Owen Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Owen Meaning
Owen was a personal name in Wales. The name was first Owain,
Owin, Owens, and then Owen. It had always been popular, being the
name of princes and leaders such as Owain Gwynedd (in the 12th century)
and Owen Glendower (in the 14th), the latter being a symbol for Welsh
resistance against the English. Owen began to be used as a
surname in Wales in the 16th century.
Both Owen and
Owens exist as surnames
. Owens started out as an Irish
surname and, despite its similarity in spelling to Owen, has quite
different origins.

Resources on

Owen Ancestry

Two notable Owen-surname families emerged during the 15th and 16th
centuries in north Wales, in Anglesey and Merionethshire.

Anglesey The
Owen family of Bodeon in Anglesey claimed descent from Hwfa ap
Cynddelw, steward to the Welsh prince Owain Gwynedd. They were
prominent in the political life of Anglesey in the 16th and 17th
centuries (the Owens of
Bodsilin producing the
Royalist soldier, Sir John Owen
), but thereafter their
influence declined.

The Orielton branch
at Castlemartin in Pembrokeshire, begun through an
advantageous marriage in 1571, proved more successful. These Owens
survived the turmoil of the Civil War
and remained a force
in Pembrokeshire until 1857 – when the Orielton estate, burdened down
by debts, was sold.

Baron (Judge) Owen of Dolgelley served as deputy chamberlain of North
Wales during the reign of Henry VIII and was the forebear of a number
of Owen families in Merionethshire. These included the Owens of
Tan-y-gadair and Peniarth, Hugh Owen the Puritan “apostle of
Merioneth,” and the Quaker Owens who emigrated to America.

There were also Owen families by the English border in
Montgomeryshire. Rowland Owen of Llanllo, the first of his family
to adopt the Owen surname, was sheriff of Montgomery in 1611.
This family later held Bettws Hall.

Another Owen family claiming
an ancient lineage lived at Llangurig and later of Glansevern in
Berriew. They came into local prominence in the mid 1700’s when Owen
Owen was
made county sheriff. Subsequent Owens from this family
themseves in the Royal Navy and then founded a colony in New Brunswick,
Canada. They remained at Glansevern until 1951.

Robert Owen was born in humble circumstances, the son of an ironmonger,
in Newtown, Montgomeryshire in 1771. He was to make his mark as a
social reformer in the Lancashire cotton industry.

“In industrial England Robert Owen
stood up for the principles of industrial equality, the education of
the young, and decent and respectable living conditions for the workers
in factory towns.”

Then there
were also numerous Owens in Llanidloes,


The Owen name spilled across the border into Shropshire. The
first of these Shropshire Owens was probably Thomas Owen, MP for
Shrewsbury in Elizabethan times who built his home at Condover Hall.
This manor stayed with the Owen family for over three hundred
years. Other Owen lines from Wales were to be found in
Shrewsbury. The most famous Owen from Shropshre was the World War
One poet, Wilfred Owen.

Lancashire As
the 19th century progressed the larger number of Owens were in
Lancashire. There was an early outpost in Lancaster where the
Owens were West Indian merchants. The family fortunes had
declined by the time Richard, later the famous naturalist and
anatomist, was born in the early 19th century.

Subsequent Owens
from north Wales came to industrial Lancashire. William Owen was
one of the Welsh house builders in Liverpool in the 1850’s. Owen Owen started a
drapery shop in Liverpool
in the 1860’s which expanded into
a chain of department stores. A later arrival to Liverpool – in
the 1950’s – was Alun Owen, the actor and screenwriter.

America. Although Thomas
Owen had been an early arrival to America on the Susan in 1622 (to the fledgling
colony of Jamestown) and William Owen then came to Braintree,
, the main early influx of Owens was to be seen
later in the 17th century and into Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Pennsylvania and Maryland
Griffith Owen, a Quaker from Dolgelly in Merionethshire, had secured
from William
Penn a tract of 40,000 acres on which the Welsh alone would have the
right of purchase and on which the Welsh language should prevail.
He himself arrived in the new colony styled Merion in 1684. Being
one of the first doctors there, he found himself very much in demand.

Later Owen arrivals were:

  • Richard Owen (later Owings),
    from Llanllugan,
    Montgomery in 1686 (to Baltimore county, MD)
  • Robert Owen, from Fron Goch,
    Merionethshire in 1690 (to Merion, PA)
  • Thomas ap Evan (Owen), from
    Wales in 1698 (to Gwynedd, PA)
  • and the Rev. Robert Owen, from
    Llandrinio, Montgomery in
    1699 (to Prince George county, MD).

North Carolina
Some Owens were to be found in North Carolina by the 18th
century. These included the Owens of Bladen county,
plantation owners who played their part in the Revolutionary War.
Guy Owen grew up on a tobacco farm there during the 1930’s and has used
his recollections of that time in his fiction and poetry.

Another Owen family arrived in North Carolina from England in
1756. They became potters. the first of these potters being the
brothers JJ and Joseph in the 1850’s. Their line has continued to
the present and Ben Owen III of Seagrove, North Carolina who was named
NC Living Treasure by his state in 2004.

Heading West
Owens also headed westward. The first was probably Colonel
Abraham Owen. He came to Kentucky in 1785, but was killed at the
battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Owen counties in Kentucky and
Indiana were named after him.

Samuel Tine Owen migrated first to
Alabama and then in 1850 led a wagon train of new settlers to Henderson
county, Texas. Jason Owen was the forebear of a family that
headed first for Nebraska and then to Missouri. Stella Owen of
this family was born in Missouri in 1877 and lived there until 1981
(Lyle Owen has written about her in her 1978 book, Memories of An Ozark Mother: The 100 Years
of Stella Owen)

Robert Owen, the English social reformer, established his American
community at New Harmony, Indiana in 1825. While he himself did
not remain in America, his three sons – Robert, David, and Richard –
did and all led prominent lives there. At the end of the Civil
War Abraham Lincoln appointed Robert Owen as secretary of the
Freedman’s Bureau.

Henry Dixon
Owen arrived from Wales in 1822 and was one of the pioneer settlers in
Hunter Valley six years later. He subsequently had to sell his
farm and he became a squatter.

Robert Owen,
who arrived in 1840, came from a prosperous family in the northeast of
England. He
established himself as a lawyer in Sydney and soon became a large
landowner in the Illawara and Murrumbidgee districts. Some of his
descendants settled in Wollongong, NSW and they produced Evelyn Owen,
the inventor of the Owen sub-machine gun during World War Two.


Owen Miscellany

Sir John Owen the Royalist.  One of the warmest supporters of the Royalist cause in Wales was Sir
John Owen of Bodsilin (whose grandfather had been secretary to
Walsingham).   By 1648, although the cause of his royal
master seemed almost hopeless, he raised an army of infantry and
cavalry and confronted the Parliamentary army at a place called Dalar
Hir.  A fierce engagement took place.  At first fortune
seemed to favor Sir John.  But the tide of battle soon turned,
his troops fled, and he was dragged from his horse and made

Sir John was conveyed to Windsor Castle, where he was put on
trial.  In his defense, he stated that:

“He was a plain gentleman of Wales who
had been always taught to obey the King; that he had served him
honestly during the war; and finding many honest men endeavoring to
raise forces whereby he might get him out of prison, he did the like.”

Eventually he was condemned to lose his head, for which, with humorous
intrepidity, he bowed to the court and gave his humble thanks.

He was, however, disappointed of this honor.  After a few months’
imprisonment, he was pardoned following the intercession of the Spanish
and Dutch ambassadors.  He returned to Wales where he sought
unsuccessfully to regain his estates.  He died
in 1666.

Hugh Owen Played Both Sides.  Hugh Owen of Orielton, who had represented Pembroke
as an MP from 1625 and was
created a baronet in 1641,
proved himself something of an opportunist when the Civil
War came.

At the outset he favored the Parliament and was taken
prisoner by Sir Henry Vaughan when he had
evacuated Haverfordwest after the Royalist defeat at Pill
in 1644.
Later he was said to have resorted to the king
at Oxford and to have abandoned Pembrokeshire for Anglesey.
In 1648 he was alleged to have countenanced the
Royalist resistance of Poyer and Laugharne
in Pembroke.

However, he made his peace with the victorious Parliament party and
served as sheriff of Pembrokeshire under the

Owens in Llanidloes.  The Owen name cropped up a lot in 19th century Llanidloes, Montgomeryshire.  Among these Owens were:

Abraham Owen

Abraham Owen was one of the leaders of the Chartist agitation in
Llanidloes in the 1840’s.  When the law cracked down, many of the
leaders fled.  But Abraham Owen – along with Lewis Humphreys, John
Ingram, and James Morris – were captured and brought to trial.
They were each sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia.

Evan Owen

Evan Owen was another Owen who fell foul of the law.  His crime
was the theft of three geese in 1844 and he was also sentenced to seven
years transportation to Australia.  He was sixty years old when
sentenced and never returned.

James Owen

James Owen, born in 1808, served with the police force in Llanidloes
for thirty five years.  He married twice and had either eleven or
thirteen children (accounts vary) and numerous
grandchildren.   One branch of this family set sail for South
Africa in 1902.

John Vaughan Owen

Dr. John Vaughan Owen lived at Glascoed, Llanidloes.  His fifth
Cecil, a writer, continued to live there through much of the 20th

Owen Owen in Liverpool.  Owen Owen, the draper and property developer, was born at
Machynlleth in Montgomeryshire, the son of a tenant farmer.  He
moved to Liverpool in 1868 where he set up his own drapery business,
leasing premises on the London Road.  His business expanded so
rapidly that, by 1873, he had over one hundred and twenty employees –
most of whom were from Wales – and a quarter of an acre floor space.

Owen’s was one of the first major retailers to introduce a
weekly half day holiday for staff and by 1900 he had set up the Owen
Owen Trust to help retired employees.  Owen’s trademark was to
offer a courteous service and good quality merchandise at low
Following his marriage in 1891, he moved to London while continuing to
supervise his Liverpool store, which, by the early 20th century, was to
become one of the largest of its kind in northern England.

Throughout his life Owen was supportive of Welsh causes,
particularly in the field of education and the arts, and was
influential in both Liverpool and London Welsh societies.  He died
of cancer at his London home in 1910.  His ashes were scattered on
the family grave in Machynlleth.

Owen and Owens Surname Incidence.  Both Owen and Owens exist as surnames.  The table
below shows the current incidence of these names in the UK and
elsewhere.  Owen predominates, except in Ireland and

Owen Owens Owen + Owens Owen %
UK   69   21    90   77
Ireland    –    3     3    7
USA   22   51    73   30
Canada   12    7    19   63
Australia    8    4    12   66
New Zealand    2    1     3   66

The Owens surname originated in Ireland from the Irish
personal name Eoghan (which
sounded like Owen in Gaelic).  Most Owens in Ireland could trace
their ancestry to two clans: one, a Dukassian tribe as the same stock
as the O’Neills of Thomond; the other, a Fermanagh family who were
noted administators of ecclesiastical lands around Lough Erne.
Owens are now most numerous in Ulster.

In America, Owens probably meant Irish origin, Owen Welsh
origin – but not necessarily.  This was one 19th century version
of Owen and Owens in the South:

“They always told me that without the “s” it meant
Republican and if they spelt it with an “s” the folks were Democrats.”

William Owen of Braintree, Massachusetts.  The ship Hopewell,
which cleared from the port of London for Barbados in 1634, contained
among its 150 passengers a William Owen aged 23, a John Owen aged 20,
and an Owen Williams aged 21.  The following April the ship Elizabeth, sailing from London to
New England, carried among its 28 passengers, mostly women, Margaret
Davies aged 32 and her three children of whom the youngest was the one
year old Elizabeth.

It is probable that the William Owen of the Hopewell was the same as that
fifteen years later at Braintree (where he took the freeman’s oath in
1651). The infant Elizabeth Davies on the Elizabeth is known to be the same
as the one who married William Owen there.  Her mother Margaret
became the
wife of Charles Grice of Braintree who in his will described William as
“his son” and included him as his beneficiary in recognition of “the
filial care and love expressed to me in my aged condition.”

The Owen Colony in New Brunswick.  It had been started by Captain William Owen, a retired naval officer with a colorful history (he had lost an arm in India and
an eye in England during an election riot).  Then in 1767 he
received the grant of an outer island in Passamaquoddy Bay, New
Brunswick.  Three years later he took possession of his island,
naming it Campobello, and brought with him 38 indentured servants from

Owen kept a journal during his two year residence on the
island which has been preserved.  He left the island in 1771 and
was never to return.  When he was killed in India in 1778, his
nephew David Owen inherited the island.

The Owen family subsequently ran Campobello as something
of a feudal estate for close on a century.  It is now something of
a tourist attraction.  Owen House – built in 1835 – still stands,
with much of the original furniture, quilts and fireplaces.

The Owens of Bladen County.  “Across the river to the south stood Owen Hill plantation, high upon a Cape Fear bluff, the home of men of substance, men whose lives were intertwined with the emergence of America.

A colonel Thomas Owen was much more: gentleman with
wealth and land; provincial Congree delegate; and Bladen county

John his son was born at Owen Hill and, like his father,
lived a life of service to the Cape Fear region and the state, becoming
the governor in 1828.

A planter who owned slaves, John Owen was famed locally
not only for his roles in politics, but also for Moreau, a captured
Arab prince who chose to stay at Owen Hill when freed; and when he
died. Moreau was buried with the family – a tale fantastic and true.”

Thus were described the Owens of Bladen county, North
Carolina in Francis T. Butler’s The
Cape Fear Saga: A History in Poetry of Bladen County’s River Road



Select Owen Names

  • Baron (Judge) Owen, deputy chamberlain of North Wales in the early 1500’s, was the forebear of a number of prominent Owen families in
  • Thomas Owen was the head of a family of gun and cannon makers that operated out of the Houndsditch
    foundry in London in the mid 16th century.
  • Griffith Owen from Merionethshire was the founder of the Welsh colony in Pennsylvania in the 1680’s.
  • Sir Richard Owen from Lancaster was the foremost English anatomist of the 19th century.
  • Robert Owen was a 19th century social reformer from Wales, considered
    the father of the cooperative movement.
  • Daniel Owen from Mold in north Wales is considered by many to be Wales’s first great novelist. His Rhys Lewis, written in Welsh, appeared in 1885.
  • Wilfred Owen, the First World War poet, was born in Shropshire on the English/Welsh borders.
  • David Owen, born in Plymouth of Welsh parents, was a leading Labor and subsequent Social Democrat
    politician in England in the 1980’s.
  • Michael Owen was the wonder boy
    in the England football team in 1998.

Select Owen Numbers

  • 69,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Gwynedd)
  • 45,000 in America (most numerous
    in Texas).
  • 22,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).


Select Owen 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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