Rowan Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Rowan Meaning
Irish and Scottish surname Rowan has derived from the old Gaelic Ó Ruadain
(pronounced o’roo-ahn),
meaning “descendant of the red one.”  The
root is the Gaelic word ruadh meaning
“red.”  What is this red?
Does it mean red-haired, ruddy cheeks, or red
with blood from battle?  Opinions are
In Scotland Rowan could be a variant of the Roland name.
William Rowan of Aberdeen in 1513 appeared earlier
as William Rolland.  Irish variants to
Rowan have been Ruane and Roane.  The Northern Ireland pronunciation of Rowan is said to sound like “cow”-an.

Rowan Resources on

Rowan Ancestry

Scotland.  The early Scottish
reflected more than one origin of the name.
It has been mainly a Lowland name, found
principally in the Glasgow/Ayrshire coastal areas.

The line from John Rolland in
Glasgow in the 15th century devolved to later Rowans; while Rowans were
prominent in the Govan community from the 1600’s onwards.

“The Rowan
family, old renters from the Church, had obtained a charter from
VI after the Reformation granting them perpetual rights to their land.  James Rowan of Marylands, a descendant,
purchased the Bellahouston estate in 1726.
When his descendant Thomas died in 1824, the estate then passed
out of
Rowan hands.”

Meanwhile Stephen
Rowan was born at Govan in 1690.  Another
line began there with Matthew Rowan who was born in Govan in 1753.

There was
Rowan emigration to Ulster in Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Their numbers included Andrew Rowan, the son
of John Rowan of Greenhead in Govan.

Ireland. The Rowan name,
originally O’Ruadain, was mainly to be found in the West of Ireland –
Galway southwards to county Cork.  Saint Ruadain of Lorrha lived in
Tipperary in the sixth century.  Imar Ua
Ruaidin was the Bishop of Kilmacduagh in Galway who died in office in
Felix O’Ruadhain the Archbishop of Tuam in 1215.

were two principal early O’Ruadhain septs:

  • one belonged to the Ui Maine (an
    ancient territory embracing mid Galway and south Roscommon)
  • and the other was
    located in Ui Fiachrach (north Mayo, Sligo and south Galway).  The latter were described as “p
    eople of property and
    importance in the barony of Gallen in Mayo.” 
    O’Ruadhain here sometimes
    became Ruane, sometimes Rowan.

In addition to these two
septs, there was the small sept of O’Robhachain in Clare which became
They are recorded as accompanying the O’Gradys in the unsuccessful
attack on
Ballyalla castle in 1642 when all but one of their number were killed. 
In Petty’s 1659
, the name was prominent among the nobility of Bunratty and
Carbery in Clare and Cork.

Scots Irish.
Rowans in Ulster meant Scots who had crossed the Irish Sea to Ulster.

The Rev. Andrew Rowan from Govan came to Ulster
in 1655.  He was a Presbyterian minister and was inducted into the
rectory of
in county Antrim in 1681.  His notebook,
has been preserved, provides valuable insights about his life and times
there.   Andrew Rowan was the ancestor
of the Rowans of
Mount Davys and Callybackey in Antrim and of the Rowan Hamiltons of
Killyleagh in
county Down – from whom sprang that remarkable character Archibald Hamilton Rowan.

Related to these Rowans was Robert Rowan, an impoverished
landowner at Ahoghill in Antrim in the late 1700’s.
He and his wife raised ten children, of whom
three turned out to be special:

  • the
    eldest, John, was a major in the Antrim militia and a Justice of the
  • Sir Charles was a soldier who fought at the
    Battle of Waterloo and was the first Commissioner of the London
    Police (from 1829 to 1850).  
  • and Sir
    William was also at the Battle of Waterloo and later became a Field
    serving as Commander-in-Chief in Canada.  

Sir Archibald Roane from Argyllshire was said
to have been granted land in Antrim after the Battle of the Boyne in
1690.  Two of his sons came to America.  Andrew was the grandfather of Archibald
Roane, the Governor of Tennessee in 1801.

America.  The Rev. John Rowan,
a Presbyterian minister in county Antrim, had a number of sons who
crossed the
Atlantic to America in the early 1700’s:

  • Matthew Rowan came to North
    Carolina around the year 1724 and was a merchant and shipbuilder in the
    colony.  He served as acting governor of
    North Carolina in 1753.  Rowan county was
    later named in his honor.
  • his brothers Robert, Hugh and Aicheson followed him
    there at later dates.
  • meanwhile Andrew Rowan arrived in Pennsylvania in 1732,
    settling in York county.  His line was
    covered in John Young’s 2008 book The
    Rowan Book – The Families of Andrew Rowan
    .  The
    main line of descent was through his son Captain William

early Rowans to America were:

  • Henry Rowan who came to Pennsylvania from Ulster in
    1739 and
    in the Manor of the Maske in York later Adams county.
    Some of his descendants migrated to Ohio
    around the year 1800.
  • John Francis Rowan
    who arrived in Maryland at the same time.  His
    son the Rev. John Rowan survived a British cavalry
    charge at the
    Battle of Brandywine.  He later moved with
    his family to Randolph
    county, West Virginia.  Mabel Baker’s
    1980 book The Rev. John Rowan Family
    charted his family.  
  • and John Rowan who
    left Ballyhay in Monaghan in 1764 with 300 other Presbyterians following the Rev. Thomas Clark to America.  He settled in Salem, New York.  

KentuckyCaptain William Rowan migrated
with his
family from Pennsylvania to Kentucky in 1784, eventually settling in
Bardstown.  William’s son John was
appointed Kentucky’s
Secretary of State in 1804.  He made his
home at the Federal Hill mansion in Bardstown.
This house was later immortalized in Stephen Foster’s song My Old
Kentucky Home

Alexander Rowan
was a plantation owner in Ohio county, Kentucky in the 1830’s.  One of his slaves adopted the Rowan
name.  Harry and Catherine Rowan are the
forebears of eight generations of African American Rowans that now hold

Canada.   John Rowan
was a shoemaker from Newry in county Down who came to Canada in 1831
with his five sons, settling in Manvers township, Ontario.
They were all farmers in the area.

Charles Rowan arrived in Bytown near Ottawa from Sligo with his family
in 1833.  He was an early land speculator there and kept a hotel
for many years.   His son James ran a hotel in
Ottawa.   Later members of his family moved to Chicago.

“In 1898 John Rowan was attending a
Knights of Columbus dinner in Chicago and was dressed in evening
clothes.  He was later found unconscious at his front door.
He had been clobbered on the head, leaving a trail of blood.  He
died the next day at the age of forty.  The culprits were probably
Orange radicals.”


Rowan Miscellany

Saint Ruaidhain of Lorrha.  Saint Ruadháin mac
Fergusa Birn was an Irish Christian
abbot who founded the
monastery of Lorrha in Tipperary.  He was
known for his prophesies. After his death in AD 584, he was
venerated as a saint and as one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.

The abbey is
still there, as is his headstone.  The
bell of St. Ruadhain was found in a well named
after the saint and has been preserved in the British Museum.

Early Scottish Rowans.  George Fraser Black in his 1946 The Surnames of Scotland defined Rowan
as either from (a) Ruadhain, diminutive
of Ruadh, meaning ‘red’ or from (b) the Scots pronunciation of Rolland,
as with
Thomas de Rolland who was the common councillor of Aberdeen in 1439.

He provided
the following early Rowan examples:

  • Agnes Rowan who was tenant under the bishop
    of Glasgow in 1511.
  • Edward Rowane who appeared
    in Stirling in 1525.
  • Thomas Rowand who was a witness in Glasgow in 1550.
  • John Rowane who was the servitor to Robert
    Pont of Trinity College, Edinburgh, in 1575.
  • and James Rowane who was a burgess freeman of
    Glasgow in 1595.

David Rowane, a Frenchman, was engineer to Mary, Queen of
in 1557.  He probably derived his surname
from the French town of Rouen. 

The Wealth of the Rev. Andrew Rowan.  It was said that the Rev. Andrew Rowan grew modestly wealthy
from his position of rector at Clough in county Antrim in the early 1700’s.  The following story was told about
him by locals
in the area:

“On the west side of the street
in the village of Clough stood the ruins of an old house that was said
to have been
the residence of the rector the Rev. Andrew Rowan.   Mr. Rowan was robbed, as tradition says, when an
old man. The inhabitants of Clough pointed
out the window in the upper story through which the bandits who robbed
him entered.  He was heard to say afterwards that no two
horses in the parish could have carried his money.  From
this I am led to conjecture that all the horses
must have been ponies and all his money brass.”

Archibald Hamilton Rowan.  Archibald Hamilton Rowan was born in 1751 in the home of
his grandfather, William Rowan, in London.
He lived there with his mother and sister for much of his early
life.  When his grandfather died in 1767,
he inherited a large sum of money under the stipulation that he would
add the
maternal name Rowan, receive an Oxbridge education, and not visit
before his 25th birthday.

It is thus strange that Archibald, coming from this
privileged English position, should espouse the cause of Irish
independence.  But his travels to Europe
and America in his twenties awakened him to a changing revolutionary
tide.  He returned to Ireland in his
thirties in 1784.  He quickly became a
celebrity there and, despite his wealth and privilege, a strong
advocate for
Irish liberty.

In 1790 he became a founding member of the Dublin Society
United Irishmen, working alongside well-known radicals of the time.  Three years later he was tried for sedition
and sentenced to two years imprisonment at Newgate prison in Dublin.  He later fled to France, fearing a punishment
even worse.  He then spent ten years in
exile in America.

In 1806 Hamilton Rowan returned home to Ireland, to his
ancestral home of Killyleagh castle in county Down, and received a
welcome.  He was now a respected figure, spending time in both
Killyleagh and Dublin.
While he had agreed to be a model citizen under the conditions
of his
return to Ireland, he remained active in politics and retained his
radicalism.  He lived to be 84 and died
in 1834.

Captain William Rowan – from Pennsylvania to Kentucky.  William Rowan and his wife Eliza
had a secure life in York county, Pennsylvania in the years before the
Revolutionary War.  When the war came,
William joined the 4th York Battery and was soon promoted to Captain.  When the war ended, he found his finances
more precarious and decided upon moving his family to Kentucky in
search of
building his fortune.

In October 1783 the Rowans and five other
families embarked on a flat bottomed boat near Redstone Creek and began
journey down the Monongahela River toward the Falls of the Ohio.  The travelers expected the journey to last a
few days at most.  But ice along the
river slowed the journey and a lack of provisions exacerbated the

of the families disembarked near what is now Maysville, Kentucky.  The Rowans would later learn that most of
them were killed by Indians.

remaining settlers continued downriver.  When their flatboat
neared Yellow Banks, smoke was noticed in the distance.  The
realized the
fire had been created by Indians and proceeded with caution. A war
whoop was
sounded by the Indians and in broken English the Rowans were ordered
ashore.  As canoes neared the flatboat,
each man grabbed an axe to defend himself.
Fortunately the dispute was settled peacefully and there was no
harm done to
the Rowans.

They reached Louisville,
Kentucky in March 1784.  The next month the Rowans and five other
families set
out for a tract of land on the Long Falls of the Green River that Rowan
purchased before leaving Pennsylvania.
The party arrived in May and constructed a fort which they
dubbed Fort

The fort, then located
approximately 100 miles from the nearest white settlement, is the
town of Calhoun. The settlers at Fort Vienna frequently clashed with
Shawnee who used the area as a hunting ground.
The Rowans would remain at Fort Vienna for six years before
moving to

My Old Kentucky Home.  Judge John Rowan built the Federal Hill mansion in
Bardstown in 1818.  It had an unhappy
early history.  In 1833 an epidemic of
cholera killed eight family members and eight slaves within a 24 hour

Another tragedy occurred when
John Rowan’s son John lost his life.  He
was sitting in the window seal of his second-story bedroom with one leg
dangling out of the window.  According to
his wife Rebecca he dozed off, lost his balance, and fell out of the
window.  He hit a tree on the way down
and this killed him.  After the shock
his wife never slept in that bedroom again.

A house that had once seemed jinxed became immortalized in 1852
Stephen Foster composed his song My Old
Kentucky Home
based on Federal Hill.  As
the song’s fame spread, so did the popularity of the home.  People
poured into
Bardstown for a first-hand view of the Rowan home.

In 1920 the state of Kentucky
recognized the importance of retaining Federal Hill as a symbolic
gesture of
American hospitality and decided to enshrine it for future generations.  A commission was formed to investigate and
secure the property for a state park.
Three years later Federal Hill officially became “My Old
Home,” with more than 15,000 onlookers cheering the preservation of the

In 1928 My Old Kentucky Home
was made Kentucky’s state song.  By 1959
the park grew in popularity and new
attractions were added, including the “Stephen Foster Story” – an
outdoor musical that is considered to be the longest running outdoor
musical in
America.  In 1975 the park’s attendance
reached over 275,000 people annually.



Select Rowan Names

  • Felix O’Ruadhain was the Archbishop of Tuam in Galway in 1215. 
  • Archibald Hamilton Rowan was a founding member of The Dublin Society of United Irishmen in 1790 and a celebrated advocate for Irish liberty. 
  • Sir Charles Rowan served as the first head of the London
    Metropolitan Police in 1829. 
  • Judge John Rowan’s home in Bardstown, Kentucky provided the inspiration for Stephen Foster’s song My Old Kentucky Home.

Select Rowan Numbers Today

  • 5,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Glasgow)
  • 6,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 5,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)




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