Wood Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Wood Surname Meaning

The name in England is mainly locational, describing someone who lived atte wode or at or by a wood. This meaning gave rise to other surnames, such as Bywood, Underwood and Atwood. The name could also be occupational for a woodcutter or forester. 

In Scotland, the surname root may have been the Old English wod, describing someone who is wild or crazy. An example of the use of this term is the pun in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “And heere am I, and wod within this wood.”

Early surname spellings were Wod and Wode. The main spelling variant today is Woods.

Wood Surname Resources on The Internet

Wood and Woods Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Yorkshire and Staffordshire) and from Scotland (East Coast)
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Bermuda, Canada and Australia

England.  The surname first appeared in England in the 13th century. Walter de la Wode was recorded in Hertfordshire in 1242 and Roger del Wode in Yorkshire in 1274.  The later name distribution has been more north than south.  Two prominent English Wood families came from Yorkshire and Staffordshire.

Yorkshire.  A Yorkshire Wood line began with George Wood of Monk Bretton near Barnsley in the mid-1500’s.  Charles Wood of this family, a 19th century colonial administrator, was made Viscount Halifax.  Edward Wood, better known as Lord Halifax, was a leading appeaser to Nazi Germany in the 1930’s.

One Wood family record began with Richard Wood in Ripon in north Yorkshire in the late 1500’s. This family moved to London in the early 1700’s and later bought Melton Hall in Suffolk.  Another Wood family started with Edmond Wood in Halifax, born around the year 1550.  A later Edmond Wood departed for New England in 1630.  

John Wood from Yorkshire made a fortune in the cotton industry at Glossop in Derbyshire in the early 19th century. His grandson Samuel Hill Wood, great grandson Denis, and great great grandson Peter have all been chairmen of the Arsenal football club in London.

Elsewhere.  The Staffordshire Woods started with three brothers in Burslem in the early 18th century,  Ralph, Aaron, and Moses. They were prominent in the development of Staffordshire’s pottery industry.

An early Wood marriage in Derbyshire was that between George Wood and Elizabeth Haslam at Dronfield in 1591.  George Wood was born in Bonsall in 1632 (a Quaker, he emigrated to Pennsylvania in the 1680’s).  There were also early Woods at Glossop, starting with John and Anna Wood who were married there around 1710.  Seven generations of Woods followed them at Glossop or nearby Whitfield.

There were Woods also in Kent in SE England.  A Wood family from Derbyshire had moved to Sandwich in Kent by the mid-1500’s.  This family was to produce four mayors of the town over the next hundred years.  Robert Wood died at Sheppey in Kent in 1594.  Later Woods were yeoman farmers at Sheppey and Chartham and papermakers near Dartford.  Charles Wood’s 2015 book Wood: A Family of Kent covered these Woods.

Scotland. One Wood line in NE Scotland may have had Norman connections with the de Boscos that had moved north into Scotland from England. The early spelling of the name was Wod.

As the Woods of Balbegno in Kincardineshire and Bonnytoun in Angus, the Woods were extensive landowners in the region. William Wood, a 15th century merchant, came from this family.  His son Andrew Wood was a successful sea captain and pirate whose victories over the English, notably off the Firth of Forth in 1490, made him a Scottish admiral and granted him lands at Largo in Fife.

Wynd House in Fife remained in Wood family hands.  But other Wood descendants, generally strapped for cash, disposed of these estates and relocated themselves to Perth where they prospered.  Many subsequently settled in England. Sir Mark Wood of Gatton Park in Surrey was made a baronet in 1808.

Ireland. The surnames Wood and Woods may have either been an English or Scottish implant or an anglicization of the Gaelic word coill meaning wood. The names have mostly been found in the Ulster counties of Monaghan and Tyrone. The Woods spelling is more common in Ireland than in England.

Sir John Woods from Yorkshire was in Ireland with Cromwell and held Dunshaughlin castle in county Meath. One line of his family later resided at Milverton Hall, just north of Dublin. Other Woods departed Ireland for America in the 1720’s.  

America.  There were some early Woods in New England.

New England.  Wood arrivals here were:

  • Edmond Wood from Halifax in Yorkshire who came on Winthrop’s fleet to New England in 1630 and later, in 1644, settled in what became Hempstead on Long Island.
  • and William Wood from Derbyshire who arrived in 1638 and was one of the first settlers of Concord, Massachusetts. The Woods remained there for more than a hundred years before migrating north to Maine in 1774.

Henry Wood, a Welsh Quaker, arrived with his family at Newport, Rhode Island in 1670.  He did well and later settled in New Jersey.  A descendant was Fernando Wood, the colorful mayor of New York at the time of the Civil War.

Virginia.  One very early sighting was in Virginia.  Abraham Wood was perhaps the first Wood to step ashore in America, arriving at the Jamestown colony in Virginia in 1620 as a ten year old boy. He later became a fur trader and early explorer of what became West Virginia.

James Wood came to Virginia in 1735 and gave his name to the town of Winchester in Frederick county after his home in England.  His son James was a General in the Revolutionary War and served as Governor of Virginia from 1796 to 1799. Wood county in Virginia was named in his honor.

Michael Woods had come to America from Ireland in 1724, settling initially in Pennsylvania. In 1734 he led a pioneering group across the Blue Ridge Mountains through what became known as Woods’ Gap into the Shenandoah valley of Virginia. Woods himself made his home near Woods Gap where he died in 1762.  His descendants were to be found at various points south and west in the 1800’s.

Caribbean.  Roger Wood was in Bermuda as early as 1622 and was later Governor of the island. His son Thomas established the Wood home Bosco Manor at Spanish Point.

This family was to become merchants and traders across the Americas, from Newfoundland to South America. Richard Wood moved to Canada in the 1860’s. He built an oil refinery at Oakville in Ontario, which unfortunately then blew up.

Canada.  Thomas Wood was a Loyalist who departed Massachusetts and moved to New Brunswick after the Revolutionary War.  Later Woods became successful Sackville merchants.  Josiah Wood, born in 1843, involved himself in politics and became Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick in 1912.  The family line was covered in James Kibbe’s 1923 book The Wood Family of Sackville, NB.

Alexander Wood, a Scottish merchant who came to Ontario in 1793, is remembered in his home-city of Toronto even though he left no descendants. Wood was tagged with the nickname Molly Wood after an alleged rape case in 1810.  There is an area today in Toronto which is known as Molly Wood’s Bush and forms part of Toronto’s gay community.

There were rumors that Robert Wood, a timber merchant in Quebec at this time, was the illegitimate son of an English royal prince, Edward, and a French lady.  Family tradition has it that he was given to the prince’s former servant, Robert Wood, to be raised as his son.  But this Robert Wood really does seem to have been his father.

Australia.  William Wood had been convicted for burglary in Kent and transported to Tasmania for life in 1812.  He left behind a wife and six children who, however, were able to rejoin him in Tasmania in 1825.  William was enterprising after securing his release.  He was an inn-keeper and brewer and later became involved in the export of wattle bark.  His son William was a baker by trade and settled in Perth.

Another William Wood, this time from Yorkshire, had fought at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and, ten years later, he and his brother Thomas sailed to Sydney as escort for Governor Darling.  William received a land grant at Bong Bong near Liverpool where he farmed.  His descendants have held annual reunions since 1979.

George and Hannah Wood arrived in Sydney, also from Yorkshire, on the Clyde in 1833.  A few years later they settled to farm with the Tate family at Jamberoo on the NSW coast.

Tiger Woods’  Family Ancestry

Tiger Woods is the most famous name in golf.  He has Black, Asian and possibly other forebears.  As an African American, his line has traveled from Louisiana to Kansas and to California.  Just click below if you want to read more about this history:

Wood and Woods Surname Miscellany

Admiral Wood’s Sea Victory in 1490.  One of Sir Andrew’s most famous sea battles was in 1490.  It began in the Firth of Forth and ended next day off the River Tay, the numerically superior English force having been overwhelmed and their vessels captured.  It was said that minstrels celebrated throughout Europe with the following lay:

  • “The Scotsmen fought like lions bold,
  • And many English slew;
  • The slaughter that they made that day
  • The English folk shall rue.
  • The battle fiercely it was fought
  • Near the craig of Basse;
  • When next we fight the English loons,
  • May naewaur come to pass.”

Wynd House.  The current owners of Wynd House in the borough of Elie in Fife are descendants of Admiral Sir Andrew Wood, the famous 15th century merchant seaman.  William Wood bought the house in 1650.

The Wood family later set up a merchant bank in Glasgow and in 1828 another William Wood left Scotland for New York to set up the branch there. Although he lived the rest of his life in New York, his thoughts would often return to Fife. In 1861, as an elderly man, he penned a poem Thoughts on Elie lamenting:

  • “The dear old house in Elie,
  • Oh! would that I were there
  • Close by the southern window,
  • In the quaint morocco chair.”

Wynd House has been owned by descendants of William Wood ever since, even though they have always lived in America.  But the current owner of Wynd House, John Walter Wood, reversed the westward trend of Woods when he settled in Britain after marrying an Irishwoman, Charlotte Cusack Jobson. 

The Wood Potters of Staffordshire.  Early in the 18th century, there were three brothers  Ralph, Aaron and Moses Wood – in the town of Burslem in Staffordshire:

  • Ralph “the miller of Burslem,” was the eldest, born in 1715.  He achieved renown round about 1750 with his Staffordshire figures, and especially his Toby Jugs.
  • Aaron, born in 1717, was the finest mold maker in the Staffordshire potteries.  He was also the father of the even more celebrated Enoch, whose fame rested not only upon his great skill as a modeler but also on his ability as a potter.
  • and from Moses, the third of the three brothers, can be traced the beginning of an unbroken succession of seven generations of Master Potters.

Enoch Wood was a man of great enterpriser whose craftsmanship and flair for invention served to build up the considerable business which began in 1790 and continued through his life as his wares became more sought after, especially in America. He lived into his eighty-third year and died in 1840.

Absalom Wood, a descendant of Moses, founded a new Wood pottery business in 1865.  His company flourished and was employing around 1,000 workers at his Burslem plant in 1910. It continued to operate until 1981.

John Wood of Glossop.  The Wood name had been recorded in the Glossop parish records in Derbyshire since 1620.  But this John Wood had been born at Gatehead near Marsden in Yorkshire in 1785, the son of John Wood, a wool clothier, and his wife Betty.

John had lived in Manchester and Liverpool before arriving in Glossop around the year 1815.  A story went around that when he arrived in Glossop he was so poor that he could not afford either a pair of clogs or shoes, but that he had one of each on his feet.  This does not seem likely.

He got his start in Glossop at the age of thirty when he rented two idle cotton mills there, the Thread mill and the Old Water mill.  His business boomed and he started to acquire mills.  His Howardtown mills became the largest spinning and weaving combine in Glossop and he was to dominate the Derbyshire cotton industry.

He was a careful and mindful owner.  In 1830 the spinners in the district went out on strike and there was rioting.  The soldiers who were brought in to calm the situation were billeted at one of Wood’s mills.  So careful was Wood that no fire should take place owing to the carelessness of the soldiers that he slept many times in the room where the bales of cotton were stowed.

His company John Wood & Sons was continued by his sons after his death in 1854.

Michael Woods and Woods’ Gap.  Michael Woods had originally come to Pennsylvania in 1724 with his brother William and widowed sister Elizabeth. He had married Mary Campbell and they reportedly had eleven children (of which six were recorded in his will when he died).

In 1734 he led a group of 25-30 sturdy pioneers across the Blue Ridge Mountains into the Shenandoah valley of Virginia, a trek of some 200 miles.  They are believed to have been the first whites ever to have gone on that route via an old Indian trail that became known as Woods’ Gap (so designated in 1757).

Woods subsequently took up large land holdings within the vicinity of Woods’ Gap. The original name of his plantation was Mountain Plain.  The Mountain Plain church, built in 1747, was put up on part of his land.  His wife Mary had been murdered by Indians in 1742. Woods himself died at Mountain Plain in 1762.

His niece Magdalena who died in 1800 lived to be ninety years old.  She was noted by contemporaries as being a strikingly beautiful woman with blond hair and possessing great charm.  She was often seen astride a famous black stallion, wearing a hunter’s green riding cloak with gold buttons and a bonnet with many plumes.

The Rev. Neander Woods, a descendant of this family who was born in 1844, asserted in his 1905 book The Woods-McAfee Memorial that Michael Woods was a descendant of the Cromwellian soldier Sir John Woods in Ireland.  Others have suggested a Scots Irish origin.

He also said that Magdalena was by the 1750’s (because of her second marriage to Benjamin Borden) the richest woman west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Maybe that was the family gossip but it was probably not true. 

Fernando Wood of New York.  Fernando Wood’s line began in America in 1670 when Henry Wood, a Welsh Quaker and carpenter, arrived with his family at Newport, Rhode Island.  He did well in the new country and later settled in New Jersey with a substantial landholding at Peashore near present-day Camden.

Over the next three generations, the family fortunes declined. Henry Wood fought in the Revolutionary War, but this caused a break with his Quaker brethren.  His son Benjamin struggled unsuccessfully in various businesses in Philadelphia in the early 1800’s.

From this humdrum background came Fernando Wood, born in Philadelphia in 1812, with his unusual Spanish forename having been chosen by his mother from a character in an English gothic novel.

Making his way in New York, the dapper Wood was first a bar owner who then bought ships and made a fortune in California.   He retired from business in the 1850’s to devote himself to politics.  He was the “Grand Sachem” of Tammany Hall from 1850 to 1856 and elected the Mayor of New York in 1857.  He proved to be a colorful figure in the rough-and-tumble of New York politics over the next decade.

At the time of the Civil War, he was brash, often opposing Lincoln’s actions.  He was in reality a known provocateur if he thought he could get away with it.   His brother Benjamin was less subtle.  He was editor of New York Daily News, which was closed for abetting treason in 1861-62, and a strong anti-War Democrat.  Fernando himself survived being on the losing side in the War and continued to represent New York in Congress until his death in 1881.

Wood Names

  • Sir Andrew Wood was a 15th century privateer who became Lord High Admiral for Scotland.
  • John Wood built the PS Comet, Europe’s first commercial steamship, on the Clyde in Scotland in 1812.
  • Alexander Wood, a doctor in Edinburgh, was in 1853 the first to introduce the hypodermic syringe.
  • Fernando Wood, first elected in 1854, was one of the most colorful mayors of New York.
  • Sir Henry Wood was a prominent English conductor who started the annual Proms season.
  • Natalie Wood was a well-known American actress.
  • Tiger Woods is considered the greatest modern-day golfer.

Wood Numbers Today

  • 186,000 in the UK (most numerous in Warwickshire)
  • 130,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 71,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Wood and Like Surnames

These names are locational, describing someone who lived in those medieval times by the side of a bank, or by a barn or a lane or a shaw (which means a wood) or a wood and so forth.  Both the oak tree and the ash tree have in fact provided locational surnames – Oakes and Nash (from atten Ash).  Here are some of these locational surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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