This surname is almost certainly not what it seems. It derives from the Norse-Viking "kuv", meaning the crest or summit, plus the equally Scandinavian "landa", describing an area of cleared ground. The "modern" spelling is locational and refers to a "lost" medieval village which by definition and dialectal usage as well as, no doubt, being a factual description, changed to "Cow(e)land(e)". The original village was probably "cleared" in the early 16th Century to facilitate agricultural growth, specifically sheep-farming. The villages of Cowlam or Cowling in Yorkshire have similar roots to Cowland(e), but any association between them and the name is not proven. It is true that some nameholders do derive from the French "Couland"; Anthony Couland was Pastor to the Huguenot Church at Threadneedle Street, London, in 1694, the name being changed to Cowland in the 18th Century. The early recordings include: John Dewdney Cowland, a witness at St. Dunstan's in the East, Stepney, on March 21st 1584, whilst on July 9th 1633, Susan Couland (as spelt) married James Joanes, also at St. Dunstan's. This church seems to have been an epi-centre for recordings through into the 19th Century. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Thomas Cowlande, which was dated May 21st 1580, marriage to Anne Parker, by Civil Licence in London, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1, known as "Good Queen Bess", 1558 - 1603. 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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