Lowe Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Lowe Surname Meaning

Lowe and its variants Low and Loew can be English or German in origin and will have a different meaning in each case.

In England the name derives from the Old English word blaw, meaning “a prominent small hill,” and would describe someone who lived by such a place. Another derivation may be from the Old Norse lagr meaning “low” or “short,” and here it might describe a short person.  Lowe and Low are the main spellings, Lowe in England and Low in Scotland.

The German derivation is from lewo and later loewe meaning “lion” and would possibly describe a brave or regal person.  In some cases the surname could be habitational, from a house distinguished by the sign of a lion. The Dutch equivalent is Louw.

Lowe Surname Resources on The Internet

Lowe Surname Ancestry

  • from England (West Midlands), Scotland (East Coast) and Germany
  • to Ireland, America, Bahamas, Canada and Australia

EnglandThe earliest mentions of Lowe seem to have been in Cheshire. From there the name spread into the West Midlands, to Shropshire on one side and to Staffordshire and Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire on the other.

Cheshire and the West Midlands.  The town of Macclesfield in east Cheshire listed Thomas del Lowe as its mayor in 1430 and Thomas Lowe in 1448.

One family line began with Thomas Lowe who died in Macclesfield in 1415. His grandson Lawrence acquired property in Denby, Derbyshire by marriage and the family migrated there. Richard Lowe died without heirs in 1785. The Derbyshire estates then passed to his cousin William Drury of Nottingham who adopted the name of Drury-Lowe.

Another migration from Cheshire occurred sometime in the 16th century to Shropshire. William Lowe, who died in 1587, was a Shrewsbury draper and burgess. His son George became a London merchant and local MP.

However, an earlier Lowe sighting in Shropshire was in the mid-15th century at Highley on the banks of the Severn river. William Lowe took over the operation of the Borle mill there at that time. By the middle of the 17th century the family had grown in importance. Thomas Lowe had become lord of the manor and styled himself as living in Borle Hall.

One Lowe trail began in the Barthomley area of south Cheshire close to the Staffordshire border. John Lowe was born there in 1749:

  • some of his descendants moved from Wybunbury in Staffordshire to Manchester in the 1830’s.
  • while John Lowe emigrated to Australia with two of his brothers.
  • and a younger brother Thomas Lowe remained in England and founded the Wesleyan Chapel in Rusholme near Manchester. His son Joseph settled in the Lake District where he established a reputation as a photographer and painter.

The Lowe name also appeared in Nottinghamshire. The Sherbrookes, Lowes and Bechers were gentry families at Southwell in Nottinghamshire, frequently marrying between themselves, from the 17th century onwards. The Sherbrookes lived at Oxton Hall, the Lowes at Dunham. From this line came Robert Lowe, a British statesman and Cabinet minister under Gladstone between 1868 and 1874. He was ennobled as Viscount Sherbrooke.

Meanwhile Joseph Lowe, a Nottingham draper, was three times Nottingham’s mayor around the year 1800. His Highfield House home was built at that time.

Elsewhere.  There were also Lowes in London and East Anglia. The pirate Ned Low, born around 1690, came from London. Daniel Lowe was born in Stepney in 1761. John Lowes was the vicar at Brandeston in Suffolk from 1596 to 1646.

William Lowe, born in 1744, lived in Buxton on the river Bure in Norfolk. A descendant Thomas Lowe emigrated to America in the 1840’s. William and Newell Lowe departed Aylsham in Norfolk for Prince Edward Island in Canada in 1830.

Scotland.  The spelling in Scotland is Low and the name is mainly found along the eastern coastline. It could be here a pet form of the first name Lawrence.

One family line began with the marriage of Charles Low and Elizabeth Morrison in Aberdeenshire in 1778. Alexander Low was born in the parish of Logie Pert in Forfarshire (now Angus) in 1710. John Low, a shoemaker in Brechin in 1785, was the forebear of a family of Scottish dance teachers in Australia and New Zealand in the 19th century.

Ireland.  Lowes in Ireland would be of English extraction. One Lowe family in Westmeath descended from an English officer at the time of Cromwell. James Lowe made his home at Moate in Westmeath in the 18th century. John Low meanwhile had settled at Spring House in Kilshane, Tipperary. Later Lows of his line became sizeable landowners in Tipperary and Limerick.

Bahamas. Family lore and DNA analysis suggest that the Lowes of the Bahamas were of Portuguese origin. It was said that Gideon Lowe was shipwrecked off the Bahamas in the early 1700’s. A mariner by trade, Gideon later settled on Harbour Island.

His grandson William was a sea captain in the Caribbean and the progenitor of the Lowes that migrated to Key West in Florida in the 1830’s. However, many Lowes – the descendants of John Lowe – remained at Green Turtle Cay. Their line extended to Albert Lowe, a woodcarver of ship models whose work is commemorated in the Albert Lowe Museum that was opened in 1976.

America.  Lowe arrivals in America are mainly English, but also include arrivals from Scotland, Ireland and Germany.

New England.  Captain John Low was master of the ship Ambrose and commander of the fleet that brought over Winthrop’s colony in 1630.  

“The cane and Bible, said to have belonged to Captain John Low, were handed down in the Low families of Essex, Massachusetts. The Bible was imprinted in London in 1579. It was marked Thomas Low his book and Susanna Low her book in 1677.”  

Thomas Low, who married Susanna Stone in 1648, had made his home at Chebacco in Essex county, Massachusetts by 1641. He was by trade a maltster. He was also the progenitor of some notable Low lines.

A line via his son David led to William Henry Low of Salem, a pioneer of the US-China trade in the early 1800’s. His niece Harriet Low wrote a journal of her time in China. When he retired in 1833 his nephew Abiel Abbot Low took over. Abiel’s son Seth Low was first Mayor of Brooklyn and then Mayor of New York City.

A line via his son Thomas the deacon became Lowe sometime in the 18th century. Levi Lowe fought in the Revolutionary War and migrated to New Hampshire. His son Clovis was a drummer boy in the War of 1812 and later a successful merchant. Clovis’s son Thaddeus, otherwise known as Professor T.S.C. Lowe, was a remarkable scientific tinkerer in meteorological sciences and in balloon building. His later inventions in ice making machines and in hydrogen gas processes made him rich.

Meanwhile another line from Thomas the deacon led to Maine and Pike county in Illinois.

Elsewhere.  The Lowe name cropped up in Virginia in the 17th century, eleven men of that name recorded as being transported to Virginia at the time. One line from Bedford county had descendants in Wilkes county, North Carolina by the 1770’s.

John Lowe – thought to have come from Denby in Derbyshire – emigrated to Maryland sometime in the 1670’s. A descendant John Tolson Lowe fought in the Revolutionary War. He made his home at the Fernandina Beach plantation in Nassau county, Florida in 1804. John Henry Lowe meanwhile settled in Clarke county, Georgia in 1807. His son Thomas, an accomplished violinist, was the acting mayor of Atlanta in 1861 during the Civil War.

The Lowes of Guilford county, North Carolina had uncertain origins. They fact that they were Quakers might suggest Pennsylvania as an early arrival point. The first recorded was Samuel Lowe, born in Guilford in 1720. Judge William Lowe moved to Indiana a century later. Jesse and Enos Lowe were early settlers of Omaha, Nebraska in the 1850’s.

German. Lowes in America can also be of German or even of Jewish origin. The spelling on arrival could have been Lau, Loy, Loew, or Lowe.

One early arrival was Christian Lau from the German Palatine who had a terrifying journey from Rotterdam to Philadelphia in 1732. Christian settled in York county, Pennsylvania. Michael Lau adopted the Lowe spelling. He migrated to Scott county, Tennessee where he was one of its early settlers.

Later arrivals were the German Jewish immigrants Hermann and Ida Loew who came to New York in the 1860’s. Their son Marcus started Loew’s Theaters in the early 1900’s for vaudeville and movies. He later helped found the MGM film studio.

Canada. David and Jean Lowe from Aberdeen departed Scotland for Quebec in 1836. Their son James, a farmer and a poet in his spare time, later settled in America, first in Iowa and then in Minnesota.

Australia. Robert Lowe emigrated from London to NSW in 1812 and later bought up lands to farm in the Bathurst and Mudgee districts. His son Bobby was not one to be messed around with, as local bushrangers found to their cost. Don’t try a Bobby Lowe with me was their lamented refrain. Lowes are now in the fifth generation on the land, with David Lowe a respected winemaker in the area.

Lowe Surname Miscellany

Lowe and Low in England and Scotland.  Henry Guppy in his 1890 Homes of Family Names in Great Britain described Lowe and Low as follows:

“Lowe – essentially a name of the Midlands and adjacent NW counties, being most numerous in Derbyshire, Warwickshire, and Cheshire.  Lowes is the north of England form occurring in Northumberland and Durham. In Scotland Low has an independent home in Aberdeenshire.”

Thomas Lowe the Methodist Minister at Rusholme.  Thomas Lowe, a young Methodist, left his home in Congleton, Cheshire for Manchester in 1835.  He wrote at the time: “I am now residing in the town of Manchester, a place where wickedness abounds. Oh! that I may have the grace to stand in the evil day!”  He arrived in the nearby village of Rusholme one year later.

William Royle in his History of Rusholme referred to Thomas Lowe and said this of him:

“Thomas Lowe, one of my best friends, was known to most people in Rusholme.

He came to the village in 1836 and took part in most of the public affairs of the village.  He was one of the founders of the Rusholme Public Hall in 1850 and also of the Working Men’s Club in Nelson Street. He was the pioneer of temperance work and established the first teetotal society in the village in 1845 which held its meetings in the Chapel in Moor Street.  He was an unflinching advocate of total abstinence and some who today hold aloft the banner of temperance in Rusholme owe their inspiration to him.

His public work in connection with the village was justly recognized when he was unanimously invited to occupy the chair at the Jubilee celebration in the Public Hall in 1887 and presided over a splendid meeting.  A well read and cultured man he was never tired of talking about his favorite science, astronomy.

As is well known, he was the father of Wesleyan Methodism in Rusholme and passed away in 1892 at the ripe age of seventy eight, having lived in Rusholme for fifty six years.”

John Low and the Lowe Teachers of Scottish Dance.  The first of the family known to have been a dance master was John Low of Brechin in Scotland.  He had been admitted in 1785 as a master shoemaker to the Incorporated Craft of Shoemaking.  He was also a dance teacher. As was usual in this period, he probably provided the music for his instruction by playing the fiddle.  According to his son Joseph, he was the composer of the well known dance tune Rachel Rae.

In the first years of the 19th century, his family was influential in establishing Scottish dance in its modern form. Four brothers taught in different parts of Scotland: John in Perth, Arbroath and Elgin; Robert in Glasgow, Montrose and Brechin; James in Dundee and Fifeshire; and Joseph in Edinburgh and Inverness.  It was Joseph, now spelling his surname as Lowe, who established the family as Scottish dance teachers in Australia and New Zealand.

The dancing masters of succeeding generations of the family did continue to use a fiddle well into the 20th century.  Charlotte Lowe, teaching then in Christchurch, is remembered for disciplining her pupils with a smart tap of the violin bow.

Lowes at Grand Turtle Cay.  Three generations of Lowes are to be found in the island cemetery:

  • John Lowe (1823-1898)
  • his son John Aquila Lowe (1858-1925)
  • and his son Howard Lowe (1898-1927).

In 1976 the Albert Lowe Museum was opened in honor of William Albert Lowe (1901-1985), a renowned woodcarver of ship models.   His son and artist Alton was the mastermind behind the museum. Following in his father’s footsteps, another son Vertrum has been hand-crafting model ships for over thirty years.

Lowe and Variants Arrivals in America.  The following were the numbers recorded as passengers in ship arrivals to America by country of origin..

Lowe Low Loew Total
England    674    213    887
Scotland     72    109    181
Ireland    201     80    281
Germany    116     84     70    270
Elsewhere     27     27
Total  1,063    513     70  1,646

Christian Lau’s Terrfiying Journey.  On October 9, 1732 the Pennsylvania Gazette featured an article of the struggles on-board the vessel John and William, a ship that was carrying 220 Palatine immigrants to America. Seventeen weeks earlier Christian Lau and his family had boarded the vessel in Rotterdam. They had no idea what traumas lay ahead of them.

Most of the ships carrying Palatine immigrants were stocked with the cheapest supplies the ship’s master could find.  Often food and water ran out before the voyage was completed. Since this vessel was overcrowded and unsanitary, sickness was rampant.  Some 20% of the passengers – 44 out of 220 – died before the vessel was in sight of America.

Suffering from extreme hunger and exhaustion, the Palatines became fed up, mutinied and took control of the vessel.  When they came in sight of land, they had no idea where to go. They compelled the sailors to cast the anchor near Cape May where eight of them took the boat by force and went ashore.  They and the vessel eventually ended up in Philadelphia.  The ringleaders of the mutiny ended up in prison.

Harriet Low in China.  In 1829 Harriet’s uncle William Henry Low and wife prepared to move to China for a five-year stay. While William would be managing his business interests in Canton which was off-limits to women, his wife would be staying in Macau. They then asked Harriet to accompany them and to provide companionship for her aunt.

The party boarded the Sumatra for a four-month voyage across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, which included a three-week stopover in Manila. Harriet arrived in Macau in September 1829 and took up residence at 2, Pátio da Sé at the top of Calçada de S. João. She soon became acquainted with many of the well-known residents of Macau.  As the only unmarried young woman in the colony, she was invited to many “fancy balls, dances, teas and dinners.”

During her stay from 1829 to 1833, she wrote a journal in the form of letters to her older sister Molly. After her return to the United States, she married and moved to London.  Her journal is now part of the Low-Mills collection in the Library of Congress.

Don’t Try a Bobby Lowe with Me.  The Sydney Morning Herald of April 10, 1863 had the following report:

On Saturday intelligence reached Mudgee that Mr. Robert Lowe, who was travelling in a buggy on the Talbragar Road accompanied by a man on horseback, had been stuck up by two bushrangers who had the last few days been successfully carrying on their depredations in the neighborhood of Slapdash.

Mr. Lowe, upon being ordered to stand, was covered with a revolver and commanded with a threat to get out of his buggy.  Seeing that the determined villain was bent upon mischief, Mr. Lowe quickly leveled the gun he happened to have with him, the contents of which he lodged in the fellow’s neck and breast.  This proved fatal.  Mr. Lowe at once dispatched a messenger to Mr. Warburton who sent the police with a conveyance for the body.

Bushrangers later commemorated his name with the warning: ‘Don’t try a Bobby Lowe with me.'”

Lowe Names

  • John Lowe was a Catholic priest martyred for his faith in London in 1586. 
  • Robert Lowe served as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Gladstone from 1868 to 1873.   
  • Thaddeus Lowe was a self-educated American scientist and inventor in the second half of the 19th century. He is considered the father of military aerial reconnaissance. 
  • Marcus Loew, the son of Jewish immigrants, was a pioneer of the American film industry, founding Loew’s Theaters and the film studio MGM in the early 1900’s. 
  • Arthur Lowe played Captain Mainwaring in the British TV sitcom Dad’s Army from 1968 to 1977.

Lowe Numbers Today

  • 52,000 in the UK (most numerous in Essex)
  • 40,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 31,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Written by Colin Shelley

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