The surname of COWAN was an occupational name 'the stone-diker a builder of flint and granite walls'. When this name occurs in Connacht records it is a substitute for the names Coyne and MacKeown. In modern times Cowan (apart of course from the area of Dublin) the name is confined to Ulster. In that province it is a modernized form of MacCone, a name which was very numerous in County Armagh in the 17th century. Early records of the name note a Walter O'Cown, the associate of highwaymen, who was beheaded in 1305. Notables of the name include James MacKowen (1814-1889) the poet born near Lisburn, and James C. MacCoan (1829-1903) was the political and historical writer, of Co. Tyrone. Surnames as we know them today were first assumed in Europe from the 11th to the 15th Century. They were not in use in England or in Scotland before the Norman Conquest, and were first found in the Domesday Book. The employment in the use of a second name was a custom that was first introduced from the Normans. They themselves had not long before adopted them. It became, in course of time, a mark of gentler blood, and it was deemed a disgrace for gentlemen to have but one single name, as the meaner sort had. It was not until the reign of Edward II. (1307-1327 ) it became general practice amongst all people. The surname is local to Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire and other lowland counties. Early records of the name mention John Cowan, a merchant in Stirling who founded the hospital there in 1639. It was built by him for 'the support of twelve decayed Guild Brethren'. James Cowhen was chaplain in North Berwick in the year 1560. At first the coat of arms was a practical matter which served a function on the battlefield and in tournaments. With his helmet covering his face, and armour encasing the knight from head to foot, the only means of identification for his followers, was the insignia painted on his shield and embroidered on his surcoat, the flowing and draped garment worn over the armour. The associated arms are recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884.
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