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About the study
The Woody One-Name Study (ONS) is a research project focusing on the world wide occurrences of the Woody surname and variants, as opposed to a particular pedigree lineage or pedigree. The project is a natural extension of the Woody DNA Project, Woody Family Roots and The Woody Family of Old Virginia which is a one-name study of all Woodys with roots in Colonial Virginia.
The objective of the study is to collect data, information and images that assist in achievement of the goals listed below:
- The origin of the name and early references
- The meaning of the name
- The name's frequency with reference to location and the general population
- The geographical distribution of the name with reference to time
- The identification of the various worldwide branches of the name
- Name variants and deviants
- Patterns of immigration and emigration
We would like to include web links and book references to Woody (or variant) lineages from all over the world. We would also like to include images of documents, people, etc. Please send us these references and images and we will include them on the Woody One-Name Study web site.
The Woody surname has been recorded in the British Isles since 1605; however, it is virtually impossible to find this name in books that focus on the etymology of surnames. Currently, the most common variation of this surname in the British Isles is Woodey and we did find a modest discussion of this name in A Dictionary of British Surnames.
However, an examination the ancient spelling and meaning of the word 'wood' has proved more interesting and productive. The surnames of Wood and Woody both seem to be derived from the Ancient Anglo-Saxon two syllable word 'wudu'. The name and derivatives meant 'the substance of trees'; i.e. wood, a forest and a tree. It was also often used as a modifier, as in wudu-aelfenne (wood-elves) and wudu-aeppel (wood-apple). Toward the end of the fourteenth century, wudu gradually became wode, but retained the two syllable pronunciation. In his poetry, Geoffrey Chaucer made use of the rhyming potential of the two syllable word, but after his death in 1400, wode largely became a one syllable word. Wode then became Woode and the 'e' was eventually dropped by many people. Since most early surnames were based on the bearer's occupation, residence or perhaps even demeanor (wudu also meant wild and crazy), wood is a part many names (i.e. Greenwood, Attwood, Woodnut, etc.); however, some of those people with the surname derived from the original wudu chose to retain the two syllable pronunciation. By the 16th century, Woodye seemed to be a more common variation. So, although the spelling has changed, the pronunciation of Woody, Woodie, Wooddy, Woodey, etc. has remained unchanged since the time of Chaucer.
History of the name
Data extracted from the 2002 Office of National Statistics Surname Database for England, Wales & the Isle of Man lists surname occurences and rank:
- Woodey - 157 - 24895
- Woode - 101 - 32945
- Woody - 31 - 68493
- Woddy - 5 - 230412
- Wudu - 5 - 230412
The US Census Bureau provides surname statistics from the 1990 census based on population frequency and frequency rank:
- Woody - .007% - 1664
- Woodie - .001% - 15008
- deWoody - .001% - 15538
- Woode - less than .001% - 53340
- Woodey - less than .001% - greater than 88799
- Wooddy - less than .001% - greater than 88799
Roughly estimated, the Woody (and variations) surname frequency in the United States is over 100 times the frequency in the United Kingdom.
Distribution of the name
With the significant exception of the 17th century Woodys found in the Boston area, the Woodys and variants of Colonial America were found predominantly in the southern states. The 1990 US census shows a somewhat more uniform distribution; however, taken as a group, the southern states were still the distribution leaders. Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma, Missouri and Colorado had the highest distributions with about one Woody per one thousand citizens.
The Woody and Woodey surnames are included in a compilation of an 1881 survey of names based on the postal areas of Great Britain. The greatest concentrations were found in the Bristol, St. Albans and London postal areas of southern England. The 1881 British county centric census includes Woody and Woodie and, except for St. Albans, this data correlates well with the postal area data. Woody, Woodie and Woodey are included in a compilation of the 1891 England and Wales census and Lancashire and Hampshire Counties were added to the areas of higher concentration. The web site 'Public Profiler' contains surname distribution maps derived mostly from telephone listings. The map of England and Wales shows an almost uniform low distribution across all the political divisions.