Winter Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Winter Surname Meaning

The surname Winter is thought to have come from the season of winter, recorded as winter in Old English, wintar in old German and vetr in old Norse.  It may have started out as a nickname or byname for someone of a frosty or gloomy temperament, or simply someone who was born during the winter-time.

But other origins for the name in Britain have been suggested.  The Winter name could have been occupational and related to vintners and vineyards.  Or there is the Welsh explanation – that Castle Gwynn in Wales gave rise to the Gwyntour surname which became Wyntour and Wynter over time.

Variants of the Winter name today are Wynter, Wintour, and the patronymic Winters, the more common usage in America.  Winter or Winters can be of English, German or Jewish stock.

Winter Surname Resources on The Internet

Winter and Winters Surname Ancestry

  • from SW Gemany, Southern England, Ireland (Tyrone) and Jewish emigrants
  • to America, Caribs (Jamaica), Canada and Australia

The Winter surname has been more common in Germany than in England, by a factor of almost four to one.  They number about 80,000 in Germany today.

Although the name is widely spread around the country, its main presence has been in the southwest of the country – in North Rhine Westphalia, Baden Wurttemberg, and Bavaria.  From the Rheinland Palatine area came many early Winters to America.  And Ludwig Georg Winter was a prominent politician of Baden in the early 1800’s.

England.  Winter may have started out as the first name Wintra in Anglo-Saxon times before the Norman invasion.  Winter was in fact the name of one of the companions of the Anglo-Saxon Hereward who fought against the Normans.  Wynter and Winter emerged as surnames in the 13th century.  These names were mainly to be found in southern England.

SW England.  John Wynter or Winter was born around 1503 at Lidney in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire.  Some have speculated that he may have had Welsh ancestors, but there is no proof that he had.

John thrived as a Bristol sea captain and merchant.  As Treasurer of the Navy, he was friendly with Sir Thomas Cromwell:

  • his son Sir William Wynter or Wintour became a famous admiral during the reign of Queen Elizabeth (although the Spanish would have considered him and his brother George as pirates)
  • while William’s nephew John (the son of George) accompanied Francis Drake as his Vice-Admiral on his voyage around the world in 1577
  • and Sir John Winter or Wintour, William’s grandson, was an ironmaster and landowner at Lydney and ardent supporter of Charles I during the English Civil War.  His estate, confiscated by Parliament in 1648, was subsequently recovered by his son Thomas.

From John Wynter’s daughter Alice (born in 1526), whose descendants adopted the Wynter name and settled in Somerset, came John Wynter.  He married Elizabeth Wheaton in Taunton in 1631 and they emigrated to Massachusetts.  Edward Wynter of this line later departed for Virginia.

Meanwhile a Welsh connection was evident for Wynters in Brecon.  Benedict Wynter had been recorded as a burgess there in 1448.  Later Wynters at Brecon were descendants of Lewis Wynter the physician.  The Rev. William Wynter was the rector at Penderyn from the 1750’s.  When he died in 1792 it was said that “immense property was found concealed in his house.”

The Winters at Huddington Court in Worcestershire did claim a Welsh heritage.  Their numbers included Robert and Thomas Winter or Wintour, Catholic co-conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot, who were executed in 1606.  This line died out soon afterwards.  A related line was in Oxford and Warwickshire from about 1600.  Many of them, later the Winters of Agher, moved to Ireland.

The Winter name did continue in Gloucestershire, notably in the village of Adlestrop.  Ann Winter was born there in 1661 and Thomas Winter in 1682.

SE England.  The Winter numbers in SE England are somewhat larger, with London alone accounting for almost 20% of all the Winters in England in the 1891 census.

Thomas Winter, a great grandson of Admiral Sir William Wynter, was an East India merchant who died in 1681 and was buried at All Saints, Fulham.  The Nehemiah Winter who married Elizabeth Farr in Stepney in 1696 was the captain of ships sailing to India.  He later became a shareholder in the East India Company.  Other Winters in the area belonged to the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights.

Ireland.  The Winter name in Ireland would have been an anglicization of the Gaelic Mac Giolla Gheimhridh, where Geimhreadh was a byname also meaning “winter.”  Winter and Winters here appeared in county Tyrone, notably around Castlederg, and on the borders of Derry.

A Winter arrival from England was Samuel Winter, a colonel in Cromwell’s army who died in Kildare in 1670. His descendent the Rev. Sankey Winter was the Archdeacon of Killala and Dean of Kildare.  They later became known as the Winters of Agher as their home was at Agher in county Meath.   James Sanderson Winter was the High Sheriff of Meath in 1872.

America.  The Winter name was brought by English, Irish, German. and later Jewish arrivals.  The English came first.  But the Germans who first started coming in the 1730’s were by far the more numerous.  In America Winter is now outnumbered by Winters as a spelling.

English.  John Winter from Somerset came with his wife Elizabeth to New England in 1634 and was among the first settlers of Scituate four years later.  He died there in 1651.  His son Obadiah migrated to New Jersey and many of his descendants were to be found in Pennsylvania.

Another early presence in Scituate was Christopher Winter who married Jane Cooper there in 1638.  His descendants were to be found in Worcester, Massachusetts and later in Connecticut.  Ira Winter left Connecticut after the Revolutionary War for Pennsylvania where he was one of the first settlers of Tobyhanna township in Monroe county.

German.  Early on, they were mainly from the Rheinland Palatinate, Pennsylvania being their principal point of arrival.  Among them were:

  • Georg Heinrich Winterheimer from Gross Winternheim who came on the Pennsylvania Merchant in 1733 and arrived as George Winter.
  • Heinrich (Henry) Winters from Westervald who married Frona Kaes in New Jersey in 1743 and settled there in Sussex county.
  • Andreas Winter from Bad Durkheim who arrived with his family in Philadelphia in 1734 and settled in Bern township, Berks county.
  • Philipp Friederich Winter also from Bad Durkheim who arrived in Philadelphia in 1750, married in Lancaster county, and settled the next year in Tulpehocken township, Berks county.
  • and Georg Winter who came around 1760 and married and settled down in York county.  His son John enlisted in the militia from 1783 to 1790 and served with his son Jacob in the War of 1812.

Winter arrivals in the 19th century were from a wider spectrum of German states and went mainly to the Midwest.  For example, William and Henrietta Winter from Hesse came in 1843 and settled in Fairfield county, Ohio.  William followed his trade of gunsmith there.  His son Daniel was one of the leading physicians and surgeons in Columbus, Ohio.

Another William Winter and his wife Minnie left their home in Prussia in 1856 for an eleven-week voyage to New York.  Upon arriving there, they immediately proceeded westward to Wisconsin, remaining there until the end of the Civil War.  They then departed for NE Nebraska where cheap land was available for settlers.

Frederick and Dora Winter from Rhine-Westphalia came in the 1870’s to rural Warren county in Missouri whey they farmed.  Edward was the fifth of their eleven children that they raised.  He was editor of the local newspaper and entered politics, becoming Lieutenant Governor of the state in 1932.

John and Elizabeth Winter from Hesse arrived in New York in 1884.  They settled in Manhattan, Kansas (not Manhattan, New York), where John found work as a carpenter.  Their son, also named John, became the postmaster at Manhattan.

Jewish.  The Winter name can be Jewish.  The most notable Jewish bearer of the name was probably Benjamin Winter.  Born in Poland in 1881, he followed his father to New York in 1901.  By 1912 he had started his own real estate company in Manhattan.  He became known for his ability to identify and buy up under-valued properties and selling them on for a profit.  After his death in 1944 the business was continued by his son Marvin and grandson Benjamin.

Marianne Winter arrived with her parents in New York in 1939.  They were Austrian Jews escaping the Nazis.  Four years earlier Marianne, then aged fourteen, had started a pen pal correspondence with a teenage non-Jewish girl from Pennsylvania.  When the Nazi threat became real, this girl’s family sponsored the Winters coming to America and they were able to secure the vital immigration visa.

Caribbean.  The Wynter spelling may have died out in England, but it has survived in Jamaica.  Sir Edward Wynter, descended from the Lydney Wynters, came out to Jamaica around 1680 and started a sugar plantation with slaves at St. Thomas-in-the-Vale.  A later Edward Wynter willed this plantation to his widow Mary in 1797.

The William Wynter of this line who died in 1772 was probably the father of Charlotte Wynter, the free mulatto of Pleasant Hill.  From Percival Wynter of Pleasant Hill and his wife Lola in the 1920’s came two redoubtable Wynter children – Hector Wynter, the educator and politician, and his sister Sylvia Wynter the writer. The Wynter name has spread in Jamaica, numbering some 3,500 today.

Canada.  James Winter came to Newfoundland from Devon in the 1750’s and was the first of a long line of Winters in the colony.  The early times were difficult and James’s son John had to endure bankruptcy and the death of his wife Susanna in 1817.  But later came:

  • Sir James Spearman Winter who rose to become Premier of Newfoundland in 1897
  • his two sons James and Harry who both went on to serve as Speakers for the Newfoundland Assembly
  • and Marmaduke Winter who founded Standard Manufacturing in 1902.  This company was an early manufacturer of soap and house paint in Newfoundland.

Australia.    Samuel Winter was a corn-dealer transported to Australia as a convict on the Marquis of Hastings in 1826.  After completing his sentence, he married and settled down in Richmond near Melbourne.  His two sons, Samuel and Joseph, became journalists.  Samuel, known as Stormy, ran The Herald of Melbourne and was elected as the first mayor of Richmond.

John (Jock) Winter, a butcher by trade from Lauder on the Scottish borders, set out with his wife Janet and eight children on the William Mitchell for Australia in 1841.  He procured land near Ballarat in Victoria.

When gold was discovered there in 1851, he made a fortune servicing the prospectors. He used the proceeds to acquire land for grazing.  His youngest son William expanded on his father’s holdings.  He was also a magistrate and politician, a member of the Victorian Legislative Council.

Anna Wintour’s Family Ancestry

Anna Wintour, an icon of the New York fashion industry, bears a surname that was known in Elizabethan England as a variant of Winter, but then largely disappeared from view.  Anna’s own Wintour roots began in England in the 1750’s, with a maternal connection to the scandalous Lady Elizabeth Foster of the Regency Age.

Just click below if you want to read more about this history:

Winter and Winters Surname Miscellany

Winter as Wine-Makers.  One occupation-related theory is that some Winter names are associated with vintners and vineyards.  Winemaking became a major occupation in England during a warm period in the 1100’s and 1200’s and then dying out when the climate cooled in the 1300’s.

The distinction between “W” and “V” used to be much fuzzier in the past, and it wouldn’t be at all uncommon for the “n” in vintner to have dropped out of the surname with the passage of time.

The Vintners’ Company, founded in 1363, was one of the twelve great livery Companies of the City of London, involved in the importation, regulation and sale of wine. Despite being a major historical occupation, Vintner is unknown as an English surname. A database of immigrants to England from 1330 to 1550 identifies a transition of a surname from Vyntener to Wynter.

Welsh Wyntours and Winters.  The Norman Walter or William de Lacy was said to have married the daughter of the lord of Castle Gwynn in NW Wales (Gwynn, meaning “white,” being the ancient Celtic king of the faeries and the underworld) and taken the name of Gwyntour.  This surname may then have revolved into Wyntour and Winter.

Roger de Winter, supposedly from this line, first appeared in Gloucester around the year 1275.  Later Winters were found there or at Huddington in Worcestershire.

However, the father of John Wynter of Lidney was not, as often claimed, Robert Winter of this line and the son of Roger Winter and Elizabeth Hungerford.  Robert was born later than John, according to the information given in the Visitations of Gloucestershire.

Reader Feedback – Admiral Sir William Wynter.  My late sister and my grand uncle the Rev Charles Winter and others also have researched for decades and we found no proof at all that Admiral Sir William Winter, the son of John Winter, was born in Wales; nor was there proof that John Winter was.

We have seen proof that there was an Archbishop Winter in Wales and held lands there but have never found acceptable proof that Sir William the Admiral was born in Wales.

The Welsh Gwyntour White tower theory that the bearer was supposed to have been castellen of a castle in Wales is also unproven.  But there is proof that a Welsh castellen whose name was not Wintour may have been related to the Winters of Lydney. This can be found in the Victorian histories.

Anne Winter Williams (

Africans at Lidney.  In 1597 an African man named Edward Swarthye alias Negro appeared before an English court. He gave evidence that, at the command of his employer Sir Edward Wynter, he had whipped another servant, John Guye, in the hall of his house in Lidney, Gloucestershire.

Winter and Winters Numbers Today (000’s)

  •  UK           – 19 Winter + 4 Winters    = 23
  • America    – 19 Winter + 24 Winters  = 43
  • Elsewhere – 17 Winter   + 5 Winters  = 22
  • Total         – 55 Winter + 33 Winters  = 88

Philipp Friederich Winter’s Arrival in Pennsylvania.  Philipp Friederich Winter was born around 1730 near Bad Durkheim in the Rhineland Palatinate.  There are two stories about when and how he came to America.

The first involves his possible father Andreas Winter who arrived with his entire family in 1734. Andreas settled in Bern township and most of his children married within a relatively small group of people in Berks county.

The second story involves Philipp Friederich arriving on his own from Europe in 1750 and settling in Berks county. There is an immigration record for a Frederick Winter in August 1750, but he may not be the same as this Philipp Friederich who lived in Tulpehocken township.  On his way there Philipp Friederich met and married Maria Margaretha Lehman.  Their first child was born in September 1751.

The location proximity of Philipp Friederich to the other Winters does seem to be of significance. If Philipp Friederich was not a sibling, he might well have been a late-arriving cousin.  He would have been too young to have been a sibling who had been left behind on the first trip.

Winters in Monroe County, Pennsylvania.  The Winters were a prominent family in Tobyhanna township in Monroe county, Pennsylvania during the 19th century.

The first of the family to arrive was Ira Winter or Winters, the spelling in the family varying over the years.  Ira was of English stock, descended from an early arrival in Massachusetts in 1634.  He had come to Pennsylvania from Connecticut around the year 1800.  He was first recorded in the Monroe county census in 1830, being listed there as a carpenter and apparently involved in the logging industry.

The 1850 census showed all five of Ira’s sons – John, Ira, Burton, Jude and Washington – living within the small area of the township.  They were supporters of the local Methodist church when it was first built in 1852.  Thomas Winter of the next generation was elected township supervisor a couple of times and other Winters held township offices.  And many of these Winters were buried at the nearby Stoddartsville cemetery.

However, by the time of the 1870 census, most of the family had left the area.  Many went west to Wisconsin and Minnesota; while others moved to different locations in Pennsylvania.

Winter and Winters Numbers by Origin in America

  • Germany   – 1,674 (66%)
  • England    –   488 (19%)
  • Ireland      –   322 (13%)
  • Elsewhere –     90 (  3%)
  • Total          – 2,574

John Winter’s Difficult Days in Newfoundland.  James Winter, the first Winter to arrive in Newfoundland, had two sons, George born in 1772 and John born in 1776.

John married in 1800, but then ran into problems.  In 1817 he was declared insolvent.  He had done poorly in business and was in debt to many – including his own father and his brother George.  In November 1817 his father “sued John for a sum of 200 pounds that was one year’s annuity due him,” with his elder brother George acting as his attorney.  The father won and John was forced to place his property up for auction in 1818.

Sometime during this period John’s wife Susanna died and John remarried.  It was speculated that John married Anne Rennell for her social position and her money.  He was broke; while her father was a doctor and a man of means in St. John’s at the time.

But John’s family name was well known and respected.  Although John’s financial matters may have been in tatters, this could have been considered only a small setback.  Such were perils in these times.  Family pedigree could be a door of escape from total ruin.

Winter and Winters Names

  • William Wynter was a famous admiral of the English Navy at the time of Queen Elizabeth.
  • Benjamin Winter, descended from Polish Jewish immigrants, was an important real estate developer in Manhattan during the 1920’s.
  • Shelley Winters, born Shirley Schrift to Jewish parents, was a prominent American actress of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
  • Fred Winter was British jump racing champion jockey four times and British jump racing champion trainer eight times over the second half of the 20th century.
  • Anna Wintour has been the editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine in New York since 1988 and an important determiner of fashion from that time.

Winter and Winters Numbers Today

  • 23,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 43,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 23,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Winter and Like Surnames

Nicknames must have been an early feature of medieval life in a family or community as these nicknames later translated into surnames.  People then lived a more natural life than we do today and the surnames have reflected that.

The seasons of winter and summer could also emerge as nicknames and later as surnames – Winter or Winters as a gloomy or frosty person and Summer or Summers as a sunny disposition.  They are both surnames in England and Germany.  But, interestingly, Winter is the more common surname in both countries.

Nicknames could be about color (Brown, Gray, Green etc), whether of hair or complexion or other factors; mood (Gay and Moody are two extremes); youth (Cox and Kidd); speed of foot (Swift and Lightfoot); and actions (such as Shakespeare and Wagstaff).  Then there were likenesses to animals (notably Fox and Wolfe but also Peacock) and to birds (Crowe and Wren for example).  And then there were some extraordinary nicknames such as Drinkwater and Wildgoose.

Here are some of these nickname surnames that you can check out.




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Written by Colin Shelley

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