What's in a Name - Rowden : Rowdon

Surnames were gradually introduced into populations over a period of a few hundred years, beginning approximately 800 years ago. In England, it seems that they were introduced to create a link with the original home areas of the Normans following their conquest. However, over time it may be found that the extra name was derived from one of five main sources; location, topography, occupation, paternity or a nickname. Examples of these are:

  • Location - Windsor, West, York
  • Topography - Wood, Brook, Green
  • Occupation - Smith, Guilder, Taylor
  • Paternity - Wilkinson, Richardson, Ericson
  • Nickname - King, Bishop, Young

The spelling of the surname Rowden has a number of variants, the closest being Rowdon, Rowdan, Rowdin, Rawden. However it is considered that there are others including Roden, Rodden, Rhoden, Roaden. More information on these variant surnames can be found here.

As to the meaning of the name Rowden, I quote from The Concise Oxford Dictionary Of English Place Names, 4th Edition (1960); Oxford University Press:

"Rowden" He [Ruedene DB. Rugedun 1242, 1249 Fees]. 'Rough hill.' See RUH, DUN.

OE ruh 'rough, uncultivated, knotty' is fairly common as first el. The form of the el. varies to some extent owing to the fact that in OE inflected forms h was often exchanged for w ...

OE dun 'down, hill, mountain'. pl. ns. The meaning varies from 'hill' ... to 'a slight rise' ... An important special sense is 'hill pasture' ...

The name is generally pronounced one of two ways; either Row(to argue)den [rauden] or Row(a boat)den [rohden].

Thus it is possible that the name was derived from a topographical origin, maybe signifying the area in which the first Rowdens lived, a rough hill. Alternatively, the name could have a location origin being derived from the place where the original Rowdens lived, the name having already been used to describe that particular geographic location. Although not confirmed, from what is know it is more likely that the later is the case, that someone first used the surname taking the name of place that was already known as Rowden.

The leading question that might then be asked is whether all those people with the Rowden surname derive from one individual man or from a number of men who began to use the name over a period of time. Was there a single ancestor or a number of ancestors? From the evidence it appears that there are most likely three separate origins of Rowden families: in Devon, Wiltshire and Herefordshire. DNA testing has indicated a significant probablility that the large family of Rowdens in Whitstable, Kent has it origins in Wiltshire.

The largest numbers of Rowdens originate from Devon followed by Wiltshire (on current evidence, about half as many) and then a relatively small number from Herefordshire. Also, it may be that the Devon Rowdens originate from more than one source; there may be more than one genetic origin in the county.

Location of Variants
It is safe to assume that all the variant forms of the surname came from the same togographical origin (ruh+dun) but it would be incorrect to assume the same geographic origin. The surname variants have quite specific origins indicating that they also have different genetic origins, that is they do not have the same common ancestors. The following table shows the areas of origin of each variant.

Frequency of Occurrence
It is not easy to calculate how many people have the Rowden surname, and by that I would include the near variants Rowden and Rowdon. People are being born and people die; some marry into the name.

Estimates for England and Wales show that there are currently about 1350 people with the name and its close variants. It is estimated that multiplying this figure by 3.5 will give the population since the start of parish registers in the 16th century. The lists below indicates the numbers calculated from surnames in use in September 2002.

Result for ROWD*
 Surname   Count   Ranking 
 ROWDEN  1292  5368 
 ROWDON   113  30672 
 ROWDING   49  51457 
Result for RAWD*
 Surname   Count   Ranking 
 RAWDING  487  11598 
 RAWDEN  256  18201 
 RAWDON  142  26496 
 RAWDIN  40  58344 
 RAWDON-SMITH  230412 

For further information on surname profiling use the UCL Surname Profiler

The Place Names of Devon, English Place Name Society; Cambridge University Press:

Volumes VIII and IX - Devon
The parishes of:
Shebbear ?, Tawstock ?, Sampford Courtenay ?, Stowford ?, Brentor ?, Revelstoke ?, Halwell ?, Witheridge ? and Widecombe in the Moor ?.

Volume XVI - Wiltshire
The parishes of:
Chippenham ?, Malmesbury ?, White Parish ? also have places know by the name of Rowden.