Dow Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Dow Surname Meaning

The surname Dow has both English and Scottish origins, and possibly different origins there:

  • the Scottish Dow, pronounced as “doo” or the Gaelic “duhb” and describing someone who was dark or swarthy, is believed to have come from the black bird daw, as in jackdaw.
  • while the English Dow may have been descriptive of someone of a gentle nature, like a dove. “Dove” transposed over time to different surname spellings in different places, including Dow in Norfolk.

Dow Surname Resources on The Internet

Dow Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland and England (both East Coast) and from China
  • to America, Canada and Australia

Scotland. One line sees Dows moving north from Berwick to Edinburgh and then a Robert Dow owned land in Perthshire in 1497.

Perthshire is where Dows are most numerous in Scotland today:

  • Thomas Dow’s will was recorded in Methven parish near Perth in 1609 and several Dows were recorded at Comrie, Crieff, Dull, and Monzie in the 19th century.
  • Daniel Dow was born in in Muthill in 1830. His son Daniel was a sea captain of the great Cunard liners at the turn of the century.
  • Donald Dow, when interviewed in the 1950’s, was one of the last Gaelic speakers in Perthshire.

Dows also have had a presence further north in Aberdeenshire. Alexander Dow was born in Tarland, Aberdeenshire in the early 1760’s. A later Alexander Dow of this family emigrated with his three sons to Massachusetts in the 1870’s.

England. Dow is not that prevalent a surname in England. It originated in Norfolk, first appearing there in the 13th century. John Dowe was recorded in Great Yarmouth in Elizabethan times. The name is mainly to be found in London and East Anglia today.

America. The Dows in America could be of English, Scottish, or even possibly of Dutch or Chinese origin. The Dutch Duows were from Gerald Duow, a painter, whose kin came to New Amsterdam about 1630 and settled near Albany.

New England.  Henry and Joan Dow came to New England in 1637 from Ormsby in Norfolk. The family were Quaker and their descendants moved to Hampton in New Hampshire and Berwick in Maine.  Neal Dow, born of Quaker parents in Portland Maine, was one of the founders of the American temperance movement. Other Dow descendants were to be found in Connecticut. They included:

  • Henry Dow of Derby, Connecticut and his son Henry Herbert Dow, the founder of the Dow Chemical Company.
  • the itinerant preacher Lorenzo Dow, born in Coventry in 1777
  • Daniel Dow, born there six years earlier in 1771, who set off in later life for Iowa
  • and the Charles Dow of Dow Jones fame, born to a Sterling farming family in 1851.

Another early Dow arrival was Thomas Dow who came to Newbury, Massachusetts with his wife Phebe in 1639.

Robert P. Dow’s 1929 book The Book of Dow covered these various American genealogies.

Chinese Dows.  Hom Soon Dow and his wife Alice left China for Massachusetts in 1902. He started the H.S. Dow laundry in Boston five years later. His son Harry was to become the first Chinese American to study law and be admitted to the Massachusetts bar. Having survived McCarthyite anti-Chinese prejudice in the 1950’s, Harry went on working on community based projects in Boston until his death in 1985 at the age of eighty.

Canada. Dows came to New Brunswick from America in the days before the Revolutionary War. There were two groups of Dows that migrated and each established a Dow settlement:

  • one with William Dow in Brighton, Carleton county
  • and the other with Enoch Dow in Canterbury, York county.

Some of these New Brunswick Dows later headed back to America. Wentworth Dow was a lumberman in Wisconsin who fought in the Civil War. Edward Dow became a postmaster in Belton, Montana.

William Dow came to Montreal from Perthshire in Scotland in 1818. He and his brother Andrew started the Dow brewery there in the 1830’s. It prospered and William, who never married, grew rich. Dow Breweries continued until 1966.

Australia. Several Dows emigrated to Australia from Scotland, most notably William Henry Dow in 1854. He settled in Melbourne and earned repute as a violin maker. He was said to have made 200 violins and six cellos during his lifetime.

Dow Surname Miscellany

Dow in England.  In many counties of England there were men of mild manner, whose personalities called for a gentle name like that of a dove.  That name or a name close to it first surfaced close to 1200 in a Parliamentary writ directed to a Nicholas le Duv and a Richard le Duv.

As time went on, the method of spelling tended to crystallize different in different parts of the country.  In Norfolk the tendency was towards Dowe and probably all Dows in Norfolk have a common ancestor (there were no fewer than twenty original families of Dow).  In Hampshire the tendency was towards Doue.  Elsewhere the spelling was Dove.

The earliest spelling as Dow occurred in Norfolk in 1505 when Eleanore Dow of Rekynhale received a legacy from Edmund Sparhawke of Laxfield.  Henry Dow of Runham spelled his name as Dowe and Dove in 1613.  The surname pronunciation at that time was unlike the American-sounding “cow” or “now.”  It was long and halfway between the pronunciation of “doe” and “dove.”

Reader Feedback – Dow Ferryman in Stirling.  My mother, born in 1929, is Jemima Paterson nee Dow of Muirkirk in Ayrshire. Her father was William Dow, born in Stirling in 1896. William’s brother was James, the last ferryman over the river Forth (until 1936) from Riverside (Stirling) to Cambuskenneth. He died in 1989 and is buried in the Ferryman’s Grave at Blairlogie just outside Stirling.

Stuart Paterson (

Dow and Variants in America.  In Massachusetts Bay colony, Henry Dow spelled his name Dowe, Dow and Dove in 1653.  About 1725 the final “e” got lost, although it was subsequently resumed in a few instances.  Several branches of the Connecticut Dows were Dowe for several generations.

That Crazy Dow Preacher.  Lorenzo Dow was born in Coventry, Connecticut in 1777 and became an itinerant evangelical preacher, “that celebrated and eccentric preacher.”

He was personally unkempt; he did not practice personal hygiene and his long hair and beard were described as “never having met a comb.”  And his public speaking mannerisms were like nothing ever seen before among the typically conservative churchgoers of the time.

He shouted, he screamed, he cried, he begged, he flattered, he insulted, he challenged people and their beliefs.  He told stories and made jokes.  It is recorded that Dow often preached before open-air assemblies of 10,000 people or more and held the audience spellbound.

Dow’s fame spread and so did his travels.  He traveled on foot and occasionally on horseback throughout what was then the United States.  He also visited Canada, England and Ireland.  A fierce abolitionist, Dow’s sermons were often unpopular in the southern United States and he frequently was threatened with personal violence.  He sometimes was forcibly ejected from towns, pelted with stones, eggs, and rotten vegetables. That never stopped him; he simply walked to the next town and gave the same sermon again.

He kept a journal History of Cosmopolite, or the Writing of Rev. Lorenzo Dow, which was published in 1859. At one time was the second best-selling book in the United States, exceeded only by the Bible.  His influence and popularity led to many U.S. children of the early 19th century being named after him.

Wentworth Dow.  Wentworth Dow was born in New Brunswick in 1829 and came to America in 1856.   He settled in Wisconsin as a lumberman.  Later he joined a regiment of the Wisconsin infantry and fought in the Civil War between 1862 and 1865.  He is remembered today for the diary he kept of his experiences during the conflict which were subsequently published (minus the entries for 1865 which had been lost).

Wentworth Dow married Mehitable Dawes back in Wisconsin in 1866 and they had nine children.

Neal Dow’s Civil War.  It is difficult to know what to say about Neal Dow.  An internationally known celebrity well before the war for his tireless campaigning against liquor, he was the author of “The Maine Law,” the toughest statute against the sale and consumption of spirits anywhere in the world.

When the Civil War broke out, his prominence was such that he had to be made a Colonel when he offered his services.  He badgered the Adjutant General and Governor with hourly bulletins offering advice, suggestions and demands that read like the pompous effusions of a self-important pest, yet betray a genuine concern for his men.  He made his regiment “take the pledge” (although some of the boys were able to sneak across to visit the grog shops in Augusta once the river froze over).

Many anxious mothers wanted their boys to go in Dow’s outfit – the “Temperance Regiment” – in the hope that Dow would make sure that ne’er a drop of demon rum would touch the lips of their darlings.  The regiment wound up under the command of General Butler.  It is said that the two men detested each other; yet Dow prospered and was promoted to Brigadier General under Butler’s aegis.  He saw some action at Port Hudson, was wounded, and finally captured.

He managed to antagonize both his Confederate captors and fellow prisoners in Libby prison by giving temperance tirades to starving and thirsty men; spying and keeping lists of prison officials’ misdeeds, as well as those of other prisoners.  Both guards and prisoners accused him of hoarding food and blankets and it was a great relief to all when he was finally released in exchange for Fitzhugh Lee.

His personal courage was never in doubt, however, and he went home to continue his lifelong assault on the evils of drink.

Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal.  In 1880, Charles Dow arrived in New York, realizing that that was the main place for business and financial reporting.

He found work at the Kiernan Wall Street Financial News Bureau.  When John Kiernan asked him to find another reporter for the Bureau, Dow invited Edward Davis Jones to work with him.  Jones, a Brown University dropout, could skillfully and quickly analyze a financial report.  He, like Dow, was committed to reporting on Wall Street without bias.

The two young men believed that Wall Street needed another financial news bureau. In 1882, they started their own agency, Dow, Jones & Company.  The business’ headquarters were located in the basement of a candy store.

One year later, the company started putting out an afternoon two-page summary of the day’s financial news called The Customers’ Afternoon Letter.  It soon achieved a circulation of over a thousand subscribers and was considered an important news source for investors.  It included the Dow Jones stock average, an index that included nine railroad issues, one steamship line, and Western Union.

In 1889, the company had 50 employees.  The partners realized that the time was right to transform their two-page news summary into a real newspaper.  The first issue of The Wall Street Journal appeared that year.  It cost two cents per issue or five dollars for a one-year subscription.  Dow was the editor and Jones managed the deskwork.

The paper gave its readers a policy statement:

“Its object is to give fully and fairly the daily news attending the fluctuations in prices of stocks, bonds, and some classes of commodities.  It will aim steadily at being a paper of news and not a paper of opinions.”


Dow Names

  • Lorenzo Dow was a well-known itinerant preacher in America in the early 1800’s.
  • Neal Dow from Maine co-founded the National Temperance Society in 1865 and ran for President on their ticket in 1880.
  • Charles H. Dow from Connecticut founded the Wall Street Journal and devised the Dow Jones industrial stock average.
  • Henry Herbert Dow who founded the Dow Chemical Company was one of the chemical pioneers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Sir Hugh Dow was a British civil servant who was governor of Sindh from 1941 to 1945. The Dow Medical College in Karachi was named after him.

Dow Numbers Today

  • 4,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lanarkshire)
  • 6,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).

Dow and Like Surnames

From our selection, these are the surnames of those who have made their business mark in America – as pioneers, inventors, developers, or corporate leaders.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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