Wilde Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Wilde Meaning
There are
three related English surnames of Wilde, Wild and Weld which have all in varying degrees derived from the Old English word wilde,
meaning “wild” or “out of control.” They
would thus be a nickname for someone who
showed these characteristics. The
surnames might also – in the case of Weld and sometimes of Wild or
Wilde – be
topographical, for a person who lived near an area of cleared but
The Wild name had similar wild connotations in Germany and Holland. The Lords of Wild were a Saxon noble family
who lived in parts of Franconia in southern Germany.
These Wilds became known as vagabonds and robber
barons during the 14th century. The
de Wilde surname in Holland means “the wild one.”
Of the three surnames covered here, Weld is
the smallest in number but has two famous families – one in England and another in America.

Wilde Resources on

Wilde Ancestry

Welds boast the oldest pedigree, although they are greatly outnumbered
the Wilds and Wildes.

Welds. The
Weld pedigree is said to have dated back to the year 1000, prior to the
Conquest, and to a nephew of Edric, the Duke of Mercia.
It was William Weld, the Sheriff of London in
1352, who married Anne Wettenhall and established himself at Eaton in
county of Chester.

main line from there revolved around Humphrey Weld, Lord Mayor of
London in
1609, whose grandson, also Humphrey, purchased Lulworth castle in
Dorset in
1641. They were conspicuous as a
recusant family. Thomas Weld was in fact
a Catholic bishop and cardinal in the early 19th century.
The Lulworth branch died out in the
1920’s. But the castle was taken over by
the related Weld Blundells.

Subsidiary lines in the 17th century are thought to
have included the Weld goldsmiths in London and the Welds from Sudbury
Suffolk who set off for New England.

and Wildes
. The spelling was
initially Wyld and Wylde. Prominent
or Wildes from the south have been:

  • the
    Wylde family of Worcestershire
    who made their fortunes as
    clothiers in
    Tudor times and remained an important family in the county for the next
  • Robert
    Wylde later Wild from Huntingdonshire, born in 1609, who was a
    poet of some stature and a Puritan preacher who conflicted with the
    after the Reformation.
  • and
    Thomas Wilde, an 18th century attorney from Saffron
    Walden in Essex, who founded in 1785 the legal firm of Wilde Sapte (the
    forerunner of the multinational law firm Dentons today) and was the
    forebear of
    a distinguished line of lawyers, judges, and politicians in London.

in his 1890 work Homes of Family Names in
Great Britain
asserted the following about Wild and Wilde:

ancient English name is mostly confined to the northern midlands, its
homes being in Derbyshire, Notts and the West Riding, whence it has
spread to
the counties around.”

or Wylde was a popular sobriquet in Yorkshire, judging by the number of
in the 1379 poll tax returns there.

However, the largest numbers of Wilds and
Wildes in England have been in
. That was the case,
according to recent surname
research, in the 1600’s and that was still the case in the 1881 census. A Philip Wyld was recorded in Oldham in 1486
the Wild name has remained important in that town (there were over
1,000 Wilds
in Oldham in the 1881 census). The Wilde
name has been more common south and east of Oldham in the vicinity of

most famous Wilde, Oscar Wilde, had Dutch forebears.
Colonel de Wilde, a Dutch army officer, came
to Ireland with William of Orange in the 1690’s and was granted lands
there. Ralph Wilde was a land agent and
farmer in
Castlerea, Roscommon; his son Thomas a country doctor there; his
grandson Sir
William (Oscar’s father) a well-known and respected eye surgeon in
England. Oscar himself was not proud of his Dutch ancestry

were other Wildes in
Ireland, of uncertain origin. A Wilde
family in Abbeyleix in present-day county Laios dates from the early
1700’s. William, Robert and Walter ran a
company there called Wilde Brothers Seedsmen.
Many of the family emigrated in the 19th century – to America,
and elsewhere. But the trade directory
for 1934 showed that Wildes had also stayed

America. The
Welds came first, as in England.

Three Weld brothers from
Suffolk came to America in the 1630’s and settled in Roxbury,
Massachusetts. It was from the youngest
brother, Joseph, that most of the distinguished later Welds descended:

  • the
    early Welds were closely connected
    with Harvard University
    . Indeed
    connection has stayed strong, as attested by the fact that two Harvard
    buildings and the Harvard boathouse bear the Weld name.
  • ironically
    it was William
    Fletcher Weld, who did not attend Harvard, who made the family rich. He was an American shipping magnate during
    the Golden Age of Sail in the 19th century. Foreseeing
    that that age was coming to an end, he prudently invested in railroads
    and real
    estate. He multiplied his family’s
    fortune into a huge legacy for his descendants.

Weld, recent Governor of Massachusetts, is the most prominent
living member of this family. When the Massachusetts Senate
president publicly
teased him about his ancestors having come over on the
, Weld joked: “Actually, they weren’t on the Mayflower.
They sent the servants over
first to get the cottage ready.

Wilds and Wildes.
There were early Wilds and Wildes also in the Boston area:

  • the line from John Wilde, born probably in Braintree in the
    1670’s, extended to a notable legal family that culminated in Judge
    Samuel Sumner Wilde who held office in Massachusetts from 1815 to 1850.
  • while Abraham Wild – possibly with his brothers – was a merchant
    in Boston dealing in West India goods in the years after the
    Revolutionary War.. His son Charles Wild was able to attend
    Harvard University and returned with a medical degree. He
    practiced medicine in Brookline for forty years. Charles’s son
    Edward was an ardent abolitionist. When the Civil War came he
    fought in the war and was active in recruiting African Americans for
    the Union army.

came to Pennsylvania from England during the first half of the 19th
century. Joseph Wilde from Wakefield in
aged just fifteen, arrived in 1826, married and made his home in
county. George Wilde, also from
Wakefield, followed him a year later. Meanwhile
Isaac Wilde, trained as a cabinet-maker, was just nineteen when he
arrived in
Chester county with his mother from Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire in
1843. He was the first of three
generations of
funeral directors in Pennsylvania

South Africa. Abraham Wild
from Oldham in Lancashire was one of the pioneer 1820 settlers to South
He and his family made their home in Grahamstown.

Australia. Joseph and George Wild from Chester were early arrivals
in Australia, having been transported there for burglary in 1797.
George died in 1812. Joseph, granted a conditional
pardon that year, was an early explorer of the hinterland of New South

Emanuel Wilde was a cotton spinner from Rochdale in Lancashire who
departed with his wife Sarah on the Berkshire
for Australia. They settled in Cathcart, NSW.


Wilde Miscellany

The Wyldes of Worcestershire.  These Wyldes
originated from the small village of
Dodderhill near Droitwich in Worcestershire.
Simon Wylde of the Ford in Dodderhill was recorded
in the Lay
Subsidy roll of 1524.  Two of his sons
William and Richard remained at this family home.  But
a third son Thomas moved to Worcester and
prospered there as a clothier.

It is believed he made the greatest part of his
fortune when the wool trade with the Low Countries was blocked by war.  His business at Worcester, then a center of
cloth manufacture, was so prosperous that in 1545, not so long after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, he purchased the site and
surviving buildings of an old religious foundation in Worcester known
as The Commandery.  At his
death in 1559 his house had 31 rooms,
one of them containing 20 feather beds.

The Wylde family was to remain rich and
powerful for the next 250 years.  They
held estates at Glazeley and Astwood manor, in addition to The
, and were frequently the local Droitwich MP’s.   John Wylde was Chief Baron of the
in 1646.At the time of the final battle of the Civil War The
was then in the possession of Thomas Wylde, a great
great grandson of the clothier.  It was
made the headquarters for Charles II’s Royalist army.
The Duke of Hamilton was to die there,
sealing his fate by refusing the amputation of his wounded leg.

Following the sale of The Commandery in 1785, the principal line continued from Shropshire where the matrilineal name Browne was added in 1788 by letters patent to form Wylde-Browne.

Wild and Wilde in Lancashire.  Wild and Wilde showed up in varying numbers in the UK 1881 census.  But in each case the largest numbers were in Lancashire.

1881 Numbers Lancashire Total Percent
Wild    5,096   12,201    42
Wilde    1.464    4,360    34

The Wild
name was centered in towns to the north of present-day Manchester, from
(where the largest number were to be found) and Crompton and places
west of
there such as Bury, Butterworth, Castleton and Heap. The
names Robert and his son Ottiwell Wild or
Wilde (the spelling was variable then) appeared in Oldham records in
the late 16th
century.  Abraham Wild from Oldham was
one of the 1820 settlers to South Africa.
One Wild family line in Bury dates back to Joseph Wild in the

Wilde focus was further south and east, at Ashton-under-Lyne and
Haughton.  John Wilde, a tea dealer in
Ashton, was a
Chartist agitator in the 1830’s; while Isaac Wilde, a cabinet-maker,
to America from Ashton in 1843.  Brian
Wilde the actor was born in Ashton in 1927.
A number of Wildes were also to be found in Oldham.

Abraham Wild, 1820 Settler to South Africa.  Abraham
Wild had been a cotton spinner and a soldier in the British army in Ireland.  In January 1820, aged 30 and together with his wife Ann and three children, he departed as a member of Stanley’s party on the John for South Africa.  They
arrived at Cape Town three months later, the Wilds much indignant about
the supply of rations afforded to them.

eight children were born to the Wild family in South Africa.  They
made their home at Gooseberry Farm in Grahamstown.  He built a
business there as a cattle farmer and shopkeeper supplying meat to the
British army.

Abraham was a painter and left a painting of his home town of Oldham
that was done while he was in South Africa. He could also read and

Oscar Wilde’s Ancestry.  Oscar Wilde
tended to discount his probable Dutch ancestry.
In fact early biographers put it about that the Wilde family had
originated in Wolsingham in county Durham back in the 1500’s.
Oscar himself preferred his mother’s
all-Irish heritage.  She was a poet, a
collector of Irish folk-tales, and an Irish nationalist supporter.

It was Oscar’s son, Vyvyan Holland, who declared in his book Oscar Wilde that the family did originate in Holland.
A Dutch Colonel de Wilde fought for King
William of Orange and was given estates in Ireland for his services.  Vyvyan
Holland said that the name was eventually shortened to just Wilde.

The Welds and Harvard.  Captain Joseph Weld, the
youngest of the three Weld immigrants to
America, was the ancestor from whom the most of the famous Welds have
descended.   As an award for his
participation in the Pequot War of 1637, the colonial legislature
granted him
2808 acres in the town of Roxbury, Massachusetts.  With
the wealth generated from this grant and from his merchant trading
Joseph Weld became one of the first donors to Harvard University.

the first Weld to attend Harvard ended his career there in disgrace.  John
Weld and a classmate stole money and gunpowder from two houses
and were
caught.   For this misdemeanor
first president personally whipped them and expelled them from the

have been some other Weld rogues.  On the
eve of the unveiling of John Harvard’s statue in 1884, a young fellow
Weld allegedly sneaked under the drapery and placed a chamber pot
beneath the
namesake’s chair.

the large,
sprawling Weld family has also spawned more than its share of
members of the Harvard family.  Since
John Weld, nineteen more Welds and three Weld spouses attended Harvard
the 17th and 18th centuries.  Ironically,
William Fletcher Weld, who built the first great Weld fortune and Weld
Hall in
Harvard Yard, was never a student at Harvard.

Harvard buildings and two
professorships today bear the Weld surname.
In addition, there is the Weld Boathouse, opened in 1906, that
had been
funded by George Walker Weld who was described as “the greatest
Harvard ever had in rowing.”

Dr. Charles Wild in Brookline, Massachusetts.  Two years after graduating from Harvard in 1818 with
a medical degree, Charles Wild took up residence in Brookline. A widow gave him there two acres of land on
the south side of Washington Street near the base of Aspinwall
Hill.  Dr. William Aspinwall, the town’s
physician, was gradually winding down his medical practice at that time
Wild soon took over as the leading physician in town.

built his house there in 1820, married,
reared a family and became the trusted physician, friend and adviser of
people of the town.  For more than forty years he lived and
labored in the town
where his presence at social, fraternal and other gatherings was hailed

Woods in her 1874 book Historical Sketches of
the following impression of Dr. Wild:

who can remember the doctor in his prime can well recall his
tall, well-formed figure, his firm tread, his deep voice which seemed
to come
from cavernous depths, and eyes which seemed to look from behind his
into and through one.

had a breezy
way of entering a house, stamping off the snow or dust with enough
noise for
three men, throwing off his overcoat, untying a huge muffler that he
around his neck, and letting down his black leather pouch with
emphasis. There
was an indescribable noise he made sometimes with that deep gruff voice
of his
which cannot be represented in type.”

Wild was active in town affairs, serving at various times on the School
Committee and as a justice of the peace, among other responsibilities.
He was
also an active member of the Rev. John Pierce’s Unitarian church, where
he sang
in the choir and played the flute in the days before the church had an


Wilde Names

  • William Weld who was the Sheriff of London in 1352, is considered the forebear of the Welds in England and America. 
  • William Fletcher Weld, born into a Boston Brahmin family, developed a world-class fleet of clipper sailing ships
    during the 19th century.  
  • Oscar Wilde was the famous Irish-born author and playwright. He is remembered for his epigrams, his play The
    Importance of Being Ernest,
    and his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well as for the circumstances of his imprisonment and early death. 
  • Jimmy Wilde, known as “the Mighty Atom,” was a Welsh professional boxer and the first official world flyweight champion in 1916. 
  • Marty Wilde, born Reginald Smith, was among the first generation of British pop stars to emulate
    American rock and roll. He is the father
    of the pop singers Ricky and Kim Wilde

Select Wilde/Wild/Weld Numbers Today

  • 25,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 7,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 9,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Wilde and Like Surnames

These are the names of some literary giants.  If you are interested in the name behind the literary figure, please click on the surname below.





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