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Recorded in over fifty different spellings throughout Europe, from Lewis, Lois, Lowis and Loisi, to names such as Ludovici, Lotze, Lohde, and Ludwikiewicz, this ancient name is generally accepted as being of pre-5th century Frankish origins.
The original personal name was Hludwig, containing the German roots 'hlod'- fame, and 'wig'- war. It was the name of the founder of the Frankish dynasty who, in 814 CE, appears in the Roman records under the latinised form Ludovicus and Chlodovecus. The latter form later developed into the French Clovis and Louis, etc. Lowis or Lewis is the Norman-French form of the name, and a Lowis le Briton appears in the 'Red Book of the Excheque', Essex, in 1166.
The surname also has Welsh origins. Lewis was used in the country as a personal name, meaning originally 'the son of Lewis' (ap Lewis), and developed into a fixed, hereditary surname between the 16th and 19th centuries. The surname also developed from a separate personal Welsh name, Llywelyn, which was spelt in different ways, including as Llywellyn and Llewelyn. The root of this name comes from the Welsh word 'llyw', meaning leader. Like Lewis it too developed into a surname from the 16th century onwards.
Llywelyn has a prominent place in Welsh history, for it was the name of two of Wales's most significant native princes – Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn the Great), 1173-1240, who became the ruler of the whole of Wales, and his grandson Llywelyn ein Llyw Olaf (Llywelyn our Last Leader), the last native Prince of Wales, who was killed by the English in 1282.
The name also has roots in the Gaelic, Scottish and Irish surname Mac Lughaidh. Lugh is an ancient personal name: it comes from the word 'lugh' which means brightness. It was the name of the Celtic deity Lugh and gave rise to the high summer festival of 'Lughnasada'. Lugh was regarded as the equivalent of the Greek god Appollo. Woulfe (1913) however states explicitly that the Irish Lewis familes of Dublin, Kildare, Wexford etc are of Anglo-Norman extraction.
It is significant that in 1881 the highest concentrations of the name were recorded in Wales, especially in the southern half of the country. In Glamorgan the 1881 poulation was 13,453. It is possible that the high numbers on that year's Bristol census (3,000) reflect population movement to the city from Wales.
Lewes is also a variation of the surname in England, but it is a distinct form in that country and is taken from the town in Sussex.
In England in 1891, the surname was most numerous outside of London – in Lancashire (6% of the England & Wales total) and Gloucestershire (4% of the England & Wales total); London was (11%).
As for the English/continental origin of the name, examples of early bearers are the 12th century Lowis le Briton (see above), Walterus filius Lowis, 1209 (Pipe Rolls, Warwicks). In Bristol, the earlies example on the International Genealogical Index dates from 1554 and relates to a John Lewis of that city.
William Lewis, a convict from Gloucester, was transported aboard the "Asia" on September 3rd, 1820.
1881, 1891 Census
Homes of Family Names in Great Britain, H.B. Guppy, London, 1890
A Dictionary of English & Welsh Surnames, C.W.E. Bardsley, 1872, 96
Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall, P. Woulfe, Dublin 1913
The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain & Ireland, eds Hanks, Coates, McClure, 2016
Dictionary of American Family Names, P. Hanks, OUP, 2003
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