Recorded in the spellings of Wilson and Willson, this distinguished surname, having more than seventy entries in the British "Dictionary of National Biography" is of early medieval English origin, although recorded throughout the British Isles. It is a patronymic form of the male given name Will, itself a diminutive of William. Introduced into England by William, Duke of Normandy, and known to history as "The Conqueror" , William soon became the most popular given name in England. The Norman form and that borne by the Conqueror, was "Willelm", a spelling adopted from the Frankish Empire of the 8th century. The name is a compound which originally consisted of the elements "wil", meaning desire, and "helm", a helmet which offered protection. Early examples of the surname recording in England include: Robertus Willelmi in the Domesday Book of 1086, whilst in 1341 Robert Wilson was recorded at Kirkstall, Yorkshire, the patronymic form of the name having emerged some seventeen years earlier (as below). One of the earliest emigrant to the New World was John Wilson, recorded on a register of "those living in Virginia on February 18th 1623". One of the most illustrious bearers of the name was Sir Robert Thomas Wilson, general and governor of Gibraltar, who in 1801 received the rank of baron of the Holy Roman Empire. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Robert Willeson. This was dated 1324, in records of the Manor of Wakefield, Yorkshire. This was during the reign of King Edward 11nd of England, 1307 - 1327.
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