Wolfe Surname Genealogy

The wolf was native to the forest of Europe during medieval
times. The animal played a particularly important role in
Germanic mythology, being regarded as one of the sacred beasts of
Woden. And Wolf is a common surname in Germany and elsewhere in
north and central Europe. It also transposed as a Jewish name,
from the Yiddish Volf or
“wolf” associated with the name Benjamin.  The wolf also figured in Spanish culture, resulting in the Lopez
surname, and, across the Atlantic, in native American culture.
There was probably less reverence for the wolf in Britain and it
developed less as a surname. The name seems to have been
introduced by the Normans, Henry Lupus (Wolf) being one of William the
Conqueror’s chief lieutenants who was granted lands in Cheshire.
And it was the Anglo-Normans who brought the name to Ireland.
Wolf allso derived from the old Norse byname Ulf meaning “wolf.” However,
Wolf as a surname never developed in Britain to the same extent that it
did in Germany.

Alternative spellings of the name are Wolf, Wolfe, Woolf and, in
Ireland, Woulfe.

Wolfe Resources on

Wolfe Ancestry

Today there are some 150,000 Wolfs in Germany, with the highest
concentation in Saxony in the east of the country, and a further 25,000
to be
found in Austria and Switzerland and a smattering in Denmark and

. Early references to the name in England
frequently had the prefix “le,” such as John le Wolf in Bedfordshire in
1279. Over time Wolfe became the more common English

as a surname was first found in London in the late 1700’s, possibly
of a Jewish immigrant. Jewish Woolfs from Poland came to Exeter
in Devon
in the early 1800’s. The name was most
famously born by the writers Leonard and Virginia Woolf of the
Bloomsbury set (Virginia
would refer to Leonard
before their marriage as “that penniless Jew”).

Peter Woulfe, a chemist and minerologist of Irish
origin, first discovered the presence of tin in Cornwall in
1766. Arthur Woolf, born in Cornwall that year, was the inventor
of a high-pressure steam engine that powered the Cornish mine
engine. And it was a Cornish bay near St. Ives that inspired
Woolf’s most famous novel To the

Wolf in London was Edward Wolf from Bohemia who had come to England as
political refugee after the 1848 revolutions.
His son Lucien became a prominent historian and advocate of
rights in England. Later came Edmund
Wolf, an Austrian Jewish playwright who sought sanctuary in England in
the late
1930’s. His son Martin has been a
distinguished journalist and writer for the Financial

. The names Wolfe, Woulfe and earlier Ulf were
brought into
Ireland by Anglo-Norman settlers who had come with Strongbow in the
12th century. They settled in Kildare and
Limerick. They were later to be found at Forenachts in Kildare
and were priminent landowners in Limerick.

Various Woulfes were bailiffs of Limerick City between 1470 and
1647. George Woulfe took part in the defense of Limerick against
Cromwellian forces in 1651 and, after its capture, was reported to have
been hanged together with his brothers Francis and James (other
accounts had George escaping to England). Some have this
George as the great grandfather of General James
, the British victor at Quebec in 1759. The
General may have had Irish blood in him. But not necessarily this

Woulfes in Cork came later. The first of them may have been the
John Wolfe, one of the original settlers to found the walled Protestant
town of Bandon in 1613. The name spread, particularly in west

America. Wolf and Wolfe
are the main recorded names in America. But most arrived as Wolf
and came from Germany
. By comparison there was only a
trickle of
Wolfes of English and Irish origin, even though there are as many
Wolfes as Wolfs in America today.

Many of the early arrivals from Germany entered via Pennsylvania,
such as:

  • Paul Wolff, a weaver from Holstein who was one of the original
    settlers of Germantown, Pennsylvania in the early 1690’s.
  • Jonas Wolf
    who came in 1732 and settled in York county. J.
    Arthur Wolfe, a descendant, published a genealogy of this line, Jonas Wolf of Berwick Township, in
  • Peter Wolf who was born in Lancaster county in 1740. After
    1800 the Wolfe family migrated to western Pennsylvania and Ohio.
    Their story was told in Ralph Kersh’s 1988 book The Wolfe Pack.
  • and Andrew Wolf who came in 1764, married, and settled in western
    Pennsylvania. Later Wolfs moved onto Ohio. This family line
    was covered in Nora Wolfe Atkinson’s 1964 book The
    Family History.

line from Jacob Wolf, born in 1807 in Adams county, led to William
Wolfe, a gravestone carver who moved to North Carolina, and to his son
Thomas Wolfe, an important American novelist of the early 20th
century. The later novelist and writer Tom Wolfe, born in
Virginia, also has German roots. In his case his ancestor was
Hans Bernard Wolf from Baden in Germany who came with his family to
Berks county, Pennsylvania in 1727.

Jewish. Many
Wolfs are Jewish. Simon Wolf, who arrived from Bavaria with
his grandparents as a young boy in 1848, was one of the most
influential Jewish
leaders in America in the late 19th century.
Today there is the TV producer Dick Wolf and the feminist writer
Naomi Wolf.

. Wolfe Island at the junction of Lake Ontario and
the St. Lawrence river was named in honor of James Wolfe, the victor at

Some Irish Wolfes emigrated to Canada in the 19th century. John
and Mary Wolfe left Cork in the 1820’s and settled in Hastings county,
Ontario. Another John Wolfe, having lost four of his sons
in the famine, departed Limerick with his remaining family in the late
1840’s and settled in Grey county, Ontario.

South Africa. Major
Richard Wolfe from Forenachts in Kildare made his home in Cape Town in
1820’s. His sons George and Robert, born there, also served in
the British
army at various locations. Wolfe descendants are still in South

Australia. William Wolf
was a prominent Australian architect of the early 1900’s.
His father was German. But he was born in New York and worked in
London before arriving in Australia in 1877.

Wolfe Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Wolfe Names

was the British general killed during his daring capture
of Quebec from the French in 1759.
Virginia Woolf, part of the
Bloomsbury set, was a leading English writer of the early 20th century.  Thomas Wolfe was a major
American novelist of the early 20th century.
Howlin’ Wolf, born Chester
Burnett, was an American blues singer, guitarist and
harmonica player.
Henry Wolf was a New York based
graphic designer and magazine art director in the 1950’s and 60’s.
Beverly Wolff was an American
opera singer whose career spanned the 1950’s to early 1980’s.
is an American
journalist and writers, one of the founders of the New Journalism
movement of the 1960’s and 70’s.

Select Wolfes Today

  • 6,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Nottinghamshire)
  • 67,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania)
  • 28,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)



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