Howell Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Howell Meaning
Howell derives from the Welsh personal name Hywel
meaning “eminent” or “prominent.” It was
borne by Hywel Dda or Howel the Good
who became King of Wales in 926. He was
known for codifying the Welsh law under which Wales was governed for several centuries. Many later Howells have claimed descent
from Howel the Good
Howell’s early presence was in Monmouthshire. The
name, although Welsh in origin, was thus
to be found in both the Welsh and English border counties.
The main surname spellings today are Howell and Howells,
the patronymic Howells
being the more common spelling on the Welsh side.

The Howell name also has separate English origins, from the place-name Howell found in Lincolnshire and derived from the Old English hugol meaning “mound” or “hillock.”

Select Howell Resources on The Internet

Howell Ancestry

Wales. The Howell name first established its presence
in Monmouthshire. Howel was a son of
Oeni who became known as the Prince of Caerleon-upon-Uske in
Monmouthshire. By the early 1300’s the name had become firmly established in Monmouth and also
across the English-Welsh border where Howel held lands as well. David and Philip Howel were recorded as the
Lords and Prince of the manor in Monmouth in 1313.

This line does not seem to have continued in Monmouthshire. But the Howell name was found there later in Thomas Howell, a merchant from the county,
who died around 1540 and left a Thomas Howell charity.
Thomas and James Howell, Royalists at the
time of the Civil War, also claimed a Monmouthshire pedigree.

The Howell and Howells name extended westward across south Wales into Glamorgan, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.

One Howell family were said to have lived at Nantymoel
in Llangyfelach parish, Glamorgan
since the 1300’s. However, they adopted
the Howell surname late. Howel Roger was
the freeholder there in 1764 and his grandson was the Rev. Roger Howell, born
in 1774, the local Nonconformist minister.

In Carmarthenshire there were Howell families at:

  • Maesgwynne in Llanbody parish, from the early 1600’s until
    1789 when Walter Rice Howell, unmarried, died.
  • and in the village of Gwynfe, starting with Samuel Howell in the late 1700’s.

William Howell was a Quaker from Castle in Pembrokeshire who emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1682.

England. Not all Howells in England have Welsh roots
or connections. A few have English origins.
It was said that William Marshall, the first
earl of England, raised a small army of Howells in Lincolnshire in the 12th
century to defeat an insurrection in that county. Later,
the Howell name was more likely to
crop up in Norfolk than in Lincolnshire.

Most Howells instead were to be found
in the border counties, such as Gloucestershire and Shropshire (where Thomas
Howell was the mayor of Oswestry in 1785) or later in Lancashire. The Howells
of the Westbury manor at Marsh Gibbon in Buckinghamshire had Welsh ancestry. William Howell had purchased
the estate in 1536. His grandson Edward
sold it in 1638 and emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

America. John Howell was perhaps the earliest Howell
arrival in America, leaving persecution in Pembrokeshire for Virginia
in the 1620’s and making his home in Henrico county.
Later Howells of his line migrated to North Carolina and Georgia. Joseph Howell, who was born in Edgecombe county, North Carolina in 1735, died in DeKalb county, Georgia at the age of
102. His grandson Evan Howell later recounted his family

Another line from Edgecombe county went to Atlanta, Georgia where Clark Howell prospered as a businessman. His son Evan
acquired an interest in the Atlanta Constitution newspaper in 1876. Evan’s son Clark Howell was a prominent state politician and for fifty three years was the editorial executive and owner of the Atlanta Constitution.

Edward Howell from Buckinghamshire was one of the early English settlers on Long Island, arriving in 1640 and helping
to found the Southampton colony. His
descendants were there at the time of the Revolutionary War. They were also in New Jersey where the Howell
farm was first established in Cumberland county in the 1740’s and is still operating today after ten generations.

This Howell line is thought to have
extended as well to Morristown, New Jersey where Aaron Howell lived in the 1740’s and David Howell was born in 1747.
David moved to Rhode Island and was active in civic affairs
there until his death in 1824. His son Jeremiah was
US Senator for Rhode Island from 1811 to 1817.

The Quaker John Howell, “a native of the ancient walled city of
Aberystwyth,” came to Philadelphia in 1697 and died there in 1721. His son Jacob and grandson
John were both tanners, the latter migrating south to Savannah, Georgia where he died in 1765. However, the main Howell numbers remained in the Philadelphia area and included:

  • Colonel Jacob Howell, a clerk of the Pennsylvania Board of
    War in 1778
  • Arthur Howell, a prominent Quaker preacher who died in 1818
  • and Colonel Joshua Howell who died in battle in 1864 in the Civil War.

The family history was captured in Frances Howell’s 1897 The
Book of John Howell and His Descendants.

Reynold Howell, also from Wales, acquired land near Newark, Delaware in 1724 and settled there. One of his grandsons Lewis was a surgeon during the Revolutionary War, but died of fever during the conflict. His other grandson Richard Howell survived
the war and served as Governor of New Jersey from 1794 to 1801.

Richard was the grandfather of Varina Howell,
the second wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
She had been born in Mississippi after her
father had moved there in the 1820’s.

“In 1843 Jefferson Davis was a handsome
35 year old widower and a
wealthy plantation owner; Varina Howell a 17 year old from an impoverished family whose father had gone bankrupt more than a decade ago. She was
not considered attractive, being tall and thin with the olive
complexion of her Welsh ancestors. Yet they met at a Christmas party and married two years later.”

South Africa. James Howell’s origins are uncertain. He was a naval victualling clerk when his ship arrived in the Cape colony in 1806. Two years later he married Maria Eksteen and they raised a family in Cape Town where he worked as a librarian.

Australia. Richard Howell had arrived from Gloucestershire with his parents as a young boy in
1840. When he grew up he became a
Methodist preacher who was known as “Hellfire Dick.”
He made his home at Devon Park in Dunkeld,
Victoria. Samuel and others of his sons
preached. Samuel’s son Richard served
as a missionary in the Belgian Congo for thirty years.

New Zealand. John Howell come to New Zealand on a whaling ship around 1828 when he was just
eighteen years old. He ran a whaling station at Waikouaiti on
South Island for twenty years until the whaling industry’s decline. He later became a substantial landowner in the area.


Howell Miscellany

Howel Dda and His Descendants.  Hywel Dda or Howel the Good became King of Wales in 926.
A number of later Howells have claimed descent from him.  This was made possible because royal pedigrees
in Wales were typically handed down by trained bards for generations before
they were finally written down.

One such descendant was Sir Howel y Twyall who fought
with the Black Prince at Poitiers in 1356.
As a result of his exploits, he was knighted as “Sir Howell of
the Battle Ax.”  Sir Howell was then made the
governor of the fortified castle at Criecdaith near Carnarvon.

Then there was Howel Sele, not apparently
related but descended from an earlier Prince of Powys.
He was the lord of Naanau in Merionethshire
and a cousin of the rebel Owain Glyndwr.
He was apparently slain by Glyndwr’s henchman Madog in 1401.

One line from Howel the Good was said to have
gone to the Rev. Thomas
Howell, a vicar in Brecknockshire, and his two sons Thomas and James.  Thomas was appointed the
Bishop of Bristol by Charles I in 1644.
But Bristol was taken over by the Roundheads a year later and he subsequently died in prison.  The younger
son James survived the Civil War and made his name as a writer and historian.

Another lineage claim has come for John
Howell, the immigrant from Pembroke to the American colonies (Virginia) in the 1620’s.

Howell and Howells in Wales in the 1881 Census.  Howells outnumbered Howell by a three-to-one factor in the 1881 census.

Numbers (000’s) Howell Howells
Monmouthshire    0.2    0.8
Glamorgan    1.3    2.6
Carmarthenshire    1.0
Pembrokeshire    0.2    0.7
Elsewhere    0.2    0.7
Total    1.9    5.8

Howell’s English Origins.  Henry Guppy provided some English origins for the name Howell in his 1890 work Homes of Family Names in Great Britain.

“Both Howell and Powell are ancient East Anglian names.  William Howell held land in Wifton, Norfolk
in the reign of Edward III.; and in the following reign of Richard II Margary Howel was a prioress of Elixton nunnery in Suffolk.
In the time of Henry VI John Howel was the
vicar of Newton; and in the reign of Henry VII. John Ap Howel was prebend of Norwich.

Howell is a parish in the neighboring part of Lincolnshire and very probably the East
Anglian Howells in many cases thence derived their name.”

Powell tended to be pronounced “Pole” in East
Anglia; and perhaps Howell was pronounced the same way.

Edward Howell on Long Island.  Edward Howell
was the grandson of William Howell who had acquired the manor of Westbury at
Marsh Gibbon in 1536.  This was a fine
stone structure built in the 16th century, two stories high and called a double
house.  Edward had inherited this manor
upon the death of his father in 1625 and he was part of the local
landed gentry in Buckinghamshire.

However in 1639, at the age of 55, he decided to give up his
presence there, sell the manor, and embark for the New World.  He had received from Charles I a grant of 500
acres at Lynn in Massachusetts.  He did not
stay there long.  In 1640, he
moved to Long Island and is considered one of the founders of the town of
Southampton.  He owned a large estate there.
He also served on the Governor’s council from 1647 to 1653 and
helped compile the rules and regulations for the fast growing colony at Southampton.

He also built a mill beside a
creek for the grinding of wheat and rye into flour.
This mill at Water Mill was so sturdy that it
continued operating until 1880 and is still standing after some
restoration today.

Edward’s line in America was covered in Emma Howell Ross’s 1968 book Descendants of Edward Howell.  His descendants have formed the Edward Howell
Family Association and in 2015 celebrated the 375th anniversary of his arrival in America.

Reader Feedback:  I do not have a website but I have a friend Sue Howell who believes she is a descendant of Edward Howell who settled in Southampton, Long Island.  Her line may have also been in Morristown, New Jersey.  i am an amateur genealogist, board member of Friends of Monmouth battlefield, New Jersey and my oldest son is a Revolutionary War re-enactor.  Marilyn Miller (

Evan Shelby Howell on His Ancestry.  In 1889
Evan Howell wrote to his nephew William H. Howell a letter which contained the
following items about his Howell ancestry.

“I got the following statement from my grandfather, Joseph Howell, during his
lifetime.  During the persecutions of the Protestants by the
Catholics in Wales,
the Howells, being Baptists and therefore Protestants, they with many others
were forced from their homes and were compelled to hide in caves and secret
places for safety from their enemies.  John Howell, the father of
my grandfather,
Joseph Howell, immigrated to America and settled in Virginia where he finally died.

Of the sons of John Howell, one moved to South Carolina, two to Tennessee, two to Kentucky, one (Henry) remained in Virginia, and Joseph, my grandfather
moved to Cabarrus county in North Carolina prior to the Revolutionary War.  He
brought his mother with him and she lived to be about a hundred years old.  I
saw her buried from the Haines Meeting House in Cabarrus when I was a boy.

My grandfather, Joseph Howell, married Margaret Eleanor Garmon, a German
woman.  He was 102 years of age when he
died in DeKalb
county, Georgia in 1837.  Henry Howell, my father, married Mary Miller of German descent.   He died in Hayward county,
North Carolina at the age of 91.  I myself was born on February
19, 1803.”

John Howell, New Zealand Pioneer.  John Howell was born in Sussex to William and Mary Howell.  As a child
he had known the punishment handed out to rabbit poachers.  At the age of twelve he escaped and stowed away on a smuggling vessel. Apprehended on the vessel’s return from France, he was released when he was found to have no connection with the smugglers.

He promptly stowed away on a ship bound for Australia, became first mate on a whaling ship, and arrived at Kapiti Island in New Zealand in 1827 or 1828.  Here he engaged in whaling and the export of greenstone to Australia.

He had made the acquaintance of the whaler and trader Johnny Jones in Australia, and after serving at his station at Waikouaiti was sent with three ships to establish a station in the Foveaux Strait.  According to oral tradition
Howell set up his station on the Jacobs river in 1834.

With his flagship Eliza and
crews of nearly 60 Europeans and some
200 Maori, Howell established friendly relations with the local Ngati Mamoe.  But his refusal to take a Maori
wife was regarded as an insult by the Maori. After an altercation he married Kohikohi,
the daughter of Horomona Patu of Centre Island.  She brought him a dowry of a large area of land between the Waimatuku stream and the Jacobs river.

Reader Feedback – Howells from Wales to Australia.  I have for years been searching for any information concerning Samuel Howells. He was born around 1852/3 at Blaina in Monmouthshire, but left Carmarthenshire with his parents John and Ann Howells nee Williams in 1864 for mining in Ballarat, Victoria. John and Ann were both born around 1828. I can find their deaths as well as those for Elizabeth and Oliver at quite young ages in Ballarat.

Samuel married Elizabeth Walters and had many children including my grandmother Mary Ann who married Charles Roberts. They left Victoria in 1901 and went to Western Australia, but their luck ran out when WW1 came. They seemed to lead a very harsh life here in Western Australia and must have missed the greenery. I wish that I had more leads.

Diane Penberthy nee Roberts of Perth, WA (


Howell Names

  • Hywel Dda, known as Howel the Good,
    was the King of Wales from 925 to 950.
  • James Howell was a 17th century Anglo-Welsh historian and writer, perhaps the first to make writing the main means of livelihood.  He held the title of Historiographer
  • Richard Howell was the third Governor of New Jersey from 1794 to 1801. 
  • Clark Howell was a prominent Georgia politician and, from 1883 to 1936, was the editorial executive and
    owner of the Atlanta Constitution
  • Geraint Howells was a Welsh farmer and politician, active in Liberal party circles in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Select Howell Numbers Today

  • 39,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Glamorgan)
  • 44,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 17,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Howell and Like Surnames  

Hereditary surnames in Wales were a post-16th century development.   Prior to that time the prototype for the Welsh name was the patronymic, such as “Madog ap Jevan ap Jerwerth” (Madoc, son of Evan, son of Yorwerth).  The system worked well in what was still mainly an oral culture.

However, English rule decreed English-style surnames and the English patronymic “-s” for “son of” began first in the English border counties and then in Wales. Welsh “P” surnames came from the “ap” roots, such as Price from “ap Rhys.”

These are some of the present-day Welsh surnames that you can check out.



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