Meaning and Origin of the Watson Surname

Scottish highland game participant showing his strength.

Ever wondered what your Watson surname meant or where it came from?  You have come to the right place.  Let me introduce you to this old Anglo-Scottish name as part of my series on Scottish surnames.  Did you know that last year it was the 19th most popular surname in Scotland meaning strength and legacy?


The origin of the last name Watson

The Watson surname has roots in both Scotland and England.  It is a type of surname known as a patronymic surname, which means it originally came from the name of a father.  In this case, Watson translates to ‘son of Walter’.

There are claims that the name Walter was brought to Britain by the Normans after 1066.  As time progressed into the medieval era, the name evolved into several different spellings.  Some of these included shortened forms or nicknames such as ‘Wat’, ‘Watt’, and ‘Walt’.  From these variations, the patronymic surname ‘Watson’ emerged.


What does the Watson surname mean?

The name Walter comes from the Old German name ‘Waldhar,’ which means ‘ruler of army’ or Commander.  So, in a way, the name Watson carries a sense of strength and legacy.


The history of the Watson surname

In Scotland, the earliest recorded Watson dates back to 1392, when John Watson owned land in Edinburgh.  From the early 1520s, the Watson family of Saughton, near Edinburgh, were influential landowners spanning three centuries.

From this family, Richard Watson became the 1st Laird of Saughton.  His grandson, James Watson, was the third Laird of Saughton who was laid to rest in the old Corstorphine Church.  His descendants were also buried in the same churchyard, a testament to their significant influence.

The Watson family name can be found around the world.  Historically, they sometimes held important roles such as merchants, bailies, provosts, or bankers.  Overall, the Watsons established political and trading connections in key parts of the future British Empire.

If you are a Watson, you might wonder if you are related to the Saughton family.  A DNA test could potentially reveal this connection.


Do the Watsons belong to a clan?

In Scotland, the Watsons were generally associated as a sept of Clan Buchanan.  This means that they were families that followed the chief of these clans, although they were not directly related by blood.


Watson tartan

The Watson tartan is registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans, which maintains records of officially recognised tartans.  In essence, the tartan typically features a combination of blue, green, black, and red.

The tartan to represent the Watson surname.


Variations of the Watson surname

Over time, different variations of Watson emerged, including Wattson, Watsone, and Watkinson.  Similar to all other surname variations, they are attributed to regional dialects and phonetic spelling.

Gravestone of Janet Wattson to depict a variation of the Watson surname.
Gravestone of Janet Wattson at Baldernock cemetery.


Are there any famous Watsons?

There are many!  But here are a few that you may be familiar with…

  • Dr John Watson is the fictional character in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective stories of Sherlock Holmes.
  • George Watson (1654-1723) was a Scottish financier who was an accountant for the Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh.  He left a significant bequest to establish George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, providing a lasting legacy in education.
  • There were 3 Victoria Cross recipients with the surname Watson:
    • Lieutenant John Watson (1829 – 1919) in 1857 for his bravery in the Indian Mutiny.
    • Lieutenant Thomas Watson (1867 – 1917) in 1897 during the First Mohmand Campaign in North-West India.
    • Lt Colonel Oliver Watson (1876 – 1918) in 1918 for his heroic deeds at Rossignol Wood in France.


Whether you are a Watson by birth or by marriage, this name connects you to a lineage that spans across centuries and borders.  So, the next time you hear your surname, remember the journey it has taken, the stories it holds, and the people it represents.  And who knows?  Perhaps one day, you will add your own chapter to the history of the Watsons.

Please remember to leave a comment below and if you want me to write about a Scottish surname, then let me know.

Good luck with your Scottish family tree.

Until my next post, haste ye back.

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