Wilde Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Wilde Surname 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 uncultivated ground.

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 Surname Resources on The Internet

Wilde, Wild and Weld Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Lancashire), Holland and Ireland
  • to America, South Africa and Australia

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

Welds.  The Weld pedigree is said to have dated back to the year 1000, prior to the Norman 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 the county of Chester.

The 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 in Suffolk who set off for New England.

Wilds and Wildes.  The spelling was initially Wyld and Wylde. Prominent Wyldes 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 250 years.
  • Robert Wylde later Wild from Huntingdonshire, born in 1609, who was a poet of some stature and a Puritan preacher who conflicted with the Government 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.

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

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

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

However, the largest numbers of Wilds and Wildes in England have been in Lancashire. 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 and 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 Ashton-under-Lyne.

Ireland.  The 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 Victorian England. Oscar himself was not proud of his Dutch ancestry.

There 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, Canada and elsewhere. But the trade directory for 1934 showed that Wildes had also stayed.

America.  The Welds came first, as in England.

Welds.  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 this 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.

William 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 Mayflower, 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 Massachusetts.

William, Alice and John Wild travelled on the Elizabeth in 1635 and settled in Ipswich, Massachusetts. John moved to Topsfield and married Sarah Averill as his second wife. Sarah was hanged at Salem in 1692. John died at Topsfield in 1705.

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.

Meanwhile 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.

Some Wildes came to Pennsylvania from England during the first half of the 19th century:

  • Joseph Wilde from Wakefield in Yorkshire, aged just fifteen, arrived in 1826, married and made his home in Schuylkill 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 Africa. 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 Wales.

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, Wild and Weld Surname 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 Commandery, and were frequently the local Droitwich MP’s.   John Wylde was Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1646. At the time of the final battle of the Civil War The Commandery 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 Oldham (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 1770’s.

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, emigrated 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.

Another 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 write.

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 acumen, Joseph Weld became one of the first donors to Harvard University.

Surprisingly 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 Harvard’s first president personally whipped them and expelled them from the school.

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

However, the large, sprawling Weld family has also spawned more than its share of distinguished members of the Harvard family.  Since John Weld, nineteen more Welds and three Weld spouses attended Harvard during 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.

Two 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 benefactor 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 principal physician, was gradually winding down his medical practice at that time and Wild soon took over as the leading physician in town.

He built his house there in 1820, married, reared a family and became the trusted physician, friend and adviser of the 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 with pleasure.

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

“Those 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 spectacles into and through one.

He 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 wore 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.”

Dr. 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 organ.

Wilde, Wild and Weld 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.

Wilde, Wild and 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)

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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Written by Colin Shelley

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