South Australia on the City of Adelaide with four of the Wilcox children.

At least two large shipments of goods were sent from London to the Wilcox business in Gawler on the City of Adelaide – 636 packages in 1864 and 492 cases in 1865.  It is little wonder that a descendant arranged to have a model of the ship built many years later.

Wilcox Names

  • Thomas Wilcox was a controversial Puritan scholar and preacher in London in the late 1500’s. 
  • Robert Wilcox, known as the Iron Duke of Hawaii, led uprisings against the old compromised monarchy and the new American republic there in the late 1800’s. 
  • Sir James Willcocks, born in India, was a British army officer held high command over Indian troops on the Western Front during the First World War. 
  • Herbert Wilcox was one of the most successful British film-makers from the 1920’s to 1950’s.  He is best known for the films he made with his wife Anna Neagle.

Wilcox Numbers Today

  • 24,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 26,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 13,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Wilcox and Like Surnames

Many surnames originated from SW England, the principal counties there being Devon and Cornwall, Somerset and Gloucestershire.  These are some of the prominent and noteworthy surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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