Rowland Surname, Meaning, History & Origin

Rowland Surname Meaning

Rowland and Rowlands have similar origins, although the former tends to be an English name and the latter a Welsh one.

The personal name Roland – comprising the Germanic elements hrod meaning “renown” and land as “land” – was a popular one in Europe during the Middle Ages as a result of the fame of one of Charlemagne’s warriors by that name. Roland was the common spelling in England and France, Rolland in Germany, Rolando in Spain, and Orlando in Italy.

Roland became Rowland as a surname in England and then often evolved into the patronymic Rowlands (son of Rowland) in Wales. Rowland is more prevalent than Rowlands as a surname outside the UK.

Rowland Surname Resources on The Internet

Rowland and Rowlands Surname Ancestry

  • from North Wales, England and from Ireland (Mayo)
  • to America, Canada, Argentina and Australia

Scotland. Some suggest the early Rowlands were Scottish, possibly from the Norman Roland, Lord of Galloway, who was made constable of Scotland in 1196. The names of Gilbert and John Rolland of Ayrshire were recorded in the Ragman’s Roll of 1296. However, the Rowland name is scarce in Scotland today.

Wales. Rowland was a fairly common personal name in north Wales and may have emerged first as a surname in Caernarvonshire.

One Rowland family began with Rowland ap John of Llanbebig. His son became a successful banker in London, returned as John Rowlands, and built his family estate at Plas y Nant in 1671. The Rowlands stayed there until Emma Rowlands’ marriage into the Bulkeley family in the 1750’s. Meanwhile Henry Rowland of Mellteyrn, the son of Rolant ap Robert, was Bishop of Bangor from 1598 to 1616.

Rowlands in nearby Anglesey included:

  • Henry Rowlands of Plas Glyn, an early historian and antiquarian of his native Anglesey. His best-known work was Mona Antiqua Restaurata, published in 1723. Later Henry Rowlands were vicars at the local church in Llanedwen until the 1840’s.
  • and the Rowlands of Plas Tirion, Llanrug. Hugh Rowlands of this family was awarded the Victoria Cross during the Crimean War and later rose to be a General in the British Army.

From Cardiganshire in mid-Wales came Daniel Rowland who led a Calvinist Methodist revival in Wales in the mid-18th century. His son Nathaniel followed in his father’s footsteps, but was less successful and lost his position for alleged drunkenness in 1807.

Another Daniel Rowland of this family prospered as a lawyer in London and built a medieval-style mansion, Saxonbury Lodge, in Sussex. Meanwhile William Bowen Rowlands was the Cardigan MP from 1886 to 1895.

England. There were Rowlands in Elizabethan and early Jacobean London, although their general origin is uncertain.

  • Samuel Rowland was a popular writer of London life of his time. His father was thought to be Anthony Rolland, a cooper in London.
  • Richard Rowlands, another writer, was also the son of a London cooper but the grandson of a Dutch immigrant.
  • Thomas Rowland, born in London in 1562, was the forebear of William Rowland, an early emigrant to Virginia. 
  • and later came Alexander Rowland the celebrated London barber who was born in 1747.

Meanwhile Robert Rowland, born at Maidstone in Kent in 1632, headed a family of armorers and chandelier makers there.  Their best known work is a 36-branch brass chandelier for St. James church in the Kentish village of Egerton that was completed in 1699.

Further North.  Rowland was a popular first name in English border counties such as Shropshire and Cheshire. It too became a surname, generally Rowland. Rowland and Rowlands divide roughly equally in Shropshire and Cheshire, because of the proximity to Wales. In Lancashire further away, the name is mainly Rowland.

The Rowland place-name in Derbyshire, near Baslow, probably gave rise to the Rowland surname there. Humfridus Rowland was born in Baslow in 1584. Later Rowlands of this line were to be found in Chesterfield and Sheffield. There is also the place-name Nymet Rowland in Devon, formerly Rowlands Leigh, which might have been the source for some Devon Rowlands.

Ireland. Rowland in Ireland is an anglicization of the Irish O’Rothlain, descendant of Rothlain. Rowlands can be found in and around Castlebar in county Mayo. One family from here emigrated to Iowa in 1854.  

America. The first Rowland in America was probably English, beginning with William Rowland in James City county, Virginia in the 1630’s. He later got caught up in Bacon’s rebellion of 1667.

“William Rowland was pressed into Bacon’s service during the rebellion of Nathan Bacon. He was imprisoned and forced to pay 8,000 pounds of tobacco for his enlargement.”

Later lines of this family were in Botecourt county, Virginia and in North Carolina. William Rowland led his family first across the Cumberland Gap into Tennessee in 1816 and then south, twenty years later, to what would become Tippah county in NE Mississippi.

Welsh.  Rowlands to Pennsylvania from Wales included John Rowland, who came in 1699, and Owen Rowland and his family, who arrived in 1725. John’s descendant Benjamin founded what was to become the Rowland Shovel Works in 1796. John Rowland, born in Pennsylvania, was an early settler in Los Angeles. His house, built in 1855, is the oldest surviving brick structure in southern California.

Canada.  William Rowland from the Orkney islands off Scotland was recruited into the Hudson Bay Company in 1820. He spent his life in the Canadian West as a fisherman, hunter and trader, first at Norway House in Manitoba and later in Saskatchewan.  

Argentina. Welsh settlement at the Chubut colony in Patagonia began in 1865 and Rowlands – such as James Rowlands, William Price Rowlands, and Hugo Rowlands – were among those who migrated there in the next fifty years. James Rowland published his memoirs of those times in 1946.

Australia.  Another William Rowland, this time from Cornwall, departed with his young family on the Warrior in 1839 for South Australia. He worked there for a while as a gardener before he and his family decamped to Victoria in the early 1850’s at the time of the gold discoveries. His son George Rowland had some success in his gold prospecting and later farmed at Rathscar.

Rowland Surname Miscellany

Rowland and Rowlands in the 1891 Census

Numbers (000’s) Rowland Rowlands Total
North Wales    0.3    2.0    2.3
South Wales    0.9    2.2    3.1
Cheshire    0.5    0.4    0.9
Lancashire    1.0    0.7    1.7
London    1.2    0.2    1.4
Elsewhere in England    5.6    1.7    7.3
Total    9.5    7.2   16.7

Daniel Rowland, Methodist Preacher.  Daniel Rowland was one of the foremost leaders of the Calvinistic Methodist revival in Wales in the 18th century.  He had followed his father as a curate in the parishes of Nantcwnlle and Llangeitho in Cardiganshire.

Sometime around 1735 he experienced a profound spiritual conviction and began to thunder against the people’s sins.  He began to travel up and down the country.  In 1737 he met Howel Harris and these two joined forces to push forward the great Methodist revival in Wales. He split up with Harris in 1752 and he now became the leader of ‘Rowland’s people,’ as his followers became known.

In 1760 his brother drowned at Aberystwyth and he was given his living of Llangeitho.  But the Anglican church authorities deprived of this curacy in 1763.  From that time on he chose to stay with his people in his “New Church” in Llangeitho.

Daniel Rowland was, above all, a preacher and for a long time he made Llangeitho the Mecca of Welsh Methodists.  Thousands would flock there on Communion Sunday and he exercised a profound influence on the spiritual life of his generation.

Bowen Rowlands versus David Davies in Cardigan.  David Davies was the ‘self-made man’ par excellence and the epitome of the emerging class of new Welsh industrialists, mainly self-made pioneers like himself.  He sank coal mines in the Rhondda, was enthusiastic in developing new railways and building Barry docks.  He was a patron of many local causes and, above all else, he was a Calvinistic Methodist.

William Bowen Rowlands, by contrast, took a degree in Classics at Oxford and was ordained as a priest in 1865.  A High Anglican, he leaned very much towards Rome and in fact later in life converted to Catholicism.  His life changed in 1870 when an Act of Parliament allowed for the first time clergy of the Church of England to resign their orders.  He did so and took an interest in Liberal politics.

These two figures were to contest the 1886 Parliamentary election for Cardiganshire. At first it would appear that Davies held all the cards.  He represented the Calvinistic Methodist streak that was strong within the county.  He had befriended the local squirearchy.  However, he voted against his party leader Gladstone on the issue of Irish Home Rule and some in the party never quite forgave him.  Rowlands defeated him in the polls by a slender majority of nine.

Rowlands held onto the seat until 1895.

The Rowland Barbers of London.  Alexander Rowland, born in 1747, was a celebrated London barber. Back in the day it was not uncommon for barbers to make their own hair preparations.  Around 1783 Rowland began offering his own Rowland’s Macassar Oil. Within two decades it had become hugely popular and was aggressively advertised with extravagant claims of its effectiveness, becoming one of the first nationally advertised products. His son Alexander continued the business.

By the 1840s, he was widely claiming that the oil was being used by the Royal Family and nobility of England, as well as by several sovereigns and courts in Europe. The Queen’s patronage was boldly proclaimed on the double-fronted Macassar Oil and Kalydor Warehouse at 20 Hatton Garden.

Rowland and Rowlands Today

Numbers (000’s) Rowland Rowlands Total
UK    15    15   30
America    12     1    13
Elsewhere     5     3     8
Total    32    19    51

Rowland and Sons, Shovel Makers.  Benjamin Rowland, born in Montgomery county, Pennsylvania in 1777, received little education and consequently entered upon a career of mechanical industry.  He laid the foundation of the family business by acquiring the Cheltenham town grist mill in 1795.  He retired in 1810 and the grist mill was put up for sale.  It changed hands a few times before his nephew, Benjamin Rowland Jr, bought it in 1846.

Benjamin Jr. was already in business, having obtained land from his uncle on the south side of the creek that gave him the rights to obtain additional water power for his own factory.  He also acquired land from his uncle on the Tookany river where he erected a tilting (tilt hammer) and blade mill.  This was to become the Upper Mill of the Rowland factories and the most productive, because it had the highest dam and therefore the most power.

T. Rowland and Sons was the second largest shovel manufacturer in the United States in the 19th century. Before the advent of large earth-moving machines, shovels played their part in America’s national development.  T. Rowland and Sons produced “1,200 dozen spades and shovels” and, by 1884, employed 95 people.  The business was sold in 1901.

George Rowland  at the Victorian Goldfields.  George Rowland was once the victim of a would-be assassin who tried to shoot and rob him, whilst he was resting in his tent on the goldfields.

Fortunately George was lying on his stretcher, with his right arm across his chest, and the bullet intended for his heart was deflected and penetrated two fingers on his right hand.  On that occasion when George returned from the goldfields to Adelaide, he traveled with his arm in a sling.  When the bullet wound healed, two of the fingers on his right hand were “fused together.”

Reader Feedback – Rowlands from Ireland to America.  My father Thomas was born in Castlebar in county Mayo in 1917.   He emigrated to the USA from Galway in 1950 with his wife Agnes from Dublin.  My father had three brothers in Ireland – Michael, Sean, Padraig and a sister Bridie.  All gone.  Sean emigrated to New South Wales.

Paddy Rowland (

Rowland Names

  • Daniel Rowland was one of the leaders of the Calvinistic Methodist revival in Wales in the 18th century.
  • John Rowlands, born in north Wales, changed his name to Henry Stanley in America and became famous for discovering Dr. Livingstone in Africa.   
  • Tiny Rowland, born Roland Fuhrhop in India, developed his business empire in Rhodesia, creating the Lonrho conglomerate in the 1960’s. Prime Minister Heath called him “the unacceptable face of capitalism.”
  • Clive Rowlands was the successful coach of the Welsh rugby union team between 1968 and 1974.
  • Gena Rowlands is an American actress. She is of Welsh descent.

Rowland Numbers Today

  • 30,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 14,000 in America (most numerous in Georgia)
  • 8,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Rowland 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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Written by Colin Shelley

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