Vaughan Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Vaughan Surname Meaning

The surname Vaughan comes from the Welsh fychan, itself a mutant of hychan meaning little or small.

It could be added to a family name, meaning junior, and would apply to a son who had the same name as his father. For example. the Welsh patriot who was captured by the English and executed in Llandovery in 1401 was styled as Llywelyn ap Gruffydd fychan, Alternatively, Fychan might simply have developed as a nickname.

Fychan could pass from father to son in the Welsh patronymical style. Thus the son of Dafydd Fychan ap Daffyd was Gruffydd ap Dafydd Fychan. However, his son was born at a time when surnames in the English style were starting to get used and he was known simply as Hugh Fychan.

The earliest example of Fychan as a surname was probably Rhosier Fychan who fought and died at Agincourt in 1415 (when Gryffydd of the same name was said to have saved the life of King Harry in the battle). Rhosier’s sons assumed the Fychan name. Sometime later in the century the Welsh Fychan changed in spelling to the English Vaughan.

Vaughan Surname Resources on The Internet

Vaughan and Vaughn Surname Ancestry

  • from Wales and Western England
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada and South Africa

Wales. There were various Vaughan landed gentry in mid-Wales:

  • They started with the Vaughans of Tretower near Crickhowell. Sir Roger Vaughan took over the property in 1450 and it stayed with his family for the next three hundred years.
  • The Vaughans at Trawsgoed near Aberstwyth were equally long-standing. This family really established itself in the 17th century when Sir John Vaughan was made Chief Justice of the Common Pleas by Charles II. They remained locally powerful and influential despite their spendthrift habits in the 18th century.
  • A third Vaughan family can be found at Hengwrt near Dolgellau in Gwynneth from Elizabethan times. They included the noted antiquarian Robert Vaughan. One of these Vaughans later emigrated with the Quakers to Pennsylvania.

In addition to the gentry families, the Vaughan name can also be found in mid-Powys church records in Llanerfyl and Llanfylllin from the 1600’s.

South Wales. In 1485, a Welsh prince, Owen Tudor, had captured the throne of England by his victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field. In his wake came Hugh Vaughan who became wealthy through this royal connection. His son John subsequently established the family estate at Golden Grove near Carmarthen in South Wales. From this family came Walter Vaughan, one of the early developers of the town of Llanelli, and various courtiers and politicians on the Royalist side in the 17th century.

A Vaughan family, originally from Gloucestershire, ran an iron forge at Whitchurch near Cardiff from the 1700’s for five generations. More Vaughans were to be found in Glamorgan in the 19th century as industrialization based on coal and iron developed.

England. Welsh names extended across the border into England from an early time. The 1327 Subsidy Rolls for Shropshire showed that one in five names recorded there was Welsh, including a Cardogan Vaughan.

There were Vaughan gentry families at Courtfield on the Herefordshire/Monmouthshire border and at Ruardean in Gloucestershire in Elizabethan times. Many of these Vaughans were staunch Catholics who paid for their allegiance at times. In the 19th century, Roger Bede Vaughan from this family became Archbishop in Sydney in Australia and Herbert Vaughan, in 1892, Archbishop of Westminster.

Ireland.  Protestant Vaughans came to Ireland with the Protestant land-grab in the 1600’s. The Carmarthen Vaughans established themselves in Donegal. George Vaughan, governor of Donegal, built Buncrana castle in 1718. The Vaughan name has remained in Donegal, particularly in Ballyshannon.

From Ireland in the 1750’s came Samuel Vaughan, who became rich as a merchant in London and owned sugar plantations in Jamaica. One son emigrated to Hallowell in Maine; another, also a merchant, lost most of his money.

A Vaughan family lived on Quilly Road in Dromore in county Down. There has been some suggestion that their name might have formed the basis for the popular Irish folk song, Polly Vaughn. The song goes roughly as follows:

  • “A man called Johnny Randle goes hunting for birds.
  • He sees something white in the bushes.
  • Thinking that it is a swan, he shoots.
  • To his horror, he has killed his true love,
  • Polly Vaughn, sheltering from the rain.”

America. There were some early Vaughan immigrants into New England, such as John and Gillian Vaughan recorded in 1638 in Newport, Rhode Island.

Virginia. But more came via Virginia. Rebecca Vaughan’s house, built in 1795, still stands in Courtland, SE Virginia. She herself was killed in the 1831 slave insurgency. From Virginia:

  • we find Vaughan/Vaughn families moving to Tennessee, North Carolina, and to Montgomery, Alabama.
  • other Vaughans/Vaughns pushed inland – William and Fereby Vaughan got to NW Arkansas in the 1820’s (where there is a Vaughan valley today); John Vaughn to Jefferson County, Illinois; and Amos and Susan Vaughn to Iowa (then part of Wisconsin territory) in the 1830’s.
  • while Colonel Alfred Vaughan was an Indian agent based in St. Louis in the 1850’s.

Missouri. The Vaughn name also cropped up in Missouri. Elisha and Patsy Vaughan reached there in the 1820’s.

Cornelius Vaughn was a slave owner in Missouri in the years prior to the Civil War. After the war, he and his family departed for Spokane in Washington. Victor Vaughan, who later became Dean of the Medical School at Michigan University, recorded his memories of slavery and growing up on a farm in Missouri in his 1926 book, A Doctor’s Memories.

Canada.  John, Daniel and Anthony Vaughan, descendants of John Vaughan who had arrived in New England in 1638 and settled in Rhode Island, came to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia after the death of their father in 1761.  In 1796 Daniel moved to New Brunswick where he and his sons became well-known ship builders.  Harold Vaughan’s 1969 book History and Genealogy of the Vaughan Family covered this line.

John Vaughan from the same Rhode Island family grew up in Vermont.  He also migrated to Canada, but later in the 1790’s and to Leeds county, Ontario.

South Africa. Lieutenant Colonel Edward Vaughan came to Cape Colony with the British troops in the 1820’s. He died in Cape Town in 1833 and there is a commemorative plaque to him in St. George’s Cathedral.

More Vaughans arrived in the 1850’s. Cecil Vaughan was a magistrate in the Eastern Cape in the late 1800’s. His young daughter wrote a diary of her daily life at the time of the Boer War. The Diary of Iris Vaughan was lost but rediscovered in the 1950’s and attracted a great deal of interest on its publication.

Vaughan Surname Miscellany

Gryffyd Fychan.  Gryffydd Fychan was the son of Gryffydd ap Ieuan ap Madoc ap Gwenys.   There is the persistent tradition that he was in the band of Welshmen who were said to have saved the life of King Henry V when he rushed to rescue his brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

The belief grew that he, like Dafydd Gam, Rhosier Fychan and others, was knighted on the field. These knights are not recorded in Shaw’s Knights of England.   If Gryffydd were of age, he could well have been at Agincourt; but it cannot be confirmed.

In a tournament in Wales in 1443, he pierced with his lance the heart of his master, Sir Christopher Talbot, the third son of the earl of Shrewsbury and the champion tilter of England.

As the death of a young knight was not regarded as an accident, he was outlawed and a reward of 500 marks was offered for his capture. He remained at large for four years.  Then Sir Henry Grey, the earl of Tancarville, managed to entice him into Powys castle and he was there peremptorily beheaded.  The Welsh poets were so incensed by this treachery that they wrote indignant elegies.

Hugh Vaughan’s Duel.  In May 1492 it is said that Hugh Vaughan, esquire of Kidwelly and gentleman usher to Henry VII, took part in a great tournament held by the king at Richmond in Surrey.  Vaughan fought a duel with the knight, Sir James Parker, concerning a disagreement over the arms to him and for which he had the king’s permission to use.

According to an account published in 1631, the unfortunate Sir James was accidentally killed in the first encounter, as described thus:

“A combat was holden and done betwixt Sir James Parker, knight, and Hugh Vaughan, gentleman usher, upon controversy for the arms that garter given to the said Hugh Vaughan, but he was there allowed by the king to bear them; and Sir James Parker was slain at the first course.

The cause of his death was thought to be the lack of a false helmet, which, by the force of the cronacle, failed and so he was stricken into the mouth that his tongue was borne into the hinder part of his head and he died incontinently.”

Vaughans at Courtfield in Monmouthshire.  This Vaughan family was an off-shoot of what became the Herbert family. At the end of the 1300’s Thomas ap Gwillim had four sons.  The eldest formed the Herbert family and the youngest the Vaughan family.

Courtfield had originally been called Greenfield, but its name changed in 1387 after the infant king Henry V had been taken there for safe-keeping.  In 1562 the Courtfield estate, which at that time was about 30,000 acres, was bought by John Gwilym of Killwch Vach.  A year later Sybylla, his daughter and heiress, married James Vaughan of Llangattock and Courtfield came into the Vaughan family.

For two centuries this family was persecuted and fined for steadfast adherence to the old Catholic faith and various ruses were used to avoid confiscation of their land.

In 1659 John Vaughan married Mary Vaughan of Ruardean.  She came from a different Vaughan family, being descended from a 12th-centaury chieftain Moreiddig Warwin.  His arms were three Saxon boys‟ heads with snakes around the neck which became the family crest.

Later Vaughans were ardent supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the 1745 rebellion.  After the defeat at Culloden two Vaughan brothers who had fought there fled to Spain and became officers in the Spanish army.

However, the Vaughan family did continue in the Catholic faith at Courtfield.

Thomas Vaughan the Alchemist.  Thomas Vaughan was the twin brother of the metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan, both being born in Brecon “at Newton in the parish of St. Briget’s in the year 1621.”  He took up medical studies, initially motivated by the lack of doctors in Wales.  Although he did not practice medicine, he sought to apply his chemical skills to preparing medicines in the manner recommended by Paraclesus.  He corresponded with Samuel Hartlib and established a reputation with his book Anthroposophia, a magico-mystical work.  It is possible that he was also the author of tracts published under the pseudonym Eugenius Philalethes.

Vaughan became involved with the plan of Dr. Robert Child to form a chemical club with a laboratory and library, the main aim being to translate and collect chemical works.  In the course of litigation with Edward Bolnest, Vaughan was accused of spending “most of his time in the study of Natural Philosophy and Chemical Physick.”  He is reported as having confessed that he had “long sought and long missed … the philosopher’s stone.”

The Monument to Walter Vaughan in Llanelli, 1683.  The following was the commemorative inscription to Walter Vaughan in Llanelli on his death in 1683.

“Reader, who’re thou art, have regard to the unsullied ashes of Walter Vaughan, ye son of John Vaughan of Llanelli esquire, descended from the honorable family of Golden Grove and born to a plentiful estate.

He had also acquired so many laudable virtues in his life that he deserves to be remembered after his death. Such was integrity, and so equal in the discharge of his duty in several offices of trust under the prince, so constant in his obedience to his parents, so impartial his kindness to his relations, so faithful his inclination to his friends, and so sweetly disposed his temper towards all sorts of men, that he died lamented by all.

Anno Domini 1683.

This monument his most indulgent and mournful mother dedicated to his memory, which nor death nor time can extinguish.”

Vaughan’s Valley in Arkansas.  The most fertile and beautiful landscape in Northwestern Arkansas is named from its pioneer settlers, Samuel and Daniel Vaughan.  Born in Virginia, their father, William Vaughan, removed to Warren County, Tennessee and thence to Wayne County, Missouri, where he was one of the first settlers, and subsequently to Crawford County, Arkansas, where he located on the Arkansas river near Short Mountain Creek.

Crossing the Boston mountains, Samuel and Daniel Vaughan settled near Evansville, Washington County before the Indian title to that section had been relinquished, and, being encroachers, their improvements were destroyed by the regular soldiers.

In 1826 they removed to Cane Hill, Washington County, where they were the first settlers and in 1828 migrated to what is now known as the Tuttle settlement on Richland.   In 1831 Samuel Vaughan removed to the valley and bought the improvements of one Friend, an Indian half-breed of migratory habits, then its only occupant. Vaughan dealt largely in Government claims.  He died at the age of seventy seven.  Daniel Vaughan lived all his life on his first claim, a short distance west of Hindsville.

Reader Feedback – Vaughans in Arkansas.  My family were slaves of the people you claim settled Vaughan valley in Arkansas. Can you please mention how the Vaughan slaves actually did all the physical work and were the real pioneers.

Gionna Vaughn (

Reader Feedback – The Line from William and Fereby Vaughan.  William and Fereby Vaughan migrated from Virginia to NW Arkansas in the 1820’s.  One line from them ran from their son William Jr. to his daughter by his second wife Peggie who was named Jane or “Gencie.”  Jane married John Bowlin in Hancock county, Tennessee and one of their sons was called Alfred.

Interestingly the census listed Alfred as partially blind at the age of nine months.  Since I am one of the Bowlins that carry the DNA of an extra long eyelid (mine and my cousin’s actually had to be cut) I am curious to find out if this is a Bowlin or a Vaughan DNA gene.

None of the Bowlin women as far as I can tell had this gene, except possibly Alfred’s sister Susan “who went blind at an early age.”  There is research going on through Harvard at Boston Children’s Hospital that has mapped out the very gene that has caused this eyelid problem.

Thank you in advance, Cissie Norris (

The Diary of Iris Vaughan.  Iris Vaughan’s diary, began when she was only seven, is as much autobiography as diary.  It also gives a charming, keenly observed and brilliantly amusing picture of colonial Africa as Victorianism made way for the twentieth century.

Iris, the eldest daughter of a magistrate at the time of the Anglo-Boer War who was transferred from town to town, writes about her family life in various small towns of the Eastern Cape.  This personal diary is a first hand account.  Thus we have Iris’s impressions, as an English ten year old child, of Cradock, Maraisburg, Adelaide, Grahamstown, Cookhouse, Bedford, Pearston, and other small African dorps.

She writes that Cradock is a place where there are “nice trees by the furrows,” while Maraisburg “has no trees or rivers. Only sand and two hills and some milk bush becos it is a godforsaken Karroo.  That is what Pop calls it.”

Iris writes about the parson in Maraisburg, Mr. Damp, who is a young but bald bachelor and is “very strange sometimes.”  The school inspector, Dr. Room, “has a very long head and blue eyes with big glasses.”

The Diary of Iris Vaughan has been a bestseller every time it has been printed.  It was originally released as a series of excerpts by the magazine, Outspan, and subsequently released in book form by the Central News Agency in 1958.

The editor of Outspan, Charles Barry, says in his foreword that, initially, he was suspicious that the text might not be genuine.  But after its publication, letters poured in from around southern Africa from people who had not seen Iris since childhood.  They substantiated the events that she described.

Vaughan Names

  • Sir Roger Vaughan was said to be the richest commoner in Wales when he acquired Tretower castle in 1450.
  • Henry and Thomas Vaughan were twin brothers from the Tretower family who grew up in Brecon in the 1630’s. Henry became a metaphysical poet, Thomas an alchemist.
  • Sir John Vaughan was Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in the reign of Charles II.
  • Herbert Cardinal Vaughan was appointed Archbishop of Westminster in 1892. His two brothers, Bernard and John Stephen, were also prominent Catholic clergymen.
  • Arky Vaughan, born in rural Arkansas, was the premier baseball shortstop of the 1930’s and was later inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
  • Sarah Vaughan made her breakthrough as a jazz singer in 1943. He family came from Virginia and she grew up in Newark.
  • Michael Vaughan was the captain of the English cricket team in the early 2000’s.

Vaughan Numbers Today

  • 22,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glamorgan)
  • 14,000 in America (most numerous in Virginia)
  • 13,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Vaughan 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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