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Willi Coat of Arms / Willi Family Crest

This surname WILLI is of various origins. Firstly it was a locational name from any of various places so called. Those in Cheshire, Hereford, Shropshire and Warwickshire are named from the Old English word 'wilig' literally meaning willow and 'leah' meaning wood. In Surrey the name meant one who dwelt near the pagan temple. It was also a baptismal name 'the son of William' an ancient and still used font name. It was also an occupational name for a trapper or hunter, derived from the Old English word WILE meaning trap or snare. When meat in the Middle Ages could not be kept well throughout the winter months, an important source of meat came through the game killed by the hunter, whose work was both a necessity and a pastime for the ruling classes. The British particularly were famed for their hunting dogs, and one gentleman Gaston de Foix, in France, was said to have had sixteen hundred hounds in his kennels, and six hundred horses in the stables. Favourite quarries of the nobility were the stag and the wild boar. From Germany there are many family names which denote the huntsman. Other spellings of the name include WILEMAN, WILE, WILLEY, WILES and WYLES. Early records of the name mention Thomas WYLY who was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379 and Thomas Willy appears in County Lancashire in the year 1400. Later instances of the name include Mary WILLY who was baptised at St. Peter, Cornhill, London in the year 1568 and Thomas Wlliams and Elizabeth WILLY were married at Westminster, London in 1614. A notable member of the name was William WYLER (1902-81) the German-born American film director, born in Mulhausen, Alsace-Lorraine (now in France). He was invited to America by his cousin, the head of Universal Pictures, and began in the publicity department, graduated to assistant director, and directed his first film 'Crook Buster' in 1925. His many films include 'These Three' (1936), 'Wuthering Heights' (1939), 'The Little Foxes' (1941) and 'Funny Girl' (1968). He received Academy Awards for 'Mrs Miniver' (1942), 'The Best Years of Our Lives' (1946) and 'Ben Hur' (1959).

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Last Updated: April 12th, 2023

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