Conway Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Conway Meaning
Conway as a name appears to have had three origins – in England (as well as in Wales), in Scotland, and in Ireland.   
  • English and Welsh.  The Anglo-Norman name Conyers or Coniers, of uncertain origin or meaning, became Conway over time.  Conway here seems to have come from the Old English word cam yea meaning “crooked river” found in Wales and also in the west of England.  The first recorded spelling of the name was John de Conweye at Glastonbury in Somerset in 1268.  In later times Conway became a name mainly found in Lancashire and elsewhere in northern England.  This may have been due in part to Irish immigration.
  • Scottish.  Here the origin was the place-name Coneway or Convathe, first recorded in the Beauly parish in Inverness-shire in the 13th century.  It is thought that this name was an anglicization of the Gaelic word coinmheadh meaning “free billet” for troops that were stationed there.  Conway later appeared on the east coast of Scotland, particularly in Dundee, but also in larger numbers around Glasgow in the Scottish Lowlands where again many might have come from Ireland.
  • Irish.  Here Conway was also an anglicization of the Gaelic, but from different Gaelic words depending on the location.  Thus Connmhaigh, coming from the old Irish condmach meaning “head-smashing,” was to be found in Munster; while Conbhuidhe, probably from cu buidhe meaning “yellow hound,” started off in Sligo. The resulting Conway name has therefore become fairly numerous across Ireland.

Conway Resources on

Conway Ancestry

WalesSir Henry Conway, a professional soldier in
England, had arrived in north Wales around 1390 and came into
possession of the
Botryddan estate in Flintshire, close by Rhuddian castle.  Conways were to remain
for generations.  Sir
Conway and his son Sir John were MP’s for Flintshire until the latter’s
in 1721.

The Conway name was also to be found near Abergavenny in
Monmouthshire.  George Conway established
a tinplate works at Pontrhydyrun in 1802.
Deeply religious, he founded a Baptist chapel there in 1816.

entrance to the churchyard was enhanced by a huge cedar tree. This tree
life in Lebanon and was brought back to Wales by the Conways after a
visit to
the Holy Land.”

England.  The early version
of the Conway name appears
to have been Conyers.  These Conyers, who
later changed their name to Conway, were to be found at Sockburn in
Durham and
Hornby in north Yorkshire.  The Conways
in north Wales probably came from this stock.

Sometime in the 1470’s Hugh Conway
left his Botryddan home in north Wales to return to England.  An early supporter of Henry Tudor who became
English King in 1485, he subsequently was entrusted with a number of
including the treasureships of Ireland and of Calais.

During Elizabethan times a later Conway from Wales,
Sir John, married the heiress to Arrow at Alcester in Warwickshire.  He then bought nearby Ragley Hall and its lands and this was to be the
Conway’s English

His line continued through Edward who was made Viscount Conway in 1627
a later Edward who became the Earl of Conway in 1679.
When he died four years later without issue,
the line at Ragley Hall continued through his cousin Francis Seymour
assumed the name of Seymour-Conway.  From
his line came:

  • a later Francis Seymour-Conway who served as Viceroy of
    and was made the Marquess of Hertford in 1793.
  • and his brother Henry
    Seymour-Conway who had a lengthy military and political career,
    culminating in
    Cabinet positions and his promotion to Field Marshal in 1793.

There were
Conways elsewhere.

Conways were recorded
at Powerstock in Dorset from the 1600’s onwards.  Henry
Conway left there for London where he
married in 1696.  He and his descendants
their home in Southwark.

The Conway name was also at Stoke Newington near London
from the 1750’s.  Samuel Conway, a
Congregational minister who lived there in the 1850’s, was the father
Robert, a Classical scholar and Professor of Latin literature, and
Katharine, a
writer and early member of the Independent Labor Party.

.  London has also had Jewish
Conways.  One such
was Frank Cohen, born to Jewish immigrants in the East End of London in
1919.  He changed his name to Conway by
deed poll in
1943.  After the war he married and ran a
vending machine business for bubble gum and football cards off
Petticoat Lane.  Other more professional
Jewish Conways have
been academics, writers, rabbis and community leaders.

Channel IslandsThe
Conway name appeared at Jersey in the Channel Islands in the late
1700’s.  These Conways apparently come from
Ireland.  Morrice Conway was recorded as
marrying Marthe Soudell at St. Helier in 1774.
A separate line began with William Conway (who was married four
in the 1850’s.

Ireland.  The Irish origins of
have been various.  It was an anglicized version of
at least four different Gaelic names. 
MacConway was a sept of importance in ancient
(Clare and Limerick) up to the end of the 14th century

The name spread across Ireland.  By the
time of Griffith’s Valuation in the mid-19th century,
Tyrone and Mayo had
emerged as the counties with the largest numbers of Conways.  Later on, Mayo accounted for about
twenty-five per cent of all the Conway births registered in

Some Conways in Ireland were from across the
Irish Sea:

  • first Captain Jenkin Conway arrived from north Wales in
    1587 and was
    granted Killorglin castle in county Kerry by the English government.  From his line came Thomas Conway, born at
    Cloghane in 1735, who left Kerry for France and rose to high military
    first with the French and then with the Americans during the
    Revolutionary War.
  • then
    the English Conways from Warwickshire established themselves at Lisburn
    in county
    Antrim in the early 1600’s.  Three
    members of the Conway family represented Antrim in Parliament over a
    period of
    forty-two years, from 1741 to 1783.

America.  English
and Irish Conways came to America. 

.  Edward Viscount Conway was
an incorporator of
the third Virginia charter in 1611 and later Conways of his family went

Edwin Conway arrived
there around 1640 and, twelve years later, settled in Lancaster county
where he
had been granted land.  His son Edwin,
born there and known as Gentleman Edwin Conway, was the head of one of
First Families of Virginia, connected by marriage to other leading
families.  This Conway line was covered
in W. Conway Price’s 2013 book Descendants
of Edwin Conway.

Conways from this line were in Stafford county by the
mid/late 1700’s.  Walter Peyton Conway
was a wealthy slave-holding gentleman farmer there in the early 1800’s.  His home, known as Conway House, is still
standing along the Rappahannock river.
However, Walter’s son Moncure became an outspoken abolitionist
in the
years leading up to the Civil War.

Conway located several dozen of
his father’s slaves who had fled from Virginia and secured train
tickets and
safe-conduct passes for them.”

Ostracized by his family in Virginia, he spent much of the rest of his
life in London.  Conway Hall there was
named in his honor. 

Conway meanwhile had come to Northumberland county sometime in the
1650’s.  Later descendants of this line
were to be
found in Tennessee and Arkansas.  Henry
Conway departed Tennessee for Arkansas, but was killed in a duel in
1827.  However, after his death,
the Conways led a political dynasty in Arkansas, known as The Family, which lasted until
the start of the Civil War in

Irish.  The
Irish have probably outnumbered the English Conways coming to America.

The first was probably Thomas Conway from
Lisburn in Antrim who arrived with his wife Mary at New Castle,
shortly after their marriage in 1682.
They were Quakers.  Their marriage
produced two daughters, but no sons.

John Conway came to Virginia, it is thought from Dublin, around the
1728 in an immigration that was commonly known as “the Irish
schoolmasters.”   His son Samuel was
to have manufactured gunpowder in 1774 for the Virginia troops that
fighting against the Indians.  The family moved in 1780 to what is
Bourbon county in Kentucky.

The main Conway influx came around the time of the potato famine in
Ireland in the 1840’s.  Among those who
arrived then were: 

  • James Conway from Roscommon who came to Baltimore in 1843
    and moved with
    his family to Iowa in 1850.  His son O.T.
    Conway was a farmer in
    Allamakee county.
  • Thomas Conway who departed Kerry for Montreal in 1847, with his family following him
    later.  His son James settled in Iowa in
  • and James and Johanna Conway from Limerick who came to New
    York in 1847 and
    later headed westward to Indiana.  Their
    son Patrick was one of the most respected physicians of Carroll county.  

Conways also stayed East,
in New York and Boston and elsewhere. 

Douglas was an Irish enclave in Renfrew county, Ontario and
a Conway
family from Limerick had arrived there, along with other Limerick
families, in the
1840’s.  Tragedy hit the family in 1885
when Michael Conway, later commemorated in the ballad Young Conway,
murdered in a sectarian fight.  His
father Thomas died from a stroke two months later, probably as a result
of the

New Zealand.  John Conway
from Jersey in the Channel Islands came to Auckland in 1855 and settled
years later at Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty area.
He was a builder by trade, as was his son


Select Conway Miscellany

Conway Origin in Wales.  According to the book An
Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names
, the
following described the river:

“The river issues from a lake in Merionethshire and flows
through a fertile vale of the same name and enters the Irish Sea at

The Conways of Botryddan in Flintshire.  The Conways were of English origin, supposedly descended from Sir William Conyers, the ‘Knight of
War’ who had been high constable of England under William the Conqueror.

Henry Conway, a professional soldier who had served the English
King, had come
to north Wales around 1390 and married Ellen (or Angharad), the
daughter of Sir
Hugh Crevecoer, the English lord at Prestatyn in Flintshire.  His son Richard succeeded as the lord of

Richard’s grandson Jenkyn, who died in 1432, established
himself at Botryddan.  He married a Welshwoman, Marsli the daughter of Maredudd ap
Hywel ap Dafydd
of Cefn-y-fan.  By the time of Queen
Elizabeth’s accession in 1558 the Conway family had become firmly
as an integral part of Flintshire society.

John Conway who died in 1578 was the
great great grandson of John ‘Aer Conwy Hen’ who had died almost a
earlier.  He sat for the borough of Flint
from 1562 to 1567.

Ragley Hall in Warwickshire.  In the reign of Queen
Elizabeth Sir John Conway came from Wales to marry the heiress to Arrow
Alceston.  He then bought Ragley and its
lands.  It was Sir John’s grandson, the
first Earl of Conway, who engaged Robert Hooke to design the Palladian
that can be seen today.

The building was not completed until the middle of the
18th century.  James Gibbs designed the
baroque plasterwork in the Great Hall in 1750 and Wyatt added the
portico, as
well as decorating the Red Saloon and Mauve Room.

When Edward Conway the 1st
Lord Conway died in 1679, ownership of Ragley Hall passed to his cousin
Seymour who became Francis Seymour-Conway.
A later Francis was given the title of Marquess of Hertford in
1793 for
his services to his country in governing Ireland.

A descendant who made a
notable contribution to the art world was Richard Seymour-Conway, the
Marquess. He never visited Ragley and
lived his entire life in Paris.  Both he and his father were avid
art collectors
and he devoted his life and income to buying pictures to add to his
collection.  The 4th Marquess was by all
accounts an
extremely bad landlord and left Ragley sadly neglected.

Ragley faced mixed
fortunes until the 1950’s when the 8th Marquess worked to restore the
Hall and
to open it to the public.  Ragley had
not been fully occupied since 1912 and was used as a hospital during
the Second
World War.

Irish Origins of Conway.  The Irish origins of Conway are
various.  It is the anglicised version of at least four separate Gaelic names:

  • O’Conbhuidhe
    meaning “yellow hound” first found in the parish of Easky in Sligo.
  • O’Connmhachain
    in Mayo.
  • MacConnmhaigh from condmhach
    “head-smashing” in Munster (or more specifically Thomond which
    covered mainly Clare and Limerick).
  • and MacConmidhe
    meaning “hound of Meath” in Tyrone and Derry.

The MacConways were a sept of importance in
Thomond up to the end of the 14th century.
They were among the septs which rallied to O’Brien’s standard in
1317.  The death of Gillananaev
described as a professor of music in Thomond, was recorded in The Annals of the Four Masters in 1360.

O’Conways were Bishops of Kilmacduagh in Galway in the early 15th
century.  And Father Richard Conway was
one of the intrepid Jesuits who did so much to promote
the counter-reformation in Ireland in the early 17th century.

Conways from Kerry to America During the Famine Years.  Thomas Conway left Kerry in his native Ireland amid the horrors of the famine of 1847-48 and came to America to earn money to support
his family (he did not have enough money to take his family with him).   Through unbelievable frugality he sent
sufficient money to support his family for the following three or four
years.  They also saved enough to buy
passage to America.

His wife Mary, his son James and three little sisters
from Tralee to Montreal.   Conditions
were very bad aboard that ship (not for nothing were these vessels
coffin ships).  About the time the boat
was entering the St. Lawrence River Mary became ill.
Some nuns on board cared for the three little
girls but Mary died before the boat docked.
It is said that she was buried in a cemetery in Montreal.

Thomas’s hopes
and dreams were shattered.  As for his
son James, his dreams were shattered also. One of his dreams of America
was to
be able to attend school, a privilege denied him under the English
rulers in
Ireland at that time.  However, there
must be someone to care for the three little girls and the 11-year-old
boy was
the only one to do it while his father worked 12-15 hour days.
James later
moved to Iowa in 1860 and married. 

Young Conway, A North American Ballad.  Young Conway, a native North American ballad, originated in the Renfrew county region of Ontario in Canada.

It concerned a young Irishman, Michael Conway, who for
unknown reason was attending a Polish social gathering.
Feelings of national heritage began to run
high at this function, together with a misunderstanding from a joke,
and a
fight broke out.  Knives were drawn and
as a result of a direct hit on the head from a hatchet, this young man

following lines from Young Conway described
the fight and his death.

“Our hero he was sitting there a’crying out for
He sprang upon those cowardly dogs his comrades to release.
These cowardly
dogs were angry, blood was their delight;
They all powered onto Conway, it was a
dreadful fight.

Now seven to one it was not fair; they fought him to his
But Conway young and manfully he fought them to displease.
The second time
they caught him they stabbed him o’er and o’er,
And then a blow from a tomahawk
laid Conway on the floor.

From nine o’clock that evening till six o’clock next
His body lay upon the floor; it was as cold as clay.
They carried him to St.
Michael’s church, they laid him in the ground,
And of the friends who were
gathered there not a dry eye could be found.”

Michael Conway died on December
17, 1885 and he was buried in his home town of Douglas.
There is a family plot which shows Michael
Conway dying on this date at the age of twenty-seven.

Conways and “The Family” in Arkansas.  “The Family” was the name
given to a powerful group of Democrats who dominated Arkansas
politics in
the years between statehood in 1836 and the start of the Civil War in

roots of The Family stretched back into the territorial period, when it
coalesced around territorial delegate Henry Conway, the scion of a
Tennessee family.  In 1827 Conway was
mortally wounded in a duel with Territorial Secretary Robert
his former patron and the most powerful political figure in Arkansas at

The killing of Conway exacerbated the schism in Arkansas
politics between
Crittenden and his supporters, who became the basis for the Whig
Party in
Arkansas, and the followers of the slain Conway, staunch Democrats and
supporters of Andrew Jackson who portrayed themselves as champions of
common man.

Among the latter group were Conway’s younger brother
James; his cousins,
Elias and Wharton Rector; and another cousin, Ambrose Sevier.  Sevier was elected to the remainder of Henry
Conway’s term and served in that capacity until Arkansas became a state

The political alliance of Conways, Rectors, Sevier, and
Johnson soon came
to be referred to as “The Family.”  The
results of the first state elections in 1836 confirmed The Family’s
in Arkansas politics.

James Conway was elected the state’s first governor,
Ambrose Sevier was chosen by the state legislature to be one of the
first U.S. senators, and Benjamin Johnson was appointed by President
Jackson to be the state’s first federal district judge. That same year,
Benjamin Johnson’s brother, Richard M. Johnson, was elected vice
president of
the United States on a ticket with Martin Van Buren.
Elias Conway, the youngest brother of Henry
and James, served two terms as Governor between 1852 and 1860.



Conway Names

  • Thomas Conway was an Irish exile who rose to high military rank in France and America in the mid/late 1700’s. 
  • Henry Seymour-Conway had a lengthy British military and political career
    in the mid/late 1700’s, culminating in Cabinet positions and his promotion to
    Field Marshal in 1793.   
  • Moncure Conway, the son of a Virginia slave-owner, was an outspoken
    abolitionist prior to the Civil War. 
  • Russ Conway,
    born Trevor Stanford, was a popular pianist on British TV variety shows in the 1950’s and 1960’s

Conway Numbers Today

  • 20,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 20,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)




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