Recorded in various spellings including Cowan, Cowen, Cowin, Cowing, and patronymics Cowans and Cowins, this interesting surname is ancient Gaelic. It may be either Scottish or Irish, and a form of MacEoghain or the son of Eoghan. The latter was a personal name from the pre7th century and originally Ouein, meaning well-born, but believed to derive ultimately from the Ancient Greek Eugenious. Quite how the name managed to pass over the many miles between ancient Greece and the Gaelic countries is far from clear, but may be through the famous Crusader knights of the11th and 12th centuries.Other forms of the surname include MacOwen, MacCown, MacCone, MacKeown, although most of these lost the 'Mac' prefix during the 17th century, leaving the short forms with which we are more familar today. Early examples of the surname recordings include John Cowan, who was the chancellor of Christ Church, Waterford, Ireland, in 1582, whilst Cowan's Hospital in Stirling, Scotland, was founded by John Cowan, a merchant there, in 1639. Other examples are those of Marionne Cowan and George Mwir, who were married in Ochiltree, Ayrshire, Scotland, on June 6th 1643, whilst Elizabeth Cowin was christened at St Dunstans in the East, Stepney, London, on December 15th 1700. On May 8th 1846, Pat Cowan, recorded as being a merchant aged 21 years, embarked from Liverpool on the ship "Rochester", bound for New York. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was sometimes known as the 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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