Wisdom Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Wisdom Meaning
Wisdom derived from the Old English wis meaning
“knowing” and would refer to a learned person in medieval times who
would be
regularly consulted on legal or other matters.
Wise emerged as a surname sometime in the 13th century, Wisdom a century
later. Wisdom is the rarer of the two
surnames. Wises outnumber Wisdoms by
about ten to one. Both names are
concentrated in London and the southeast.
Wisden is a variant of the Wisdom name.

Wisdom Resources on

Wisdom Ancestry

Wisdom name first appeared in the west country:

  • in
    1327 Robert Wisdom appeared in the Somerset rolls
  • and
    in 1377 Thomas Wisdom, the MP for Wilton, was
    recorded in the Wiltshire rolls.

However, the name is mainly to be found in London and the southeast.

Wisdom name began to appear in Sussex from the 14th century, in west
Sussex near present-day Chichester and Worthing and in east Sussex at
Pevensey. An early Wisdom appearance in records, as Wisdome,
seems to
have been at South Stoke near Arundel in Sussex in the 1550’s. There was a more continuous line in
Frant and
Wadhurst in Kent from the 1650’s.

John Wisdom
was recorded as a carpenter in Glynde in Sussex in 1766 and William Wisdom later lived in
Pear Tree Cottage. The comedian Norman
Wisdom was a descendant.

variant spelling Wisden came later and also appears to have originated
Sussex. John Wisden, born in Brighton in
1826, began the famous Wisdens Cricketers
in 1864.

America. There
are, surprisingly, more Wisdoms in America than in England.

The origin
of these Wisdoms appears to have been Thomas Wisdom from Berkshire who
came to
Virginia with his wife Martha in 1662. The
main lines derive from their sons Francis and John.
Wisdoms moved onto Kentucky, North
Carolina, and elsewhere in the South.

is another genealogical line
posited by George W.
Wisdom in his 1910 book Genealogy of the
Wisdom Family
. The patriarch of this
line was Abner Wisdom, an English lawyer.
Three of his sons came to America around the year 1730,
initially to Virginia
and later to Kentucky. However, critics
today have raised doubts as to whether this line is really valid.

line from Jesse Wisdom of North Carolina led to Georgia and thence, a
generation later, to Abner Wisdom
, Tennessee and John Henry Wisdom, the Paul Revere of the Confederacy.

Francis and Nancy Wisdom migrated to Kentucky and Tennessee in the
early 1800’s. Later Wisdoms of the line
settled in the Missouri Ozarks (a Wisdom family lived on a farm in the
Creek community from 1839 to 1967).
From Kentucky one line moved south and settled in New Orleans in
1830’s. John Minor Wisdom died in a
blaze there in 1857, but a later Wisdom of the same name was a
Louisiana judge
at the time of civil rights.

The main
numbers of Wisdoms in America were first in Missouri and are now in

Canada. Wisdoms were early
arrivals in Nova Scotia,
coming to Halifax from New England in 1749.
The name of John Wisdom, a carpenter, and his wife Mary can be
found on
a plaque commemorating the first settlers.
Later Wisdoms were also carpenters in Halifax.
Alonzo Wisdom and his wife emigrated to New
Zealand in the 1860’s and settled in Cobden, South Island.


Wisdom Miscellany

William Wisdom of Glynde in Sussex.  In 1788 William Wisdom purchased Pear Tree Cottage.  He was then described as a carpenter, but not
only did he run the malthouse but also the village coal merchant’s
from these premises.  Wisdom rented a
wharf by Glynde Bridge river where coal and other materials could be
landed by

He took out a mortgage on his property in 1802, but appears to have
struggled to meet the repayments. This
may have been because the government had imposed a malt tax to help
finance the
struggle against Napoleon and the custom of cottagers brewing their own
had fallen into disuse.

Wisdom sold his property to the Glynde estate in 1815
but continued to occupy part of the house.
His wife Lucy died in 1818.  After
that time he appears to have left the village.
He died in Cambridge in 1841.

Wisdoms in the 1881 Census

County Numbers Percent
Kent    137    25
Surrey    135    24
London     80    14
Hampshire     57    10
Sussex     32     6
Elsewhere    117    21
Total    558   100

An Alternative Wisdom Line in America.  There
is an alternative genealogical line that was
posited by George W. Wisdom in his 1910 book Genealogy of
the Wisdom Family
.  He wrote:

Wisdom was born near the border of Wales around the year 1675.  Although it is not known who or when he
married it is believed he married at a young age.  He
was a man of high intellectual powers and
was a member of the House of Commons during the reign of George II.  He was a very brilliant lawyer and was
reputedly quite influential among his colleagues.

had five sons – Brinsley
Mortimer, Pollard William, Francis Torrence, Abner Jnr, and Tavner.  The three elder sons emigrated to America
sometime around 1730 and settled in Virginia.
Later they moved and took up land near present day Dansville,
Kentucky.  These brothers were the first
of the name of Wisdom to come to America.“

today wonder whether some of these
people ever existed.  The author can be
forgiven because he didn’t have the resources that are now taken for
He could only rely upon correspondence with living people. Consequently
anything he said about events more than two or three generations before
time has to be read with some degree of skepticism.

Wisdoms in Chattanooga.  The following
article was written in 2009 locally about Hamilton county pioneers in Tennessee.

“In 1853, when Chattanooga was “a
struggling town of about two thousand inhabitants,” Abner J. Wisdom
here “practically penniless” from Arkansas.  Up to the time of the
Civil War, he
was in the livery business.  Later, he
also became a builder, large property owner, and pioneer of the

was born in 1826 in Floyd county
Georgia, the son of Jesse Wisdom, a farmer and Virginia native. His
mother was Elizabeth Griffin whose family was from South Carolina.  He had a brother, Frank Wisdom, who also came
to Chattanooga.  He attended a dance at a
house on Market Street near Seventh and was shot and killed after a
quarrel.  A sister, Julia Wisdom
Strickland, also lived
in Chattanooga.   Another
brother, John Wisdom, lived at Hokes
Bluff, Alabama, as did a sister Mary Wisdom Wright.”

The Paul Revere of the Confederacy.  There is
a marker in John Henry Wisdom’s home town of Hokes Bluff, Alabama that was
erected by the citizens of Rome, Georgia.
It reads as follows:

the night of May 2nd and the morning of May
3rd, 1863, John Wisdom rode 67 miles from Gadsden, Ala. to Rome, Ga.
under very
harassing conditions, to warn the citizens there of Colonel A. D.
proposed march to burn and sack the city, Rome being a stronghold of
Confederacy having an iron works and supply depot. Through this man’s
barricades were erected leading to the eventual surrender of Colonel
to General Bedford Forrest. John
Wisdom lived his last day here and is buried

John Wisdom had been born in Green county, Georgia and had moved to
Alabama just before the Civil War.  There
he ran a ferry across the Coosa river.
Federal troops destroyed his ferry during the conflict.  On questioning the troops he learnt that four
regiments of Federal troops were en-route to Rome, Georgia to capture
garrison there.

To warn them he traveled the 65 miles from Gadsen to Rome in 7½
hours, using six horses and one mule that farmers provided him along
the way.  He was able to arrive 18 hours
before the
first Federal Scouts came.

After the threat was over the citizens of Rome held a
great celebration and John Henry Wisdom was officially proclaimed the
“Savior of Rome.”  He was
“presented with a substantial purse and a handsome costly gift of

Wisdom Misfortunes During the Civil War and After.  Lee Wisdom farmed on a small hill farm in Tennessee.
Just after the Civil War began, he knew he would be called into
the armed service so he went out to raise feed and food for his family while he was in service.

Several weeks after he left,
on a cold rainy day, northern soldiers raided his household and farm
everything they could carry on their horses, the sacks of wheat they
could not
carry were cut open and dumped out onto the ground.
In trying to retrieve some of the wheat, his
wife became sick with pneumonia.  He was
informed of her illness and given leave to return home.
En route home he was bushwhacked by northern
troops and killed.  His wife died a few
days later, leaving two little boys as orphans.

The two orphans, Billy and Lee, lived with their uncle
Jessie for a while but then ran away because they were being treated so
badly.  After three weeks they journeyed
to another uncle’s house.  Their only food
in those three weeks were wild blackberries and gooseberries. They were
practically naked, very weak and almost sick from ticks and other
insect bites.
Still this uncle Sipe was very glad to see them and took them in as
part of the

In 1880 the two boys left
Tennessee by wagon train to Texas.  The
younger, Lee, married, returned to Tennessee and later moved onto White
Arkansas.  His son Walter Wisdom, who was
born in Tennessee in 1894 and died in Arkansas in 1988, wrote his
in White County Wisdom.


Wisdom Names

  • John Wisden began the famous Wisdens Cricketers Almanac in 1864. 
  • Norman Wisdom was an English comedian, actor and singer-songwriter of the 1950’s and 1960’s
    best known for his slapstick routines.

Select Wisdom Numbers Today

  • 1,300 in the UK (most numerous
    in Kent)
  • 1,800 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 200 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)




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