Howard Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Howard Surname Meaning

The name Howard does not appear to have one single origin, but many. One theory is that the name is derived from the Norman French names Huard or Heward which came to England after the Norman Conquest. Huardus, Huart and Houardus all appeared as landowners in the Domesday Book of 1086.

Others see the Old Norse name Haward, from ha meaning “high” and varthr “warden,” as an alternative origin, particularly in East Anglia. Then there are occupational connotations. John Howeherde from Derbyshire in 1348 came from “ewe-herd.”

Later parish registers find Howard often used for Hayward, the guardian of the hedge in the feudal manorial system.  For instance, the Haywards of Ashton under Lyme in Lancashire became Howards around  1750.

Howard Surname Resources on The Internet

Howard  Surname Ancestry

  • from England and Ireland
  • to America, Canada and Australia

England. The first recorded spelling of the family name was probably that of Robert Howarde, dated 1221 in the rolls of Ely Abbey, Cambridgeshire.

Dukes of Norfolk.  The Howard family who became the Dukes of Norfolk was originally from Norfolk and claimed a connection with the 11th century Saxon fighter Hereward the Wake. Sir William Howard first appeared in public records as the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in 1277.

These Howards, the premier dukes of England, are now based at Arundel castle in Sussex.  They have been through their long history staunch Catholics.  Their descendants were numerous.

Howards were also to be found in Cumberland in the northwest of England.  Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, married into the Dacre family in the 16th century and thereby inherited the vast Dacre estates in Cumberland. He was soon executed for treason. But his son William re-established the Howards there. They later became the Earls of Carlisle and built Castle Howard in north Yorkshire.  And another Howard line, based in Wiltshire, became the Earls of Suffolk.

A related Howard family held Levens Hall near Kendal for many centuries. Howards also held the Glossop estate in Derbyshire from 1606 to 1925. Management here was usually entrusted to the second son of the family.

Other Howards.  By the late 19th century the largest number of Howards in England was to be found in the northwest, primarily in Lancashire.  Howards at North Meols near Southport date from about 1500. They were farmers and their family records were recorded at the local church of St. Cuthbert’s. The Haywards of Ashton under Lyme became Howards around 1750.

One Howard family has traced its roots in Surrey back to Thames Ditton (which contains a Howard Street) in the 1600’s. Another Howard family of the same timescale was to be found at Little Shelford in Cambridgeshire. Here as in Lancashire the early spelling may have been Hayward.  And John Howard the prison reformer, born in 1726, had a family background in Cardington, Bedfordshire.

Ireland. Howard in Ireland can be English or Irish:

  • either brought by the English arriving there, as with the Howards from Dublin who later held Shelton Abbey in Wicklow for nigh on three hundred years;
  • or in county Clare, being an anglicization of the Gaelic names O’Hiomhair or O’Huer.

The main Howard numbers were in fact to be found on the west coast, in Limerick and Cork.

America. Howard lines in Maryland traced themselves back to the younger portionless members of the ducal Howards who sought their fortunes in America.

Maryland.  Ann Howard married Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore; and Mathew Howard (who was a Howard from his mother’s side) was in Virginia by the 1630’s before settling in Anne Arundel county in Maryland in 1649, that place being more congenial to Catholics.

Two other Howards from the same roots settled there – Edmund Howard in Charles county and Cornelius Howard in Baltimore county.

These Howards were part of the Maryland country gentry set. In the 1790’s John Eager Howard, a son of Cornelius, was Governor and Senator for Maryland and gave his name to Howard county. His grandson Francis Key Howard, however, was a political prisoner by the time of the Civil War.

Elsewhere.  There were other Howards of less ducal origins elsewhere.  John Howard, formerly Hayward, arrived from Kent with his brother on the Hercules in 1635. His family became leading citizens of the town of Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

Others of these Howards later settled in Vermont and Maine. One line led to Oliver Howard, born in Maine in 1830, who was a distinguished US army general during the Civil War and in later campaigns against the Indians in the West. But he is best known for the founding of Howard University in Washington DC in 1867. This became a premier university for African American students.

William Howard, born in Yorkshire, came to Pennsylvania in 1854.  He helped found the lumber company of Howard & Perley and was one of the leading businessmen in the Williamsport  area.  The Howard Memorial Hall commemorates him.

Howards in the South.  William Howard, born in 1686 in North Carolina, went to sea at a young age and had many pirate adventures.  He returned to North Carolina and, many years later, purchased the Ocracoke island off the coast.  Howards and locals have been living there ever since that time.

Stephen Howard, born around 1690 in SE Virginia, is thought to have been the forebear of Howards who migrated south to North Carolina and later to South Carolina and then to Kentucky.

Alexander Howard, born around 1700, lived in Spotsylvania county, Virginia.  His son Peter moved to Greenville, South Carolina in the late 1700’s.  The mountainous area of northern Greenville county where he and his descendants lived was called the “dark corner” of South Carolina.  It was well-known as a refuge for moonshiners and outlaws.

Canada.  Peter Howard was a Loyalist from upstate New York who fought on the British side during the Revolutionary War and afterwards crossed into Canada, settling in Elizabethtown, Ontario.  He became embroiled in local politics there, but later settled down as a doctor in Brockville.

John and Jemina Howard arrived in Toronto from Hertfordshire in 1832, John accepting an appointment as drawing master at Upper Canada College.  He went on to establish himself as Toronto’s first professional architect and one of its first official surveyors.  He laid out Toronto’s harbour, waterfront and islands, and engineered Toronto’s first sewers, bridges, streets and sidewalks.  His legacy to the city was also his home at High Park.

John may have been born illegitimately as he adopted his Howard name later.  His marriage to his wife was childless.  But he had three children by his long-term mistress Mary Williams.

Australia.  James and Elizabeth Howard were immigrants to Sydney from Hertfordshire in England in 1855. Their grandson Walter and great grandson Lyall both fought in World War One. Lyall’s son John Howard was Australia’s Prime Minister from 1996 to 2007.

Patrick Howard, born in Dublin, also came to Sydney, but a year earlier in 1854.  Two years later, he took part in the Eureka Stockade uprising and was arrested, although he was subsequently released because his gun was not loaded.  His grand-daughter Ella Hancock took part in a film about him in 2014 when she was 98 years old.  Also appearing was Patrick’s great great grandson, the musician Shane Howard.

Howard Surname Miscellany

Howard Beginnings.  The Howard line was begun by Sir William Howard, the Chief Justice of Common Pleas in the reign of King Edward I.  Sir William is first recorded in 1277 when he bought land at East Winch in Norfolk.

“In the east window of the church of East Winch in Norfolk are the Howard arms and on the north side is the ancient chapel of St. Mary their burial-place. Grancourt House was the seat of Sir William Howard.”

From 1285 Sir William was council to the corporation of Kings Lynn. In 1298 he purchased a manor house and methodically built up his holding in the parish by purchase, acre by acre.  He also added to his possessions by marriage, both his wives being heiresses.  Sir William died in 1308 leaving his family firmly established. His eldest son Sir John Howard was the grandfather of the first Duke of Norfolk.

Howard Descendants.  The Howard descendants of the Duke of Norfolk have been numerous.

In 1783, it was said, the 11th and drunken Duke of Norfolk planned a dinner party in London to commemorate the tercentenary of the dukedom.  Every descendant of the first duke was to be invited.  He discovered at least six thousand descendants, many “in very obscure and indigent circumstances,” and gave it up.

As the poet Alexander Pope wrote:

  • “What can ennoble sots or slaves or cowards?
  • Alas, not all the blood of all the Howards.”

Belted Will and Castle Howard.  The earliest name by which Castle Howard in north Yorkshire was known seems to have been Henderskelfe, meaning “Hundred Hill.”  This old castle was built in the 14th century and later passed into the Dacre family.

The estate then fell into the Howard hands in 1566 when Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, married Dacre’s widow Elizabeth.   However, his Catholic plotting on behalf of Mary, Queen of Scots at this time brought him into a collision course with the English Crown and he was executed for treason in 1572.

His third son William, who came to be known as “Belted Will,” married step-sister Elizabeth Dacre in 1577. They had married very young and, for a long period of their early married life, they had a turbulent time. During the remainder of Elizabeth’s reign, the Catholic William and his brother Arundel were continually subject to charges of treason.  They never received any public employment and were kept in a state of poverty.

However, when James I came to the throne in 1603, their prospects brightened.  William received the appointment of Lord Warden of the Marches, an important and responsible position given the strife that continued to exist on the English/Scottish border.  He was rigorous in the discharge of these duties.  It was his boast that the “rush-bush should guard the cow” and he saw to this by sending his prisoners straight to Carlisle and the hangman there.

This Howard line was back in favor and they later became the Earls of Carlisle.  When the ancient castle of Henderskelfe burned down in the late 1600’s, a new and resplendent building, Castle Howard, was raised on its site.

Charles Howard, 20th Earl of Suffolk.  He was generally referred to in aristocratic circles as Suffolk, but was better known in the workaday world as Jack Howard or more officially as Charles HowardIndeed he was also known by the nicknames of Mad Jack and Wild Jack.

He was most famous for being responsible for rescuing a team of French nuclear scientists and the entire world stockpile of heavy water from France to Britain in the face of the imminent French defeat in 1940.  Subsequently he became a bomb disposal expert who would deliberately expose himself to danger.  On May 12, 1941 he tackled his 35th unexploded bomb on Erith Marshes.  This booby-trapped bomb blew up and killed him.

On hearing the news of his death, John Masefield the Poet Laureate wrote the following words:

  • “He loved the bright ship with the lifting wing;
  • He felt the anguish in the hunted thing;
  • He dared the dangers which beset the guides;
  • Who lead men to the knowledge nature hides;
  • Probing and playing with the lightning thus;
  • He and his faithful friends met death for us;
  • The beauty of a splendid man abides.”

Howards in Lancashire.  The 1881 British Census showed 29,400 Howards, of which 6,640 or 23% resided in Lancashire.  The leading parishes with Howards there were:

  • North Meols near Southport with 515 Howards
  • and Ashton-under-Lyne near Manchester with 401 Howards.

Each of these parishes had had a long history of Howards.

The Howards of Shelton Abbey in County Wicklow.  For close on three hundred years, the Howard family held court at Shelton Abbey outside Arklow in county Wicklow.

From the outset they were an unusual clan with a tremendous penchant for the arts. Hugh Howard emerged as one of the great collectors of the early 18th century while his brother acquired the great library of Lord Chancellor West.

The Howards were equally adept at collecting wealthy wives. Marriages with the Boleyns, Forwards, Arnolds, Darnleys, Charlemonts, Powerscourts and Abercorns ensured their position in high society. Created Viscounts in 1776 and subsequently elevated to the Earldom, four sons of the family sat as representative peers between 1800 and 1905. The 7th Earl was a Senator in the Irish Free State and the last Countess sat in the Irish Seanad in 1948.

The family’ artistic bent was emphasized by friendship with the hymn-writer Fanny Alexander and the pre-Raphaelite poet, Dante Rossetti.

Protestant by birth but often Catholic by persuasion, the family was caught up in one of the most extraordinary legal battles of Victorian times.

Billy Wicklow was one of Evelyn Waugh’s great friends and a renowned figure in Dublin society. His cousin Lady Katherine Howard established a charitable foundation and was the last of these Howards.

John Howard’s Letter in Bridgewater.  In 1645 John Howard’s name appeared as one of the 54 original proprietors of the grant of land afterward known as Bridgewater.  In 1656 he was one of the two surveyors of highways for this town.

In 1652 he was thought to have received the following letter from his mother back in England.  She spelled her name Hayward, as her son had done before he had embarked for the New World in 1635.

“London, August 16, 1652.

Loving Son,

Having a fit opportunity by a friend to send to you, I could not, out of my motherly care to you and your brother, do less than write these few lines to you to certify you that both I and your sister are in good health, praise be to God, and that I earnestly desire to hear from you both, how you do and how and in what condition you are both.

Your sister desires to be remembered to you both and she and I have sent you some small tokens of our love for you.  I have sent George three bands and a handkerchief and a handkerchief to yourself.  And I have sent you a shilling to pay for the writing of a letter, if by long silence you have forgotten.

I wonder, son, you should have so forgotten your mother whose welfare she tended to more than anything in the world.  Your sister has sent you a book of your father’s and a bible for George. Did we conceive that you were alive, we would have sent you better tokens.

Child, with my blessing to you both, desiring to hear from you and whether you ever intend for England, and how your cousin Sarah is doing, with my daily prayer to the Lord for you, I rest.

Your Loving Mother,
Mary Hayward.”

William Howard and His Pirate Adventures.  William Howard was born in coastal North Carolina in 1686.

He went to sea as a young man and by early 1717 he was associating with Benjamin Hornigold, an odious Bahamian pirate captain.

Just a few months later Howard was sailing with Edward Teach, soon to go down in history as the notorious Blackbeard. After obtaining command of the Queen Anne’s Revenge and making it his flagship, Blackbeard assigned William Howard as his quartermaster, the senior officer and chief representative for the pirate captain and crew. Together they attacked many a ship and plundered cargoes of untold value.

In the summer of 1718, several months after receiving a royal pardon for acts of piracy, William Howard traveled to SE Virginia where Governor Alexander Spotswood had him jailed for violating his pardon by continuing “to perpetrate his wicked and piratical designs at sundry times and places…with…Edward Teach and other of their confederates and associates.”

In October William Howard was sentenced to be hanged. But by an amazing stroke of luck, the king’s latest “Act of Grace” was delivered to HMS Pearl, the ship upon which William Howard was confined, just hours before his scheduled execution. He was released.

Francis Key Howard in Prison.  Francis Key Howard was the grandson of John Eager Howard, the Revolutionary War colonel and Governor and Senator for Maryland, and Francis Scott Key, the man who wrote the lyrics to America’s national anthem The Star-Spangled Banner.

He became embroiled in Civil War politics.   He was the editor of the Baltimore Exchange, a Baltimore newspaper that was sympathetic to the Southern cause (Maryland at that time was a swing state in the conflict).  His editorials incurred the wrath of President Lincoln and he was arrested and imprisoned at the outbreak of the War.

He later wrote an embittered piece about his experiences as a political prisoner:

“When I looked out in the morning, I could not help being struck by an odd and not pleasant coincidence.

On that day forty-seven years before my grandfather, Mr. Francis Scott Key, then prisoner on a British ship, had witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry. When on the following morning the hostile fleet drew off, defeated, he wrote the song so long popular throughout the country, the Star Spangled Banner.

As I stood upon the very scene of that conflict, I could not but contrast my position with his, forty-seven years before. The flag which he had then so proudly hailed, I saw waving at the same place over the victims of as vulgar and brutal a despotism as modern times have witnessed.” 

The Howards in World War One.  Two Aussie Howards, father and son, enlisted in the Great War and fought their war on the Western Front.

In 1914 Walter Howard had joined as a private at the age of 44 in the 55th Battalion of the 5th Division. His son Lyall signed up in 1916 at the age of 19 and was assigned to the 3rd Pioneer Battalion.  In an extraordinary situation of chance during the mass movement of troops near Cléry in 1918, the paths of father and son crossed. Against the odds, Walter and Lyall met on the eve of the Battle of Mont St. Quentin in what has been described as a one-in-a-million handshake on the battle zone.

Lyall kept a war diary and his entries were picked up in Les Carlyon’s book The Great War.  These entries were always brief: “shoved in old barn,and “inoculated again,and first day in trenches.  One laconic entry underscored the horrors the soldiers faced: Will wounded and dies.”   Will was Lyall’s best friend.

Walter received bullet wounds to his leg and abdomen in 1918 and was lucky to survive. Lyall endured a mustard gas attack and spent ten weeks in hospital.  The gassing caused him chronic bronchitis and skin rashes which would continue to plague him after the war.  In fact memories of the war stayed with him long after the war was over.

His son John Howard, who was born in 1939 and rose to become Australia’s Prime Minister, spoke about his war-time memories:

“There’s just this pithy or laconic entry in his diary. It’s just so Australian – ‘Met dad at Clery.’ They didn’t verbalize their experience in the way men do now. It’s one of the big changes in Aussie blokes. I think it’s a good thing. They don’t bottle it all up, but they did in those days.”

Howard Names

  • John Howard became the first Duke of Norfolk in 1483.
  • Catherine Howard from this Norfolk family was the fifth wife of Henry VIII and beheaded in 1542.
  • John Howard was an 18th century English penal reformer. The Howard League for Penal Reform was named after him.
  • Leslie Howard was a well-known British actor.
  • Frankie Howard was a popular English comedian noted for his risque humor.
  • Ron Howard was an American actor who starred in the 1970’s TV sitcom Happy Days and later became a successful film director.
  • John Howard was Prime Minister of Australia from 1996 to 2007.

Howard Numbers Today

  • 47,000 in the UK (most numerous in Surrey)
  • 94,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 32,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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Written by Colin Shelley

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