The Wilson Family Name

Sons of the warriors

The vast majority of law-abiding and peace loving Wilsons scattered across the globe may be surprised to learn of not only the warlike roots of their surname, but of how a significant number of its bearers figured in some of the most notorious and bloody incidents in Scotland’s turbulent history.

The name is a derivative of William, under its popular diminutive of Will. William itself is from the Old Gennan ‘Wilhelm’ or ‘Willihelm’, with ‘will’ denoting the fierce dedication required to overcome ones foes in battle, while ‘helm’ refers to an armoured ‘helmet.’

While the surname Williamson refers to ‘son of William’ , Wilson refers to ‘son of Will’ and both William and Will became popular names following the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 under the leadership of the mighty William, Duke of Normandy.


In Scotland, however, the name also became popular through its famed monarch William the Lyon, who reigned from 1165 to 1214. Wilson became a surname through the gradual introduction of hereditary surnames, and variations include Wylson, Wylsone, Willison, Wylie, and Vylsone.

First recorded in Scotland at the dawn of the fifteenth century, it established itself as a common surname particularly in Dumfriesshire, Ayrshire, and the Glasgow and Stirling areas, although concentrations of Wilsons are also found in the Fife and Angus areas.


It was through the Plantation of Ulster from 1603 to 1640, that many Lowland Scot such as Wilsons settled there as part of a government policy to populate the land with British Protestants, at the expense of native Irish Catholics.

The descendants of many of Wilsons who settled in Ireland later found a home in North America, where many Wilsons today may well find they have original Scotus roots, albeit via Ireland.

While Wilsons thrived in the Scottish


of clan and can wear its tartan and take pride in its crest and motto.

The tale of how the Wilsons became associated with Clan Gunn is a tragic one, but one that is sadly all too familiar in the bloody history of the clan feuds and treachery that for centuries blighted the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

‘Either peace or war’ is the motto of Clan Gunn, while its crest is a hand grasping a sword, rather fitting sentiment and imagery for a clan that claims a descent from Gunni, a grandson of the ferocious Sweyn Asleifson, known to posterity as The Ultimate Viking, who was killed in a raid on Dublin in 1171.