This famous English surname is curiously connected with bravery, and the opposite of what it may appear to imply. It is occupational, and a development of the Olde English pre 7th century 'cu-weard' meaning a cattle guard. In the ancient times the ownership of cattle was a sign of considerable wealth, even today in certain parts of the world a person wealth is judged purely on the numbers of cattle owned. To be a 'cu-weard' was the opposite of the modern meaning of 'coward'. It was often necessary to show extreme bravery to fight of the persistent cattle rustlers. In recognition of this fact, the name became a baptismal forename and is so recorded for example in Berkshire in 1198 when 'Cuward de Blakepet'appears in the tax rolls for the county. In the surname the spellings of Coward, Cowerd, Cowherd, Cowterd, Cowthard and Cowthart, have all been recorded, and as such has a long and honourable development, being one of the first hereditary surnames recorded. These early examples include such as Adam Le Couherd in the 1317 Assize Rolls of Kent, and Robertus Cowherde of Yorkshire in the 1379 Poll Tax rolls. John Cowherde is recorded in Worcester in 1327, whilst John Coward appears in the register of the abbey of Whitby, Yorkshire, in the year 1540. In 1618 the register of Holy Island, Northumberland, records that Archie Cowhird of Gostwick died in that year, whilst in 1622 the Lancashire Wills register has the entry of John Cowerd of Ulverston. Rowland Cowherd, formerly of Kirkby Ireleth, in the same Lancashire wills register, is recorded in the spellings of Cowherd, Cowerd, and Coward! The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of John Kuhirde, which was dated 1274, the Hundred Rolls of the county of Huntingdon, during the reign of King Edward 1st, known as 'The hammer of the Scots', 1272 - 1307. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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