Oswald (surname)

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Oswald is a surname of Scottish, northern English and German provenance.[1]

Origin of name[edit]

The surname derives from the Anglo-Saxon personal name Oswald, in particular, King Oswald of Bernicia and later Northumbria. Bernicia consisted of what is now the Lothian and Borders areas of southern Scotland and the English counties of Northumberland and County Durham, while Northumbria was formed by uniting this kingdom with Deira(Yorkshire) to the south.

As described by Bede, after his death in 642, Oswald soon came to be regarded as a saint.[2] The name was introduced to Germany as a result of his fame being spread by Celtic missionaries to southern Germany.[1]


The word Oswald is composed of two Anglo-Saxon elements os meaning 'god' and weald meaning 'rule' [3] or ‘power’.[1]


Oswald surname concentration, 1998
Shows the upper sextile in Great Britain, by postcode area

The surname is most prevalent, as regards frequency, in Scotland and the southern part of the German speaking area (Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Austria). Also in some but not all former German colonial territories (Tanzania, Namibia and Rwanda).The United States is the country with most occurrences of the name.[4]

Scotland and northern England[edit]

Oswald is most frequent in the KY postcode area (i.e. Fife and Kinross-shire) and the PH postcode area (namely in and around Perthshire) in Scotland, . Also in the DH postcode area whih covers central parts of County Durham in northern England. The town with the highest frequency is Burntisland in Fife.[5] In 1881 the distribution was more concentrated and the area with the highest frequency was Fife and Kinross-shire (KY).[6] In that year Fife and Kinross-shire contained 31% of all Oswalds in Scotland.[7]

South Germany[edit]

The German states (Laender) where Oswald is most prevalent are Bavaria and then Baden-Wurttemberg [8]

It is also common in some adjacent areas, such as parts of Rhineland-Palatinate.[9] The districts with the highest frequency are Munich and Regen in Bavaria and Worms in Rhineland-Palatinate.[10]

Austria and Switzerland[edit]

In Austria the name frequently occurs in all areas, except west Tyrol and East Tyrol, north Burgenland and some areas west of Vienna.[11] It is also common in neighbouring eastern Switzerland in parts of Thurgau, Graubunden and Glarus.[12]


Occurrence of the surname[edit]

Until the recording of surnames with the census in Scotland from 1841[13] onwards, the occurrence of surnames can be ascertained from the register of births and baptisms of each parish. This registration became prevalent throughout Scotland from about 1690 [14] when the present Church of Scotland was re-established.

As shown by the parish registers,[15] the Oswald name in Scotland in the period 1690-1800 was concentrated in Fife (45% of Oswalds), with lesser concentrations in neighbouring counties of Kinross, Perth and Stirling. The County of Edinburgh (i.e. Midlothian) also had a high occurrence.

Map of Oswald surname 1690-1800
From the parish registers of births/baptisms, county totals
High:Over 10 per 10,000. Medium: Over 3 per 10,000
Oswald in Scotland 1690-1800, by County
County Oswald Births All Births Per 10,000
Fife 340 256601 13.3
Stirling 71 126880 5.6
Kinross 10 18954 5.3
Perth 121 295456 4.1
Edinburgh 108 294348 3.7
Dumbarton 13 45584 2.9
Clackmannan 8 28176 2.8
Haddington 20 90817 2.2
Renfrew 19 109710 1.7
Lanark 34 265162 1.3
Argyll 5 76300 0.7
Linlithgow 4 62188 0.6
Ayr 8 162775 0.5
Caithness 2 41224 0.5
Forfar 1 194724 0.1
Births with Oswald surname 1690-1800, with rate of occurrence per 10,000 births.
Counties with zero occurrences not included

Prominent families[edit]

From the end of the 17th century [16] until 1938,[17] a family of the name Oswald owned the estate of Dunnikier, near Kirkcaldy, Fife. Originally their seat was Dunnikier in the parish of Dysart, Fife, at Pathhead. This property anciently belonged to the family of Lundin of Balgonie.[16] However in 1791-93, James Townsend Oswald arranged for a new mansion to be built in the northern part of the parish of Kirkcaldy, by Alexander Laing (architect).[18] The estate was then also named Dunnikier. The family lived there until the last of the line, Colonel St Clair Oswald, C.R., died at Dunnikier House on 14th Dec 1938.[17] His wife died at Wellington, Somerset in 1973 and was interned at Dunnikier.[19]

Another family descends from James Oswald of Kirkwall, who was born about 1590, and died about 1660. He had a son, James who was a Bailie of Wick, Caithness. His descendents settled at Scotstoun, Renfrewshire (now in Glasgow) and, in 1759, at the estate of Auchincruive in Ayrshire.[20] Richard Oswald built the present Auchincruive House (St Quivox parish) and the estate remained in the possession of the Oswald family until 1925.[21]

Scotstoun, which was a mansion and estate on the north bank of the Clyde in the parish and county of Renfrew (but now subsumed in Glasgow), was purchased in 1748 by the brothers Richard and Alexander Oswald from the creditors of John Walkinshaw. The brothers were merchants in Glasgow and grandsons of James Oswald, Bailie of Wick. Being unmarried, they then left the estate to George Oswald, also a merchant in Glasgow, who was the eldest son of their cousin Rev. James Oswald, minister of Methven, Perthshire. George succeeded to the estate in 1766. The estate of Scotstoun remained in the possession of the Oswald family into the 19th century.[22]

South of Balgray, in the parish of Mearns, Renfrewshire, lay the Barony of Fingalton, which was originally of great extent and one of the oldest possessions of the Hamilton family of Preston. Margaret, daughter of Sir Thomas Hamilton of Preston (died 1672), married Sir James Oswald and in 1681 Sir William Hamilton secretly sold Fingalton and other estates to Sir James Oswald, his brother-in-law. Sir William Hamilton then went to Holland to join the party of William of Orange. By 19th century Fingalton had passed out of the possession of the Oswalds and Fingalton itself only existed as the name of its mill.[23]

Prior to the Reformation, Denny, Stirlingshire, had a vicar by the name of Oswald. Being then within the parish of Falkirk, he was subordinate to the rector of Falkirk. The vicar managed to secure 28 acres of glebe land next to Denny, subsequently known as the lands of Dryburgh, to his family, which was confirmed by King James VI. This property remained in possession of the Oswald family until the death of James Oswald of Dryburgh in about 1815. [24]

In 1666, Charles II granted by charter (confirmed in 1669 by Parliament) to Andrew Oswald of Dalderse, advocate, and his heirs the town and lands of Dalderse, Stirlingshire, with houses, fishing rights, etc. Furthermore, that these properties were to be incorporated in a whole free barony, to be called for evermore the barony of Dalderse.[25] Dalderse lies within the parish of Falkirk.

Oswald family crest (Dunnikier)
Crest and Motto of Oswald Families
Seat/Place Crest Motto
Dunnikier, Fife a star of six points, waved, argent Monstrant astra viam
Dalderse, Stirlingshire comet star Monstrant astra viam
Fingalton, Renfrewsire dexter hand issuing out of a clond and pointing to a star of eight rays Forti favet coelum
Scotstoun, Renfewshire ship under sail Non mihi commodus unl
Auchincruive, Ayrshire dexter hand issuing out of a clond and pointing to a star of eight rays Sequamur
Crest and Motto as recorded in 19th century [26][27]

Oswalds in Fife[edit]

The first census of Scotland which included the recording of surnames at each address was that of 1841.[13] The latest published with names (due to confidentiality policy) is 1911. The occurrence of the Oswald surname at these two census shows that the name was distributed in the south of Fife, especially around Largo Bay from Kirkcaldy to Largo (see map).

Map of Oswald surname in Fife
From the 1841 and 1911 census, by parish. Parishes with an occurrence shown in orange
Central Fife 1875
Showing main area for Oswald surname. The seat of the Oswald family was at Dunnikier, north of Kirkcaldy

People with surname Oswald[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Dictionary of American Family Names, publ. Oxford University Press, 2013
  2. ^ Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica, Book III, chapter 9
  3. ^ Dictionary of First Names (Oxford Quick Reference), Paperback, by Patrick Hanks, Kate Hardcastle Kate and Flavia Hodges, publ. 5 March 2007
  4. ^ http://www.forbears.co.uk - search for the surname Oswald. Retrieved Aug 2016
  5. ^ 1998 information from gbnames.publicprofiler.org - Search for the name Oswald. Also explanatory text on how the distribution is mapped. Retrieved Sep 2016
  6. ^ 1881 information from gbnames.publicprofiler.org - Search for the name Oswald. Map shows that the KY postcode area represented the entire upper sextile, whereas in 1998 it was spread across this and two other areas. Retrieved Sep 2016
  7. ^ Scotland's people website (A partnership between the National Records of Scotland and the Court of the Lord Lyon) www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/search/census/index.aspx?1881 Search Oswald for 1881 census, for both Fife and all Scotland. Retrieved Sept 2016
  8. ^ See geogen.stoepel.net Search Oswald then select the map of the Laender. Retrieved Sep 2016
  9. ^ See geogen.stoepel.net Search Oswald
  10. ^ http://www.gen-evolu.de/ (enter Oswald in search box) Retrieved Sep 2016
  11. ^ namenskarten.lima-city.at search Oswald. Retrieved Sep 2016
  12. ^ http://www.verwandt.ch/karten/relativ/oswald.html retrieved Sep 2016
  13. ^ a b 1841 Census, Scotland's People website http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/content/help/index.aspx?r=554&1262 Retrieved Sept 2016
  14. ^ Coverage of the Old Parish Registers, from National Records of Scotland website www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/guides/old-parish-registers/list-of-old-parish-registers Retrieved Sept 2016
  15. ^ Scotland's People website http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/search/oprbirth/index.aspx (apply for free logon) Search Oswald and select each County (not City) in turn. Retrieved Sept 2016
  16. ^ a b The Scottish Nation, by William Anderson, publ. A. Fullarton & Co., Edinburgh, 1863. Article on Oswald
  17. ^ a b Glasgow Herald 15 Dec 1938
  18. ^ Scotland Places website, article on Dunnikier House http://www.scottish-places.info/features/featurefirst62808.html Retrieved Sept 2016
  19. ^ The Times newspaper (London)25 Oct 1973, p.38
  20. ^ Caithness Family History, by John Henderson. Publ. Edinburgh 1884. Chapter on the Oswalds, p.232
  21. ^ Historic Scotland website portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/LB99 - Article on Auchencruive. Retrieved Sept 2016
  22. ^ A General Description or the Shire of Renfrew, Including an Account of the Noble and Ancient Families; orig.publ. 1710 by George Crawfurd and continued by George Robertson; Published by H. Crichton, Bookseller, Paisley, 1818; pp. 342, 347
  23. ^ A General Description or the Shire of Renfrew, Including an Account of the Noble and Ancient Families; orig.publ. 1710 by George Crawfurd and continued by George Robertson; Published by H. Crichton, Bookseller, Paisley, 1818; pp. 39, 286, 293, and 296.
  24. ^ New Statistical Account of Scotland, vol 8, Dunbarton-Stirling-Clackmannan. Article on Denny, p. 115 of Stirlingshire section. Publ. William Blackwood, 1845. Article revised 1841.
  25. ^ Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707, K.M. Brown et al eds (St Andrews, 2007-2016), www.rps.ac.uk/search.php?action=print&id=38595&filename=charlesii_trans&type=trans Retrieved August 2016
  26. ^ General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, And Wales, by Sir Bernard Burke, C.B., Ll.D. Ulster King Of Arms, publ. Harrison & Sons, 50, Pall Mall,London,1884; p. 765
  27. ^ British Crests Containing the_Crests and Mottos of the Families of Great Britain and Ireland; by Alexander Deuchar; publ. Kirkwood & Sons, Parliament Sq., London, 1817. See entries for Oswald