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2,405 study surnames with us
and a further 6,120 variant names.

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About the study

My father Alexander Antony Willing (1925-1986) with his parents Frederick George Willing (1895-1968) and Lily nee Llewellyn (1896-1961), taken in 1944

My father Alexander Antony Willing (1925-1986) with his parents Frederick George Willing (1895-1968) and Lily nee Llewellyn (1896-1961), taken in 1944

My name is June Willing, and I have been researching my family history since 1975. I began the Willing/Willings One-Name Study in 1996, in an attempt to find the baptism of my ancestor Nathaniel Willing, around 1782 in the Plymouth area.

I now have data on all the Willing and Willings families originating in the UK, as well as some data on Willing families originating elsewhere. I am always interested to hear from anyone with an interest in either Willing or Willings. Please see my contact details below.

Variant names

I am also researching the name Willings, although I believe this is actually a name in its own right, rather than a variant. However, the two are often confused.

Name origin

Willing Farm, Rattery, Devon

Willing Farm, Rattery, Devon

Willing is a surname derived from a place-name. It probably originated in South Devon, specifically in the area between Dartmoor and the sea, known as the South Hams. Willing Farm, near Totnes, is the probable origin of the name. Click image to enlarge.

The name Willing is also found in Germany and the Netherlands, as well as a number of other European countries. As far as I know, these families are not connected to the English Willing families. Some descendants of Dutch and German Willing families migrated to the UK, though.

Willings has a different origin, so far undetermined. Never very common, most of the earliest occurrences are in Castle Camps, SE Cambridgeshire.

Historical occurrences of the name

World War II Greetings Card by Mollie Willing

World War II Greetings Card by Mollie Willing

Here are some of the people with the surname Willing or Willings who can be said to have left a mark on history.

  • Thomas Willing (1731-1821) is probably the most famous bearer of the name Willing. He was a merchant and financier of Philadelphia, mayor of Philadelphia in 1763, and the first president of the First National Bank of the United States from 1791 to 1807. This is Thomas Willing’s entry on the website of the University of Pennsylvania Archives & Records Center, and this is his entry on Wikipedia.
  • Elizabeth Willing Powel (1743-1831) was a sister of Thomas Willing of Philadelphia. She was a friend of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and other prominent men of the day. She was married to Samuel Powel (1738-1793), twice mayor of Philadelphia. This is Elizabeth Willing Powel’s entry on the website of George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon.
  • Anne Willing Bingham (1764-1801) was the eldest daughter of Thomas Willing of Philadelphia. She was a friend of Thomas Jefferson and was regarded as one of the most beautiful women of her day. She was married to William Bingham (1752-1804), a US Senator from 1795 to 1801. This is Anne Willing Bingham’s entry on Wikipedia, and this is an entry for her portrait in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
  • James Willing (1818-1906) was an advertising contractor. He was the publisher of Willing’s Press Guide, which originated around 1873, and is still published today, having been bought by a large publisher in 1972. In 1888 he gifted the Jubilee Clock Tower to the people of Brighton, to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee the previous year. These are the entries for the Jubilee Clock Tower on Public Sculptures of Sussex and on Wikipedia.
  • Oscar Frederick Willing (1889-1962) was a champion amateur golfer, from Oregon, USA. This is his entry on Wikipedia.
  • Mollie Willing (1914-2015) was an artist and illustrator who wrote and illustrated a children’s book, Jock the Scottie (1939). A number of her drawings were published as postcards or greetings cards by the Medici Society in the 1930s and 1940s.
  • Victor Willing (1928-1988) was an artist. He was married to fellow artist Paul Rego. Some of his work is in the Tate Gallery, and in several other galleries. This is Victor Willing’s entry on Wikipedia, these are his paintings as listed on Art UK (formerly Your Paintings) and this is his entry on the Tate Gallery website.
  • David Richard Willings (1932-2002) was the author of several books on psychology and similar subjects, such as The Human Element in Management (1968), How to Use the Case Study in Training for Decision Making (1968) and The Creatively Gifted (1980).
  • Nick Willing (b 1961) is a film director. He is the son of Victor Willing and Paula Rego, and is probably best known for fantasy mini-series, such as Neverland (based on Peter Pan), Alice (based on Alice in Wonderland), and Tin Man (based on The Wizard of Oz). These are Nick Willing’s entries on the Internet Movie Database and on Wikipedia.

Name frequency

There were around 1400 people with the surname Willing whose births were registered in England & Wales between 1837 and 2014. This includes a small number of entries which were incorrectly registered or indexed as other names such as Welling or Willin. There were only 33 births registered in Scotland between 1855 and 2013, and a handful of entries have been identified in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. A further nine births appear in the Overseas Indexes of the General Register Office.

Willings is far less common, with around 485 births registered in England & Wales, one in the Republic of Ireland, and none in Scotland, Northern Ireland or in the Overseas Indexes.

Distribution of the name

The distribution of the surname Willing in England and Wales in the 1881 census (from Surname Atlas by Archer Software)

Most people with the surname Willing, of English descent, trace their ancestry to Devon, where four distinct family trees have been identified. They originate with the following people:

  • Leonard Willing (d 1634) who married Ann Lewis in 1607 in Plymstock. This line appears to be the most prolific and is the line to which I belong. Victor Willing, the artist, and Nick Willing, the film director, belong to this tree.
  • Michael Willing (d 1650) who first appeared with his wife Elianor in 1602 in Modbury. James Willing, the advertising contractor, belongs to this tree.
  • Richard Willing (d 1750) who married Miriam King in 1694 in Loddiswell. Richard was of Holbeton, but their descendants lived in Loddiswell.
  • James Willing (1760-1829) who married Elizabeth Scobell in 1782 in Aveton Gifford. James was of Stoke Damerel, and their descendants lived there. James was probably born in 1760 in Totnes, a son of William Willing (d 1760 or 1761) and Hannah Godfrey, who married in 1751 in Churchstow.

Other Willing trees are also found in other parts of England, such as Somerset. The family of Thomas Willing (1731-1821) of Philadelphia originated in North Somerset, and may be traced back to John Willing (d 1597), who lived with his wife Joane at Claverham in the parish of Yatton. This family is said to have originated in Modbury, Devon.

There is a family which can be traced back to Samuel Willing (d 1735), who lived in Portbury, Somerset with his wife Ann, and had a son Thomas Willing (1733-1791), who married Mary Fowles or Vowles. Their son Thomas Willing (1760-1834) married Rachel Haydon in 1785 at Backwell, and had descendants there. It is now almost certain that Samuel (d 1735) was baptised in Wraxall in 1696, a son of Thomas and Mary Willing, and was thus also descended from John Willing (d 1597).

There is family which originates with Thomas Willing or Willan (1772/3-1829) who married Ann Thompson in 1799 in Sunderland. Thomas is said to have come from Devon, but so far no baptism has been found.

There is a line which has so far been traced to two brothers who both married on the same day in 1841 at St Pancras, London. James Willing (1810/1-1885) married Emma Banham (nee Skones), and William Willing (1815/6-1860) married Esther Daye, but their baptisms have not so far been found. DNA testing and circumstantial evidence now indicates that James was almost certainly a son of Stephen Willing (1777-1830) and his first wife Joan Borgoyne (1774-1814). William was almost certainly a son of Stephen’s second wife Diana (1788/9-1863) by a previous relationship.

Stephen was a son of John Willing or Wheeling, who married Grace Jutsham in 1772 at St Andrew, Plymouth. John and Grace moved to London with their family around 1778. Since John’s DNA does not match the other Devon Willings it seems likely that he was originally from elsewhere. Wheeling is a name which is most common in Lancashire.

Willings is apparently unrelated to Willing, although the two names are often confused. Most people named Willings are descended from a line which can be traced back to Edward Willings who married Elizabeth Waples in Cambridge in 1635. They lived in Castle Camps, Cambridgeshire. Edward Willings may have been baptised in 1606 in Bedford St Peter, Bedfordshire, but this connection has not yet been fully investigated. David Richard Willings, the author, belongs to this tree.

Another Willings line has been traced to Thomas Willings who married Mary Grice in 1838 in Kirby Grindalythe, East Riding of Yorkshire. Thomas was born in 1809 in Cayton, North Riding of Yorkshire, the son of George and Sarah Windle or Windels. Both Thomas and his sister Sarah were baptised as Windle or Windels and married as Willings, but the reason for the change of name is not yet known.

The name Willing also occurs in Germany and the Netherlands, and some German and Dutch people named Willing have migrated to the UK. The Dutch Willings have been traced back to Mozes Barend Wing (d 1776) who first appeared in Amsterdam in 1740 and whose grandchildren changed their surname to Willing around 1812. Mollie Willing, the artist and illustrator, belongs to this tree.


  • All the birth, marriage and death index entries from the General Register Offices for England & Wales (1837 to date) and Scotland (1855 to date), as well as many copy certificates.
  • Census entries from England, Wales, Scotland and the Channel Islands from all available years, 1841 to 1911.
  • All the entries from the probate register indexes for England & Wales (1858 to date) and Scotland (1876-1936), as well as many copy wills of all dates.
  • Transcriptions of parish register entries from many parishes in Devon and other areas where Willing or Willings families were found, such as Somerset, London, Kent, Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Yorkshire, and County Durham.
  • Entries from directories, newspapers, phone books and many other sources.


Nathaniel Willing was probably born in Wembury around 1782

Nathaniel Willing was probably born in Wembury around 1782

In September 2008 I set up a DNA Project for the surnames Willing and Willings at Family Tree DNA. One of the aims of the study is to create a list of DNA results, so that if you do not know where your family originates you can take a DNA test and see if you get a match with anyone in the project.

We now have a total of seventeen DNA results from nine different Willing families. These include representatives of three of the Willing families in Devon, Plymstock, Loddiswell and Modbury. There is also a participant from the Dutch Willing family.

We also have a descendant of James Willing, the elder of the two brothers who married in 1841 in St Pancras, London, and two descendants of William Willing, the younger brother. The DNA proves that they are not brothers. Circumstantial evidence indicates that they are almost certainly step-brothers.

Four members of the Willin Surname Project have also joined our project. Three of them belong to an American family of German origin, and the other one is descended from a man who was adopted into this family.

We also have a member who traces his line to 18th century Delaware, USA, and another member who traces his line to 19th century Maryland, USA. DNA has proved that they are not related in the male line.

I would like to include representatives from more families in the project. For more information, see the project website.

The DNA project provided final proof of the ancestry of my great-great-great grandfather Nathaniel Willing, whose elusive baptism was the reason for starting my one-name study several years ago. He was the son of Nathaniel Willing and his first wife Mary, nee Edwards, and was probably baptised in Wembury, near Plymouth, around 1782/3.

If your name is Wealleans, Whellens, Whillance, Whillans, Whillas, or Willans you may be interested in the Whillans DNA Project. Testing has so far shown no link between Willing and Whillans/Weallans/Whellans. For more information, see the Whillans DNA Project website.


The Heard Family of Mid-Devon

A website by Nick Heard, with information on his extended family, including the Willing family of Loddiswell.


Willing DNA Project

The DNA project website (see above for details).