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Powel Family History
This surname primarily comes from the Welsh personal name, Hywel, meaning 'eminent' which may have developed from the Welsh word 'haul' (sun) derived from the Greek 'helios'. It is an ancient name, and was borne by one of Wales's most famous medieval leaders, Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good) c.880–948, King of Deheubarth (south west Wales) and eventually the whole of Wales, and who established and codified the medieval Laws of Wales.
For Welsh families, this surname was therefore patronymic. As such it would initially have developed into a surname via the phrase 'ap Hywel' or 'ap Howell', meaning 'son of Hywel' or 'son of Howell'. This phrase was often contracted to form 'Powell' and so is therefore a variation of the Howell/Howells surname. Both Powell and Howell/Howells would have developed as hereditary surnames in Wales at some point between the 16th and 19th centuries, depending on where in the country the families lived and on the status of the family in question.
The English version of the surname may, in some cases, have a very different root in that it derived from the name of a location, such as Howell, a village in Lincolnshire. In this case the name comes from the Old English 'hugol' which means a mound or hillock. Early examples of the surname in England include: William Hoel (Wiltshire, 1183); John Howel (Cambridgeshire, 1313); and Hyllar Howell (Somerset, 1327).
In 1881, the surname was widespread, especially in Wales, as well as in Norfolk and Suffolk, Surrey and Sussex. Most Howell families worked as farmers, agricultural labourers and coal miners.
In 1891, the surname was recorded in England and Wales with 13,508 occurrences on that year's census, with far fewer in Scotland where there were around 90 entries.
1881, 1891 Census
Dictionary of American Family Homes, P Hanks OUP 2003
Homes of Family Names in Great Britain, H.B. Guppy, London 1890
The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland, P.Hanks, Coats, McClure OUP 2016
1860 Lower, Mark A Patronymica Britannica: a dictionary of the family names of the United Kingdom, London: J.R Smith. Public Domain
1857 Arthur, William An Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names. New York: Sheldon, Blakeman. Public Domain
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