This rare and interesting surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a metronymic from the female given name Rowena. The name is believed to have derived from the Olde English pre 7th Century "Hrothwyn", composed of the elements "hreod", fame, with "wine", friend. The first celebrated bearer was the legendary daughter of the Jutish ruler Hengist, and wife of the 5th Century British chief Vortigern. This is one of a handful of surnames surviving which were derived from the name of the first bearer's mother. This is unusual because European society has been almost invariably patriarchal throughout history, and as a result the given name of the male head of the household has been handed on as a distinguishing surname to successive generations. The few exceptions (for example Catherine and Marguerite) seem to be derived from the names of women who were either widows for the greater part of their adult lives, or else heiresses in their own right. Recordings of the surname from London Church Registers include; Anthony Rowen, who married Agnes Webb on April 21st 1588 at St. Dunstan in the East, Stepney; and Elizabeth Rowena, who married Thomas Cook on September 6th 1833 at St. Leonard's, Shoreditch. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Henry Rowne, which was dated September 26th 1573, marriage to Joane Phenynn at the Church of St. Giles, Cripplegate, 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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