Wynn Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Wynn Surname Meaning
Wynn as a surname comes in many variations. Wynn, Wynne, Winn, Gwynn, and Gwynne are all found today in varying numbers around the world.  The principal origin of the name is the Welsh name Gwyn dating back to the 8th century and meaning “white” or “fair.”  This might have been a descriptive nickname for the Anglo-Norman or Norse-Viking invader who was fair-skinned; or it simply described a child who was fair-skinned.  The Gwyn name also appeared in the Cornish language.  In England Winn could originate from the Old English word wine meaning “friend.”

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Wynn, Winn and Gwynne Surname Ancestry

Wales.  The spelling in north Wales tended to be Wynn or Wynne, in south Wales Gwynn or Gwynne.

North Wales.  The Wynns of Gwydir castle in Caernarvonshire came from Welsh stock that had involved themselves in the Wars of the Roses during the 15th century.  Meredith ap Ieuan ap Robert, the founder of the Wynn dynasty, was a Lancastrian, a regional supporter of Henry VII, and had been able to purchase the fortified manor house of Gwydir around the year 1490. It became their castle.  His grandson Morys was the first formally to adopt the name of Wynn in the 1550’s.

Sir John Wynn made the family one of the leading families of North Wales in the early 1600’s. His book The History of the Gwydir Family was intended to assert his claim to an earlier royal ancestry.  His son Richard was a Royalist who entertained King Charles I at Gwydir in 1645.

However, the Wynn male line came to an end in 1674.  Sir John Wynn, a cousin and a substantial landowner in his own right, lived into his nineties.  But he died without issue in 1719.  Still, there was yet another Wynn line, commencing with Thomas Wynn of Bodvean, that was long prominent in Caernarvon affairs and was elevated to the peerage in 1776. 

The Wynns of Bodewryd in Anglesey claimed an early lineage, although the Wynn name in their case did not get established until the early 1600’s.  They lasted at Bodewryd only another century.  The Wynnes of Copa’rieni in Flintshire became Wynnes earlier, at the time of Queen Elizabeth.  Four generations of John Wynnes followed, the last-named being an industrial pioneer who developed the town of Trelawnyd around lead mining in the early 1700’s. 

South Wales.  The Gwynne spelling occurred more in south Wales.  Gwynnes held the Taliaris estate in Carmarthenshire from the 1550’s; the Gwynnes of Llanelwedd were prominent in Radnorshire and Breconshire from the 1630’s; while the Gwynnes of Glanbran in Breconshire included Marmaduke Gwynne, an early Methodist convert.  By the late 19th century the largest numbers of Gwynnes were in Glamorgan.


England
The Wynn name from Wales extended into England, from north Wales into Shropshire, Cheshire and Lancashire primarily.  Gwynn appeared in Gloucestershire.  Nell Gwynn, the mistress of Charles II, was a famous denizen of London.

The Wynnes of Canterbury in Kent were said to have been related to John Wynne, the MP for Canterbury in 1356.  Robert Wynne was a prosperous wool draper in the town who became its mayor in 1596.  Both he and his wife Frances died of the plague in 1609, leaving all five of their young children orphans.  Their son Peter, who was able to board with the local tailor, was later made a freemen of Canterbury by his right of birth.  His son Robert emigrated to Virginia and prospered.

Winn in England may not have had any Welsh connections. This includes the Winns in Cornwall (such as those at Constantine and Wendron in the 18th century) and some of the Winns in Yorkshire:

  • the Winn baronets of Nostell Priory near Wakefield were from
    London (where George Winn had been draper to Queen Elizabeth) and were descended from a cadet branch of the house of Gwydir
  • while the Winns from Thornton Steward in north Yorkshire were probably home-grown.  They occupied Nappa Hall in Askrigg from the 1780’s for several generations.  
  • as were the Winns from Gargrave near Skipton, starting with Thomas Winn who was born there around 1767.

Ireland.  Some Welsh Wynne crossed the Irish Channel.  Owen Wynne from a prominent Wynne family in Merioneth acquired the Hazelwood House estate in Sligo in 1722.  They became large landowners in the county.  There were six Owen Wynnes out of seven Wynnes who held the estate from then until 1923.


America.
  The first Wynn in America is believed to have been Captain Peter Wynne who came to Jamestown on the Mary and Margaret in 1608. But he died a year later of fever.  Robert Wynne from Canterbury arrived in Virginia in the 1650’s and settled in Charles City county.  He was a landowner and a politician, serving in the House of Burgesses.  His descendants migrated to North Carolina and Georgia.  Walter F. Winn was the long-time photographer for the Atlanta Journal.

There was an early Welsh contingent from Puleston in Flintshire that came to America, starting sometime in the 1670’s.  Dr. Thomas Wynne was a Quaker on the Welcome with William Penn in 1682. By the early 1700’s there were Winns in Virginia as well – Minor Winn in Fauquier county, Colonel Thomas Winn in Lunenburg
county, and others in Hanover county. Charles and Louise Wynn’s 1991 book The Wynns of Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia covered these later lines.

There were various 19th century Wynne connections between Tennessee and Texas:

  • A.R. Wynne, the merchant, slave trader and land speculator, had been born in Sumner county, Tennessee in 1800 (from parents coming from Virginia). His son James, nicknamed “Bolivar,” fought in the Mexican War and later settled in Washington county, Texas.
  • Richard Wynne moved from Tennessee to Rusk, Texas as a young boy in the 1850’s.  He later served as sheriff of Rusk county and was elected to the state Senate.
  • while Buck Wynne who also grew up in Rusk county was the forebear of the successful and flamboyant Wynne legal family of Wills Point, Texas.  Their numbers included Toddie Lee Wynne who made his fortune in oil with Clint Murchison in the 1930’s.

Canada.  Captain Edward Wynne had led an early English colony to
Ferryland in Newfoundland in 1621.  The colony grew to 100 by 1625.  But then Edward Wynne disappeared from history. 
William Wynn and his wife Mary were Loyalists from upstate New York who departed for New Brunswick in 1783 and later settled in the Niagara region. 

Australia.   Perhaps the best-known Wynns in Australia have been the Wynn wine merchants in Melbourne.  Shlomo Weintraub had learnt wine-making at the family business in Lodz in Poland.  He decided to escape military service there by fleeing via Bremen in Germany for a new life in Australia.  On his arrival in Melbourne in 1913 he quickly anglicized his name to Samuel Wynn.

In 1927 he established Australia Wines Ltd which, by the mid-1940’s, had become the largest winemakers and retailers in Australia.  His son David took over the running of the business in 1948 until it was sold to Allied Breweries in 1972.

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Wynn, Winn and Gwynne Surname Miscellany

Gwydir Castle and the Wynns.  The first recorded owners of Gwydircastle in Caernarvonshire were the Coetmores, who were responsible for building the Hall Range, the earliest surviving part of the house.

Following the Wars of the Roses, the castle was rebuilt around 1490 by Meredith ap Ieuan ap Robert, founder of the Wynn dynasty and a leading regional supporter of King Henry VII. Originally a fortified manor house, Gwydir acquired additions in the 1540’s, incorporating reused gothic building material from nearby Maenan Abbey.  A turret was added around this time and Sir John Wynn’s initials can be seen above the main entrance in the courtyard gatehouse along with the date of 1555.  The castle was given an Elizabethan porch and gardens in the 1590’s.

The Wynns were supporters of King Charles I.  John Williams, his Lord Keeper, stayed at Gwydir. And the King himself is said to have visited in 1645 as guest of Sir Richard Wynn, Treasurer to Queen Henrietta Maria and Chief Groom of the Royal Bedchamber.

The castle has the reputation for being one of the most haunted houses in Wales, the “Grey Lady” being the most commonly seen together with the ghost of a monk said to have been trapped in a tunnel leading from the secret room and Sir John Wynn himself.  Judy Corbett’s 2004 book Castles in the Air described some of these ghosts.

Wynn and Variants in the UK.  Wynn in the UK is mainly but not solely a Welsh-origin name.  It comes in many spelling variations.  Wynn, Wynne, Winn, Gwynn, and Gwynne are all found today. The spelling in the 16th century could be interchangeable. Robert Wynn of Conway in north Wales, for instance, was recorded as Gwynne, Wynn, and Wynne at various times in his career.

The spelling had stabilized by the 19th century.  The surname distribution in the 1881 UK census can give us some clarity as to where each of these names has been concentrated.  

Wynn and Wynne

Wynn and Wynne are clearly closely related.  Wynne is strongest in North Wales (principally Denbighshire) and extending into Cheshire and Lancashire.  Wynn was more found in the English border counties such as Shropshire and Gloucestershire. 

Gwynn and Gwynne

Gwynne has been the more common and has been mainly found in south Wales, notably in 1881 in Glamorgan. Gwynn is more the English spelling.  

Winn

This does appear to have different origins.  The main numbers were to be found down the East Coast of England, principally in Yorkshire but extending into Lincolnshire.  There was a small enclave also in Cornwall, reflecting possibly the Cornish variation on the Welsh name.

Reader Feedback – The Winns from Thornton Stewart.  The Winns from Thornton Stewart in north Yorkshire were my lot.  The name I believe comes from Patrick Brompton and I think that these Winns were related to Francis Winn of Prior House in Bedale who was Mayor of Richmond.  The surname was spelt Wynd in Bedale.

There is someone who has said that my Winns owned a coach with the same crest as the Winns from Nostell Priory (who spelt their name Gwinn on occasions).  However, this coach story is just hearsay.

Regards. Julie Brutnell (heavensguide@hotmail.com)

Winville at Askrigg in North Yorkshire.  Winville opposite the Post Office was the residence of George Winn and his wife Elizabeth. George was born in 1808 at Nappa Hall in Askrigg along with his elder brother John who became the vicar of St Andrews Church in Aysgarth.  George followed the family tradition and became a solicitor and local counsellor, as was his son William.

Winnville is now the White Rose Hotel.

Dr. Thomas Wynne the Barber Surgeon.  Dr. Thomas Wynne, a self-declared doctor or “barber surgeon” as he was called, was a prominent Quaker in north Wales, one who had been arrested and imprisoned for six years in Denbighshire. In 1681 he learned about William Penn, came to London, and was on the Welcome with Penn to Pennsylvania a year later, acting as his personal physician.

He settled in Philadelphia.  His home Wynnestay, built in 1689, is one of the oldest extant buildings in Philadelphia (now to be found near Wynnefield station).

Thomas Wynne died in Philadelphia in 1692. Jonathan, a son by his first wife Martha, was his heir and made his home at Wynnestay.  Two Jonathans later the Wynns acquired for themselves in 1774 a farmhouse in Chester county.

The Wynne Family of Wills Point, Texas.  Buck Wynne was the son of a poor Rusk county farmer from Tennessee who rode into Wills Point, east of Dallas, in 1877 with nothing but a rifle and a pair of lawbooks in his saddlebags.

Fat Dad, as his grandchildren came to call him, was the forebear of a flamboyant clan that has given contemporary Texas such necessities as the Styrofoam cup (invented by a Wynne on his mother’s side), the Cattle Baron’s Ball (in 1973), as well as Texas’s answer to Disneyland – Six Flags Over Texas opened by Angus Wynne Jr. in Arlington in 1961.  His son Shannon is a Dallas restauranteur best known for his Flying Saucer Draught Emporium. 

The Winn Family in South Australia.  The Winn Family arrived in South Australia on the sailing ship Shack-O-Mackson in 1852. Richard Winn was an experienced farmer and settled at Coromandel Valley.  Their eldest son Oliver became a butcher, whereas their third son Walter, born in 1862, took over the family business when he was only eighteen and became a baker.  Walter married Margaret Fisher and they raised four children.

With four young children and the bakery and general store, the Winn family had a busy life. After returning from the First World War, their son Hector would take over the business.   In 1970 the Coromandel Valley and District branch of the National Trust was offered their building as a museum.

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Wynn, Winn and Gwynne Names
  • John Wynn ap Maredudd who died in 1559 was the forebear of the Wynn dynasty at Gwydir castle in Caernarvonshire. 
  • Nell Gwynn, London born, was the long-time mistress of King Charles II. 
  • Arthur Wynne was the British-born inventor of the modern crossword puzzle in New York in the 1910’s. 
  • Tony Gwynne was the baseball outfielder of the San Diego
    Padres who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007. 
  • Steve Wynn, born Stephen Weinberg, was responsible for the refurbishing and building of hotels along the Las Vegas Strip during the 1990’s.
Wynn, Winn and Gwynne Numbers Today
  • 20,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 19,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)
Wynn and Like Surnames  

Hereditary surnames in Wales were a post-16th century development.   Prior to that time the prototype for the Welsh name was the patronymic, such as “Madog ap Jevan ap Jerwerth” (Madoc, son of Evan, son of Yorwerth).  The system worked well in what was still mainly an oral culture.

However, English rule decreed English-style surnames and the English patronymic “-s” for “son of” began first in the English border counties and then in Wales. Welsh “P” surnames came from the “ap” roots, such as Price from “ap Rhys.”

These are some of the present-day Welsh surnames that you can check out.

BowenHopkinsMaddoxPritchard
DaviesHowellMeredithRees
EdwardsJenkinsOwenRowland
EvansJonesPowellVaughan
GriffithsLloydPriceWatkins

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