The Meaning and Origin of the Surname Williams

The Meaning and Origin of the Surname Williams

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Williams is a common patronymic (descended from the father's lineage) surname with several possible origins, however, in Wales, adding an "s" to the end of a surname denotes "son of," pointing to Wales as the country of origin. Williams is the third most popular surname in the United States Williams and is also highly popular in England, Scotland, Australia, and Germany.

Famous People with the Surname Williams

  • Thomas Lanier "Tennessee" Williams: An American author and playwright who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1948) and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1955).
  • Hiram "Hank" Williams: American country music legend, credited with pioneering honky-tonk.
  • Robin Williams: American comedian and actor
  • Roger Williams: Founder of Rhode Island
  • John (Towner) Williams: An award-winning American composer, conductor, and pianist whose Oscar-winning scores for such films as Star Wars, Jaws, E.T., and Schindler's List have made him one of the most highly regarded film composers of all time.

Fast Facts for the Surname Williams

  • Name Origin: English, Welsh
  • Possible Derivations: Son or descendant of Guillemin, a pet form of Guillaume, the French form of William; From the Belgic guild-helm, meaning "harnessed with a gilded helmet" or welhelm, "the shield or defense of many"; from the given name "William," an given name combining Old French with Germanic elements: wil, meaning "desire, will" and helm, meaning "helmet" or "protection."
  • Surname Variations: William, Willimon, Williman, Williamson, Wilcox, MacWilliams, McWilliams, Willihelm, Willhelm
  • Williams Trivia: The last man killed in the U.S. Civil War was Private John J. Williams of the 34th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, who died in the battle of Palmetto Ranch, Texas, on May 13, 1865, one month after Lee's surrender.

Genealogy Resources for the Surname Williams

Contrary to what you may have heard, there is no such thing as a Williams family crest or coat of arms. Coats of arms are granted to individuals, not families, and may rightfully be used only by the uninterrupted male line descendants of the person to whom the coat of arms was originally granted. There are many other avenues of research you can pursue to find information on the Williams surname, including the following:

  • 100 Most Common U.S. Surnames & Their Meanings: Smith, Johnson, Williams, Jones, Brown… Are you one of the millions of Americans sporting one of these top 100 common last names from the 2010 Census?
  • Common English Surnames & Their Meanings: Williams is the third most popular surname in Great Britain.
  • Most Common Australian Surnames & Their Meanings: Williams is third on this list of the most commonly occurring surnames in Australia, which includes details on each name's origin and meaning
  • Williams DNA Project: The Williams DNA project has over 535 participants making it the 2nd largest surname DNA project in the world. The Website includes Williams records from around the world as well.
  • Descendants of William Williams: A genealogy of the descendants of William Williams (1778-1857) from Pittsylvania County, Virginia.
  • FamilySearch-Williams Genealogy: Explore over 29 million historical records and lineage-linked family trees posted for the Williams surname and its variations on the free FamilySearch website, hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • Williams Surname & Family Mailing Lists: RootsWeb hosts a free mailing list for researchers of the Williams surname. Post a query about your own Williams ancestors, or search or browse the mailing list archives.
  • Genealogy & Family History: Free databases and genealogy links for the last name Williams.


  • Cottle, Basil. "Penguin Dictionary of Surnames." Penguin Books. 1967
  • Menk, Lars. "A Dictionary of German Jewish Surnames." Avotaynu. 2005
  • Beider, Alexander. "A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from Galicia." Avotaynu. 2004
  • Hanks, Patrick; Hodges, Flavia. "A Dictionary of Surnames." Oxford University Press. 1989
  • Hanks, Patrick. "Dictionary of American Family Names." Oxford University Press. 2003
  • Smith, Elsdon C. "American Surnames." Genealogical Publishing Company. 1997

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