- This name derives from the old French given name William, itself coming from the old German "Wilhelm" composed of the elements "Wil" will, desire and "Helm", helmet, protection, plus the French diminutive suffix "ett". It was introduced into England at the time of the Conquest of 1066 and its popularity spread rapidly within a short period of time, thus giving rise to a wide variety of surnames, such as Will, Willet(t), Willitt, Willott etc.. Amongst the sample recordings in London are Ann Willett, daughter of John Willett who was christened on May 8th 1569 at St. Michael's Bassishaw and Edward Willett who married Anne Vaughan on September 21st 1578 at St. Augustine Watling street. Two interesting namebearers are Thomas Willet (1605 - 1674), first Mayor of New York 1665 - 1667. Ralph Willett 1719 - 1795, formed a valuable collection of early printed books, prints and pictures. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Thomas Wilet, witness, which was dated 1277, "The Assize Court Rolls", Somerset, during the reign of King Edward 1, "The Hammer of the Scots", 1272 - 1307. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
Surnames reference. 2013.