The WINDER Surname


Richard S. Winder




The WINDER surname appears to have several different origins.  Hand-in-hand with that, it can be pronounced different ways (long ī or soft ĭ ) and there are several variations in spelling.  In Pennsylvania, one family recently changed the spelling of their surname to WYNDER to force the wīnder pronunciation; spellings may have gone back and forth over the centuries for this reason.  The name is found throughout Europe, but it is not common.  It has, of course, moved around the world with European emigrants.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the surname occurs in 0.002% of the American population, or two out of every 10,000 people.




In Lancashire, England, WINDER (also WYNDER or WENDER in earlier forms) is regarded as having both place name and occupational origins clearly stretching back to at least the 13th century, for example William de WYNDER of Wynder born ca. 1278.  In Cumbria, there is a Winder Hall built on a site occupied since the early 11th century.


In Sussex, WYNDER emerges during the first part of the 14th century [i]:


“…at Whatlington and Winchelsea, both not far from Wilting.  In Whatlington in the Middle Ages there was a Winder’s Wood that has been assumed to be associated with the family of a John Wyndere, who was living in 1340.” [ii]


Occupational origins


When WINDER (from the Anglo-Saxon word windan) is pronounced with a long “ī” (as in the word why), a common story of origin is that the name is derived from the occupation of winding thread [iii], yarn [iv],[v] or other types of cordage [vi].  In the late eighteenth-century, Jean Baptiste Greuze painted a romanticized portrayal of this craft, titled The Wool Winder.  In reality, winding was far from an idle pastime.  Specialized mechanical winders or reels were used to perform this craft, which one source [vii] describes in greater detail:


“Once spun, the yarn was removed from the bobbin to be measured and skeined.  This was a tedious task which involved winding the yarn round and round the wooden arms of a reel or winder.  Some reels had a geared cog that clicked every ten rounds; others had a clock face that indicated the number of rounds wound on the reel.  The circumference of the skein varied according to the locality.”


In Lancashire, an area well-known for sheep farms and wool processing, genealogists cite Thomas le WINDER and Richard le WINDERE as early examples of occupational origins [viii].  By the 19th century, industrial occupations such as winder, bobbin winder, yarn winder, warp winder, linen winder, etc. are commonly listed in census records.  One dictionary [ix] defines a ‘winder’ as:


“An operative employee in winding wool, etc.”.


This definition relates some interesting historical citations for textile winders:



There are some doubts about the proof for this origin, however [x].  If the name refers to textile winding, a winder worked alongside a master weaver at a loom.  In the 14th century, such people were usually male apprentices because weaving was primarily a cottage industry, and they usually took PRENTICE as a surname, or took the name of the master weaver [xi] (perhaps becoming a WEAVER).  So, the surname can predate the occupation, but it doesn’t necessarily preclude an origin from instances where winding might be pursued as a separate specialty business for cordage, etc.


There are other possible occupational derivations [xii]:




1. One who turns or manages a winch or windlass, especially at a mine- a windlass man.



2. One who winds a clock or other mechanism [xiii].



3. One who blows a wind instrument [xiv].




A winnower (separating chaff from the grain during threshing).

·        Sterm. 1570: “Mowers, threshers, winders, and grinders...”.


Geographic origins


WINDER families can also originate from places named Winder.  Locative variants are shown as early as the 13th century by the early forms de WYNDER or de WINDERGHE.  There are several places that may have provided an origin for the surname:

“Winder, which is an occupational surname in some cases, but which in Lancashire is evidently derived from a place-name in some instances, and perhaps usually, since forms such as de Wynder appear during the 13th century, is another surname which appears in 1696.  The place-name from which the surname has arisen is probably one or other of the three place names Winder in north Lancashire, but there are places of the same name in west Yorkshire, Westmorland and Cumberland.  ...  Winder is said to be an occupational surname, derived perhaps from the trade of winding wool, and in some instances it is clearly an occupational name, but, as was pointed out many years ago by Harrison, the surname can be derived from a place name.  Harrison drew attention to the derivation of the surname from a Cumberland place-name.  There are three localities named Winder in Lancashire, in the parishes of Cartmel, Lancaster and Melling (near Lancaster) respectively.  Out of the three place-names, Winder in Cartmel is evidenced from the 13th century.  No evidence has been found for the existence of the other two place-names until after 1500.  De Winder or de Winderghe occurs as a surname or bye-name in north Lancashire in the 13th century, in one instance at Cartmel.  In these early examples the name is clearly locative, and there is little doubt that the place-name from which the surname or bye-name is derived is Winder in Cartmel.  During the 16th century the surname Wynder or Winder occurs on the Yorkshire border, but it also appears at several places in north Lancashire, most of them not far from Cartmel.  ...  It seems most likely that the 16th century Lancashire surname is derived from Winder in Cartmel.  The surname Wender, which appears in north Lancashire in the 16th century, is probably a variant of Winder.  Winder was still present in north Lancashire in the 17th century.” [xv].


There are several ways that Viking derivations of “Winder’ have worked their way into English place names.  Windermere, a famous Cumbrian tourist attraction, derives its name from “Vinandr's lake” (Old Norse personal name 'Vinandr' + Old English ‘mere’).  Vikings moved from Ireland and the Isle of Man to settle this area of Cumbria in the 10th century, and Vinandr was the name of one of their chieftains.  Speakers of old Norse are welcome to enlighten me regarding the meaning of Vinandr- I have not found a clear derivation among common Viking names.  

Regarding the surname WINDER, it should be noted that this author possesses the R1a DNA haplotype, considered a marker for Viking origins, and, in England, found with high frequency in the Lake Country (around Penrith).

According to Angus Winder [xvi] and other sources [xvii], WĬNDER:


is a Norse-Irish, hybrid word that means wind-shelter. Norse-Wind- and Gaelic erg. It was brought into Northern England by Norwegian Vikings at the end of the tenth century.”


In such cases, the derivation would appear to be: (winder < winderg, winderghe < O.N. ‘vindr’ [< O. Sw. vindęr, meaning ‘wind’] + Gaelic ‘earrag’, meaning ‘shift’ or ‘refuge’).

In old Icelandic, which should be close to old Norse, the word 'Vindir' or 'Vindr' also refers to the Wends, a tribe living roughly between what is now the Czech Republic and the Baltic Sea (also, interestingly, an area lying between Norway and the origins of the R1a haplotype)

WĪNDER can also have a geographic derivation from ‘wind’, an old Anglo-Saxon word referring to a winding path.  People that lived along a wind could therefore be called winders.  This is probably the derivation of the WINDER family originating from the Sussex area [xviii]:


“Here in this historic county of Sussex the family name Winder developed from ‘atte Wynde’.  A unique Sussexian system of surnaming, it was quite common during the 1200’s in the county to have ‘ate’ as a prefix to a last name, which would be dropped centuries later as ‘er’ was added as a suffix.  For instance, atte Welle would evolve into Weller, atte Wode into Atwood, atte Whitch into Whitcher, atte Boure into Bourer, and so on.  The name atte Wynde (probably meaning  ‘at the winding path or street’) occurs in East Sussex from the late thirteenth century on.[xix]  It would have been derived from the Old English word wende, meaning ‘bend’ [xx]. 


Other origins


In England and Germany, the name may also derive from Windhere or Winidhere, referring to a Wendish warrior [xxi].


In early Flemish, a winder (or wender) can also refer to a widgeon [xxii].


In Germany, there are several listed origins for the surname [xxiii]:


“Winder a) I. S. Winid {Wend}, b) III. Arbeiter an einem Krane {Crane or windlass worker}. Zss. Garnwinder {Yarn winder} ‘Netzflechter’ {Net maker?}.”


Related surnames


WINDERS, WINDES, WINDOWS, and WINDUS, although possibly related to the occupational (wool-winding) variant of WINDER [xxiv], could also derive from windhouse (windmill), especially in the case of WINDUS [xxv],[xxvi].


[i] Michael K. Winder, 1999. John R. Winder: Member of the First Presidency, Pioneer, Temple Builder, Dairyman. Horizon Publishers, Bountiful, Utah.

[ii] A. Mower and F. M. Stenton, The Place-Names of Sussex, (Cambridge: University Press, 1930), 501.

[iii] Mark A. Lower, 1860. Patronymica Britannica: A dictionary of the family names of the United Kingdom. John Russel Smith, London.

[iv] Anonymous. 1971. The Compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Univ. Press, London.

[v] Basil Cottle, 1984. The Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Penguin Books N.Y. p. 426

[vi] Charles W. Bardsley, 1884. English surnames: Their sources and significations. Chatto & Windus, London.

[vii] John Seymour. 1987. The National Trust book of forgotten household crafts. Dorling Kindersley, London. 192 pp. (p. 148)

[viii] Charles W. Bardsley, 1884. English surnames: Their sources and significations.

[ix] Oxford Compact Dictionary.

[x] Richard McKinley. 1988. The Surnames of Sussex. Leopard's Head Press London (p. 171)

[xi] J. R. Dolan. 1972. English ancestral names: The evolution of the surname from medieval occupations. Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., N.Y.

[xii] Oxford Compact Dictionary.

[xiii] A less likely derivation, since clocks are relatively recent developments

[xiv] Pronounced either wĭnder, or, in more archaic forms, wīnder.  It seems that the winding, spiral construction of a hunting horn and the action of blowing your “wind” into such a horn were associated with each other.

[xv] Richard McKinley. 1981. English surnames series: IV The surnames of Lancashire. Leopard's Head Press, London.

[xvi] Angus Winder. 2002 (accessed Dec. 3, 2005).  Information posted online, available at:

[xvii] B. Cottle, 1984. The Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. p. 426

[xviii] Michael K. Winder, 1999. John R. Winder: Member of the First Presidency, Pioneer, Temple Builder, Dairyman. Horizon Publishers, Bountiful, Utah.

[xix] Richard McKinley, 1988. . English surnames series: IV The surnames of Lancashire. Pp. 171-172.

[xx] Lewes,1991: The Sussex Archaeological Society Sussex Archaeological Collections. Vol. 129, p. 252.

[xxi] Henry Barber. 1902. British family names: Their origin and meaning with lists of Scandinavian, Frisian, Anglo-Saxon and Norman Names. 2nd Ed. Elliot Stock, London.

[xxii] Oxford Compact Dictionary.

[xxiii] A. Heintze and P. Cascorbe. 1967. Die deutschen familiennamen geschichtlich, geographisch, sprachlich. Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhanndlung, Hildsheim.

[xxiv] J. R. Dolan. 1972. English ancestral names: The evolution of the surname from medieval occupations.

[xxv] C. L’estrange Ewen. 1931. A History of the surnames of the British Isles: A concise account of their origin, evolution, etymology, and legal status. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, & Co., Ltd., London.

[xxvi] Mark A. Lower, 1860. Patronymica Britannica: A dictionary of the family names of the United Kingdom.

January 8, 2006


Document made with Nvu
Get Firefox!