Select Wilde Surname Genealogy

There are three related English surnames of Wilde, Wild and Weld which have all in varying degrees derived from the Old English word wilde, meaning “wild” or “out of control.”  They would thus be a nickname for someone who showed these characteristics.  The surnames might also - in the case of Weld and sometimes of Wild or Wilde - be topographical, for a person who lived near an area of cleared but uncultivated ground.

The Wild name had similar wild connotations in Germany and Holland.  The Lords of Wild were a Saxon noble family who lived in parts of Franconia in southern Germany.  These Wilds became known as vagabonds and robber barons during the 14th century.   The de Wilde surname in Holland means “the wild one.” 

Of the three surnames covered here, Weld is the smallest in number but has two famous families – one in England and another in America

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Select Wilde Ancestry

England The Welds boast the oldest pedigree, although they are greatly outnumbered by the Wilds and Wildes.

.  The Weld pedigree is said to have dated back to the year 1000, prior to the Norman Conquest, and to a nephew of Edric, the Duke of Mercia.  It was William Weld, the Sheriff of London in 1352, who married Anne Wettenhall and established himself at Eaton in the county of Chester.

The main line from there revolved around Humphrey Weld, Lord Mayor of London in 1609, whose grandson, also Humphrey, purchased Lulworth castle in Dorset in 1641.  They were conspicuous as a recusant family.  Thomas Weld was in fact a Catholic bishop and cardinal in the early 19th century.  The Lulworth branch died out in the 1920’s. But the castle was taken over by the related Weld Blundells.

Subsidiary lines in the 17th century are thought to have included the Weld goldsmiths in London and the Welds from Sudbury in Suffolk who set off for New England. 

Wilds and Wildes.  The spelling was initially Wyld and Wylde
Prominent Wyldes or Wildes from the south have been:
  • the Wylde family of Worcestershire who made their fortunes as clothiers in Tudor times and remained an important family in the county for the next 250 years.
  • Robert Wylde later Wild from Huntingdonshire, born in 1609, who was a poet of some stature and a Puritan preacher who conflicted with the Government after the Reformation.
  • and Thomas Wilde, an 18th century attorney from Saffron Walden in Essex, who founded in 1785 the legal firm of Wilde Sapte (the forerunner of the multinational law firm Dentons today) and was the forebear of a distinguished line of lawyers, judges, and politicians in London.
Henry Guppy in his 1890 work Homes of Family Names in Great Britain asserted the following about Wild and Wilde:

“This ancient English name is mostly confined to the northern midlands, its principal homes being in Derbyshire, Notts and the West Riding, whence it has spread to the counties around.”

Wyld or Wylde was a popular sobriquet in Yorkshire, judging by the number of entries in the 1379 poll tax returns there. 

However, the largest numbers of Wilds and Wildes in England have been in Lancashire.  That was the case, according to recent surname research, in the 1600’s and that was still the case in the 1881 census.  A Philip Wyld was recorded in Oldham in 1486 and the Wild name has remained important in that town (there were over 1,000 Wilds in Oldham in the 1881 census).  The Wilde name has been more common south and east of Oldham in the vicinity of Ashton-under-Lyne

The most famous Wilde, Oscar Wilde, had Dutch forebears.  Colonel de Wilde, a Dutch army officer, came to Ireland with William of Orange in the 1690’s and was granted lands there.  Ralph Wilde was a land agent and farmer in Castlerea, Roscommon; his son Thomas a country doctor there; his grandson Sir William (Oscar’s father) a well-known and respected eye surgeon in Victorian England.  Oscar himself was not proud of his Dutch ancestry.

There were other Wildes in Ireland, of uncertain origin.  A Wilde family in Abbeyleix in present-day county Laios dates from the early 1700’s.  William, Robert and Walter ran a company there called Wilde Brothers Seedsmen.  Many of the family emigrated in the 19th century - to America, Canada and elsewhere.  But the trade directory for 1934 showed that Wildes had also stayed.

America.  The Welds came first, as in England.

Three Weld brothers from Suffolk came to America in the 1630’s and settled in Roxbury, Massachusetts.  It was from the youngest brother, Joseph, that most of the distinguished later Welds descended:
  • the early Welds were closely connected with Harvard University.  Indeed this connection has stayed strong, as attested by the fact that two Harvard buildings and the Harvard boathouse bear the Weld name.
  • ironically it was William Fletcher Weld, who did not attend Harvard, who made the family rich.  He was an American shipping magnate during the Golden Age of Sail in the 19th century.  Foreseeing that that age was coming to an end, he prudently invested in railroads and real estate.  He multiplied his family’s fortune into a huge legacy for his descendants.  
William Weld, recent Governor of Massachusetts, is the most prominent living member of this family.  When the Massachusetts Senate president publicly teased him about his ancestors having come over on the Mayflower, Weld joked: "Actually, they weren't on the Mayflower. They sent the servants over first to get the cottage ready."
Wilds and Wildes.  There were early Wilds and Wildes also in the Boston area:
  • the line from John Wilde, born probably in Braintree in the 1670's, extended to a notable legal family that culminated in Judge Samuel Sumner Wilde who held office in Massachusetts from 1815 to 1850.
  • while Abraham Wild - possibly with his brothers - was a merchant in Boston dealing in West India goods in the years after the Revolutionary War..  His son Charles Wild was able to attend Harvard Univerisity and returned with a medical degree.  He practiced medecine in Brookline for forty years.  Charles's son Edward was an ardent abolitionist.  When the Civil War came he fought in the war and was active in recruiting African Americans for the Union army. 
Some Wildes came to Pennsylvania from England during the first half of the 19th century.  Joseph Wilde from Wakefield in Yorkshire, aged just fifteen, arrived in 1826, married and made his home in Schuylkill county.   George Wilde, also from Wakefield, followed him a year later.  Meanwhile Isaac Wilde, trained as a cabinet-maker, was just nineteen when he arrived in Chester county with his mother from Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire in 1843.  He was the first of three generations of funeral directors in Pennsylvania.

South Africa.  Abraham Wild from Oldham in Lancashire was one of the pioneer 1820 settlers to South Africa.  He and his family made their home in Grahamstown.

Australia.   Joseph and George Wild from Chester were early arrivals in Australia, having been transported there for burglary in 1797.  George died in 1812.  Joseph, granted a conditional pardon that year, was an early explorer of the hinterland of New South Wales.

Emanuel Wilde was a cotton spinner from Rochdale in Lancashire who departed with his wife Sarah on the Berkshire for Australia.  They settled in Cathcart, NSW.

Select Wilde Miscellany

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

Select Wilde Names

William Weld who was the Sheriff of London in 1352, is considered the forebear of the Welds in England and America.
William Fletcher Weld
, born into a Boston Brahmin family, developed a world-class fleet of clipper sailing ships during the 19th century.
Oscar Wilde was the famous Irish-born author and playwright.  He is remembered for his epigrams, his play The Importance of Being Ernest, and his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well as for the circumstances of his imprisonment and early death.
Jimmy Wilde
, known as “the Mighty Atom,” was a Welsh professional boxer and the first official world flyweight champion in 1916.
Marty Wilde,
born Reginald Smith, was among the first generation of British pop stars to emulate American rock and roll.  He is the father of the pop singers Ricky and Kim Wilde

Select Wildes/Wilds/Welds Today
  • 25,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 7,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 9,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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