Recorded in various spellings including Cowan, Cowans, and Cowing, this interesting name is Gaelic and may be either Scottish or Irish. It is a short form of the pre 10th century Gaelic 'MacEoghain'. The translation is 'The son of Eoghan', the latter being a personal name from the pre7th century "Ouein", meaning well-born, but curiously believed to derive ultimately from the Ancient Greek "Eugenious", meaning born lucky. Quite how the name managed to pass over the many miles between ancient Greece and the Gaelic countries is far from clear. The various patronymic forms of the surname do include MacOwen, MacCown, MacCone, MacKeown, although most of these forms lost the Gaelic 'Mac' during the 17th century, sometimes just leaving the short forms, with whch we are more familar today. Early examples of the surname recording include: John Cowan, who was the Chancellor of Christ church, Waterford, Ireland, in 1582, whilst Cowan's Hospital in Stirling, Scotland, was founded by John Cowan, a merchant there, in 1639. Other examples are those of Marionne Cowan and George Mwir, who were married in Ochiltree, Ayrshire on June 6th 1643, Elizabeth Cowing, the daughter of John and Frances Cowing, who was christened at St Dunstans in the East, Stepney, London, on December 15th 1700, whilst on May 8th 1846, Pat Cowan, recorded as being a merchant aged 21 years, embarked from Liverpool on the ship "Rochester", bound for New York. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was sometimes known as the 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.

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