Gowen Name Origins


The Irish/Scottish name "Gowen" is probably derived from the Gaelic word for 'metalsmith'. (gobha, genetive plural gobhainn), which gives us Gowen/Gowan. Similarly Mac a'Ghobhainn, (Son of the Smith), becomes MacGowan etc.

Very likely the early bearers of the Gowen name in Scotland and Ireland were followers of that trade. The word was also used to describe other metal workers - goldsmiths, silversmiths, coppersmiths, tinsmiths and even blacksmiths. It is synonymous with "Smith" in English, "Schmidt" in German and "Kovaks" in Polish.

The name was interchangeably spelled Gowen, Gowan, Gowin, Gowing, Gowine, Goan, Goen, Goin, Goyn, Goyne, Goyen, Gouwen and other even more remote renderings - some-times among members of the same family. Clerks frequently added an "s" to the end of the name to give it even more variations.

Since a "V" was used interchangeable with a "W" in old English spelling, the name "Gowen" was often rendered "Goven." The name "Govan" was of territorial origin from the old lands of Govan in Lanarkshire, a possible location for the beginning of the Gowen family: "Gowen" was a very common name at Wigtown, a hamlet in the southern-most extremity of the country, some 30 miles south of Govan. Even closer was Ayr, birthplace of the poet Robert Burns who is claimed as a kinsman by many in the Gowen family.

The word "Gowan" has a separate meaning in the language of the Scots - being also used to refer to a meadow daisy.
The smith was a craftsman of importance in all of the clans, so the name has no particular connection with any one of the Scottish clans. The related 'Gows' are usually included in Clan Chattan though there are many of the name in Perthshire, and 11 of the name appeared in the "Commissariot Record of Dunblane" in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, according to George F. Black who wrote "Surnames of Scotland."
Source: Arlee's World

Gowen Surname
Recorded in many forms including: Gow, Gowan, Gowans, Gowanson, Guan, and Going, as well as dialectals such as Quogan, Quoane, Quonne, logic would suggest that this surname should be the most popular in Scotland and Ireland since it means "smith". However it is much rarer than its meaning might suggest that it should be.

It derives from the Gaelic "gobha", meaning an iron worker. Also recorded as MacGowan which strictly translates as the son of the ironworker. What is surprising is that Smith is such a popular surname in England having almost twice the popularity of any other name, and yet the highest proportion of all Smiths is to be found in the county of Aberdeen, Scotland!

The (Mac)Gowan's are regarded as being part of the Clan Chattan, although quite why this should be so, is unclear. Examples of early surname recordings taken from the charters and registers include Alexander Gowansoun, who it is recorded was 'hanged in Dundee' in 1578, although for what crime is not known, Michael Gow, who was arrested in Perth in 1595 for 'raiding', and Colin Gowin of Tiree, who was denounced as a rebel in 1695. John Gowans, recorded in Carluke, Lanark, in 1701, seems to have been quite peaceful, he merely owned 'a tenement'.

The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of George Gow, which was dated 1580, recorded as a burgess of Dysart, Scotland, during the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, 1543 - 1587. 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.


Ancient Irish, for some reason which we cannot now understand, never prefixed the O' in any surname derived from art, trade, or science (O'Gowan, from gobhan, "a smith/' perhaps, only excepted), the prefix Mac having been always used in such instances; for we never meet with, as derivatives from saor, "a carpenter," or bard, "a poet," orfilidh, "a poet," the forms O' an tSaoir, O' an Bhaird, 0' an Fhilidh, but Mac an tSaoir, Mac an Fhilidh, Mac an Bhaird ; and surnames thus formed never ranked as high as those which were formed from the names of kings or chieftains.

Smith & Gowen: Irish name: Gabhann

Mac Gabhann - anglicised as Smith, Smyth, Smythe; according to Woulfe in 'Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall' 1923, the name is a variant of the very numerous Irish surname Mac an Gabhann, which means 'son of the smith'. The root word is 'gobha' (pron. gowa) which means 'smith'. MacGowan and Magowan are common enough in the north, but in the south the name is generally found in its English form, Smith.

In Ireland, the sept Mac an Ghabhan, meaning 'son of the smith', originated in County Cavan in southern Ulster where, in medieval times, they were included by the chroniclers of the O'Rilleys as one of the principal septs, or families, of the kingdom of Breffny.
MacLysaght deals with Smith in some length in 'Irish Families' 1980, where he says MacGowan is generally found in its Smith form, especially in Co Cavan, where the Sept originated.

Ó Gobhan - anglicised as Smith and Smythe, originally of east Ulster, although Woulfe says that they too were originally of Co Cavan, and mentions Meath and Westmeath also in connection with this name. Ballygowan in County Down would refer to an early settlement of this sept.

The Mac Gabhann sept were influential in their day, being hereditary historians to the O' Kennedys of Ormond.

The Ó Gobhan sept were once numerous and widespread across the north and east of Ireland.

In the '1659 Census' undertaken by Sir William Petty for the Cromwellian authorities, Smith etc occurs as a Principal Irish Name in the following counties: in Monaghan both McGowan and O' Gowan with 10 and 15 families respectively; in Fermanagh, Enniskeane Barony, O' Gowan is listed with 7 families; in Down, Kinarlertye and Duffrayne Barony, Smith appears as Principal Irish Name with 14 families; likewise in Castlereagh Barony nearby, Smith appears as a P.I.N. with 11 families; in Farrard Barony, Co Louth, Smyth occurs with 8 families; and with 11 families, Smyth again, occurs in Atherdee in the same county.

From the above one can see how the forms Smith, Smyth et al fit in with the original homelands of the MacGowans and O' Gowans. Crucially Co Cavan does not feature in Petty's incomplete 'Census'.

By the mid 19th century survey of property in Griffith's 'Primary Valuation' of 1848-1860, Smith appears with 5,982 entries and Smyth with 1,586 entries. The highest counties for the former were: Cavan (1074) Down (635) Meath (578); and the latter: Cavan (240) Derry (107) and Antrim (103).


Gow—This name is the anglicised form of MacGobha. Septs of the name belonged to the McIntoshes, McPhersons, and McDonalds. The McPherson sept most all anglicised the name Smith. According to Lower in his work on British Surnames, he says "The Gows were so numerous in Scotland at one period that they bid fair to outnumber the English Smiths."
That can't be said now, as the Scottish Gows forget their Gaelic origin, in most cases have assumed the English name of Smith, though many of the name is yet found in Perthshire. There was several septs of the Gows (MacGobha), McGowans and Gowan (Mac Gobhain) and McIlgown (Mac Giolla-ghobhain), the latter being a sept of the McDonalds.


The GOWAN Family has been addressed in 3 large volumes by James H. B. Gowan of England. The family is traced back to Ir a son of Milesius of Spain. Ir settled the NE section of Ireland. The family within these pages concentrate on the Gowans of county Wexford, Ireland.

To step back further in time we can look at the Gowan ancestry. The 'Genealogy of the Gowan Clan' by James H. B. GOWAN is an extensive three volume family tree. The descendants below focus on my family connection alone. I have started at the decadency from Philip GOWAN [1593- ]; prior to Philip (ascending] were Patrick MacGowan [b.1566] m. Jane Allen; Connall MacGowan m. Rose O'Donnell; Maurice MacGowan [b.1514] m. Joan O'Donnell; Connall MacGowan [b.1477] m. Ukn Odonnell; Rory MacGowan; Kian MacGowan; Turlogh MacGowan [d.1340]; Aongus MacGowan; Rory the Great; Heber Donn; Ir; Milesius of Spain [c.1300 b.c.] who married Scota a dau of Nectonibus, a Pharaoh; from Milesius we can trace back to Adam & Eve: http://www.araltas.com/features/milesius.html.

The McGowan DNA Project

McGowan and variants can be an Irish or a Scottish name. In both Ireland and Scotland, the name derives from the Gaelic word 'gabha', meaning son of the iron worker or sometimes anglicized as 'smith'. Other variants are Gowan, Gowen, Going, Gowanson, and Gow.

In Ireland, the sept Mac an Ghabhan, meaning 'son of the smith', originated in County Cavan in southern Ulster where, in medieval times, they were included by the chroniclers of the O'Rilleys as one of the principal septs, or families, of the kingdom of Breffny. In the following centuries, many of this family chose, or were forced, to anglicize the name to Smith or Smythe. This occurred especially during the time of English oppression of all things Irish, when the Irish could not vote, hold public office, own property, educate their children or worship as they chose.*(In this manner, the English sought to "civilize" the wild Irish.) On the borders of Breffny, in County Leitrim, to the northwest in Counties Donegal and Sligo, and to the north in Counties Monaghan, Tyrone and Derry, MacGowan,or McGowan is still used in preference to Smith.

Further confusionarises from the fact that the Gaelic surname MacDhubhain, a family of Raphoe, County Donegal, and also of County Clare, where the anglicized form is MacGuane, has become MacGowan; while Mac Gamhna, normally Gaffney, is also rendered MacGowan in some places.

Ballygowan in CountyDown is of no connection, being named from one of the septs of O'Gowans. That name is rare in modern times, as it too was anglicized to Smith. However, O'Gowans were in the census of 1659 as one of the principal Irish names in Counties Monaghan and Fermanagh.

In Scotland, Mac an Ghobhain was anglicized to MacGowan. Mac Gobha, later McGow, was also made MacGowan. As the maker of arms and armor, the smith was an important hereditary position in each clan and there were MacGowans, or MacGouns, found throughout the Highlands. The two most important septs, however, were the MacGowans of Clan Donald (MacDonald) and those of Clan MacPherson. There was also a Clan M'Gowan noted in fourteenth century Nithsdale in Dumfriesshire, and in Sterlingshire there was an old family of MacGowans of uncertain origin.

Gowin Research

"Through research, I have found that those with current spellings other than GOWIN and even GOWAN appear to be more distantly related to my family. This includes those with current GOWEN, GOIN, GOINS, GOAN, GOEN, GOING, GOINGS, etc. surname spellings. The spelling of GOWEN is a bit different from the others in that it does seem to jump around a bit. From these results, there does seem to be a pattern of those that do not have a “W” within the name.

First, a bit of information about the spelling variation of a surname:

GOIN, GOEN, GOAN, GOING, GOYNES – Is known to be more of an English surname, although, there are some recorded with a few of these variants in portions of Northern Ireland. Another variant is GOWING, that includes the ‘w’, but is considered of English origin.

GOWAN, GOWEN, GOWIN, GOW – Are more common spellings of names found in Ireland and Scotland. It is an English version of the Gaelic ‘gobhann’ and ‘gobhainn’ with the ‘bh’ pronounced as a ‘w’. In Ireland it is also found to be preceded by both the O’ and the Mc, while in Scotland the Mc. This is not always the case and in later years a family may drop them from their name or took on the Anglican version of names (including Smith, Smyth, Smythe) to be accepted by the English and make it so they were able to buy land. “Gobhann’ and “Gobhainn” mean smith or blacksmith and it is also a type of daisy. The Gaelic spelling with the Mc was captured as Mac s'Ghobhainn. The Mc and O’ meant “son of” as in: James, son of the smith or James McGowan."

The Scottish MacGowans

The Following is an excerpt taken from `Black's Book of the Surnames of Scotland:

"Mac Gowan, Mac Goun, Mac Gown, Mac Goune, g. Mac a'ghobhainn, or Mac Ghobhainn (meaning) "(The)Son of the Smith". MacGowan is the name of an Old Stirling Family. Forms Two to Four, found in the "Glasgow Directory" may be Irish (in Origin). Gilcallum MacGoun has a precept of remission for rapine and other crimes against the Lands of the Abott of Cuppar, 1503 (RSS., I, 953). Gilbert Makgowin, a follower of the Earl of Cassilis, was respited for murder in 1526 (ibid. 3386). William Mc Gown in Pitcalney, a follower of Ross of Pitcalney, 1592 (RPC., V, p.31). Murchie McGowy, or Murthie Mc Gowne, in Fanmoir, Mull; was put to (the) Horn in 1629 (RPC., 2 ser. II, p.341; m. p.45). Allister MacGhowin, and engager on the Royalist side, in (the) Parish of Urray, 1649 (DR., p.368). Alexander M'Ghoune was retoured heir in the Lands of Langlandes of Lochane in the Territory of Dumfries, 1673 (RETOURS, Dumfries, 270). Margaret M'Ghoune was retoured heir of Alexander M'Ghoune, a merchant in Dumfries, 1682 (RETOURS, Kirkudbright, 344), & Alexander McGowne& Abraham MacGoune were residents in the Parish of Borque, 1684 (RPC., 3 der. IX, p. 566-567). MacGoun,1703; M'Gouan, Makgowane, M'Govin.

(2) In the reigns of David II, there was a Clan M'Gowan, probably located somewhere on the River Nith, whose chiefship was adjudged to Donald Edzear (RMS., I App. II, 982). This Edzear was a descendant of Dunegal of Stranith (Nithsdale), whose seat was at Morton, Dumfriesshire, about the beginning of the 12th Century. The Name here may indicate descent from Owen the Bald (the Eugenius Calvin of Simeon of Durham), King of the Strathclyde Britons, who was killed in 1018.

Note: The Smith in Olden Times was a very important personage in the Clan as being the maker of Arms and Armor, and as this trade descended from Father to Son, it's designation soon became a Surname. The Land of Drwmfolatyn was leased to Donald M'Gou in 1444, to Glaschen MkGow in 1473, and in 1512, Robert M'Gou was a tenant of Drumfallantin (Cupar-Angus, I. p.128, 205, 283). Alexander MacGow in Murthlac, 1550 (Illus., II, p.261). Also Englished Gowanson, q.v. Makgow, 1460.

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