Ewing Family Association

Clan Ewing of Scotland
Elbert William R. Ewing, A.M., LL.B., LL.D.

Chapter IX

Origin of the Ewing Name

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This story of our clan origin considered in connection with the Gaelic Highland records, is all the light we have regarding the origin of our family name. That evidence leads to the conclusion that the name of the Glasgow-Loch Lomond Ewing clan, or family from which the Ewings here considered descended, is of Cymric Lowland origin. It is clear, in my opinion, that those who hold to the Gaelic origin overlook the Cymric evidence, certainly as to our family, it is worth repeating for emphasis. Of course, it must not be forgotten that, as has been said, there are Ewings who are Scotch or of Scotch ancestry who are not descended from our ancient Scotch ancestors. For them, certainly, I do not attempt to speak.

In 1919 a very intelligent genealogist of the Hon. Thomas Ewing family gave me the following:

My ‘Ewing’ line is from Scotland by way of Ireland. The name is, in the case of my line (and I think likely in that of all Ewings) from the Gaelic ‘EOGHAN’ (the ‘GH’; is a ‘H’ in sound, as in Meagher, sounded Maher; Daugherty sounded Doherty, &c.), spelt phonetically EUEN, EWEN, EWIN, EWAN, YOUEN, &c. The ‘g’ in Ewing was an addition made in the spelling of the name by those of English speech, if not race. This because in pronouncing the name they gave the final ‘n’ a ‘ng’ or nasal sound. Thus did they with Waring from Warin, Huling from Hulin, &c.

This, it is very clear to me, is a representative error as to the descent of the Hon. Thomas Ewing branch; and as he belonged to our family, it is error as to the rest of those of whom I write. While, as has been said, some of the descendants of the Gaelic Eoghan ancestors either through the McEwen of Otter or otherwise, may now be known as Ewings, yet the history of the Cymric Ewing ancestors proves that the greater number of Ewings are of the Lowland origin and from that source brought with them the name. This, I am firmly convinced, is true of many of the Ewings of the western portions of Scotland, whose ancestors at a very early day drifted out from the Cymric family in the Glasgow Lomond community, as it is of our Glasgow-Lomond ancestors.

Spooner, who has given us an extensive study of the historic families of America, we again may notice in this connection, says:

Of Celtic derivation, the surname Ewing is found at an early period in the western portions of Scotland–in Glasgow and in the neighborhood of Loch Lomond … It is found associated as tribal surname with the Colquhouns, usually written Calhoun in the United States. An English writer on surnames puts it among the earliest Saxon names ending in -ing, as Harding, Browning, etc. It may be of Danish rather than Saxon origin, as it is still common in Norway, one of the recruiting grounds of the so-called Danes of early English history, and especially as its early location was in the western part of Scotland, which was long subject to the raids of the Danish sea-kings.

McEwen, the Scotch genealogist of the McEwens, says:

The name Ewen (Ewing) is a distinctive, ancient, and not very common name, derived from the Gaelic Eoghan, meaning ‘kind natured’ (Latin Eugenius).

Eugenius may be a Latin equivalent of Ewen; but it is, as we have seen, at least a fact that in the Latin list of the Gaelic Kings the spelling Ewen is used.

But the great trouble with the effort to link all Ewings with the Gaelic origin of a name similar to ours, is that about the time of the Gaelic kings of the Ewen name and long before the name in the Highlands distinguished any family or clan, the name existed in the Lowland Cymric country and was borne by those of the Cymric stock. Borne by those of that Lowland stock, the name existed hundreds of years before the coming of the Danes. Since it was the custom of the invading Teutons, including the Danes, “to adopt the name of the Celtic tribe they displaced,” as Shane (Origin of the Anglo-Saxon Race, 302) and other authorities tell us, if the name be common in the European home of the Danes, it is not at all impossible that it was carried there from Scotland.

McEwen, unable to explain some facts which appear not to have been fully investigated, qualified somewhat his all too sweeping conclusion, by adding:

The name is distinctly of Gaelic and clan origin, and except where particular family histories and other evidence point to a different conclusion, persons bearing the name and traceable to the localities known to have been occupied by the early clan, its septs and descendants, are of the same race and probably sprung from the McEwins of Otter. In the Lowland districts the blood has mixed largely with that of the Lowland inhabitants.

Our Ewings are “traceable to the localities known to have been occupied by the early clan” known as Ewing long before the Otter McEwens had a clan existence; and so measured by McEwen own rule, we do not get our family name from the Otter clan. Hence as to us “other evidence” points a conclusion different from his. For the same reason, among others, nothing warrants that too broad assertion that the widely scattered and long numerous Ewings of “the Lowland districts” are explained by the Otter blood mixing “largely with that of the Lowland inhabitants.” As I have shown, our Ewing ancestors were numerous in the Lowlands and in the Glasgow Loch Lomond region before the first Otter McEwen existed. Ewin, certainly, was a Lowland name long before 1047. Ewin, father of Bishop Kentigern, lived nearly 600 years earlier—and it was in 1047 that Aodha Alain died; and Barrister McEwen, his expounder and the authorities upon which they rely say that Alain was the grandfather of Ewen, the ancestor of the McEwens of Otter.

Hence, the evidence, an epitome of which I have given as ground of my conclusion, leads me to conclude that our name, as well as that of the clan, is of Cymric Lowland origin, and so I concur, certainly as to our family, with those authorities who hold that the surname Ewing is among the earliest Saxonized names ending in g. It is, therefore, a Celtic name Teutonized. Ewin, the father; Ewing, the son. The g of the name is an important part of the evidence of its Briton origin. It was the Cymric Britons, not the Highlanders, who were earliest Anglo-Saxonized. Eoghan of the Highlands became McEwen. Eoghan, Ewen, the father; McEwen, the son. Eoghan, Ewen, McEwen, Gaelic (Macbain’s note to p. 251 of Skene’s Highlanders); Eugenius, Urien, Owen, Ewen, Euin, Ewin, meaning “well born” quite as much in the Cymric, Celtic Briton, and have the same meaning in the Cymric tongue as Eogan (or Eoghan) in the Gaelic. (Id.) So as a result of the contact by the Saxons and the Angles with the Celts of the Lowlands, a sketch of which has been given that we may better appreciate this fact, we have the present form of our surname—the Highlands having escaped almost to this day that Saxon-Angle influence.

Another important fact of history that we may consider in this connection is that the Ewings of Scotland were of the Covenanter faith. From that source our family during its earlier days in America got its Presbyterian proclivities. It is quite probable that most Ewings of our branches are Presbyterians yet; though many, for reasons discussed in my Pioneer Gateway of the Cumberlands (manuscript at writing this), in later years very devoutly have become identified with other churches. As far as I have been able to discover, from the very earliest days of the “Solemn League and Covenant for the Defense and Reform of Religion” against popery and prelacy, in the midst of its great fight from 1638 to 1643, our people gave it support without stint, and now and then at the price of life. Earlier they were what would now be called Protestants; and, true to the family traditions, those near Londonderry at the time of its heroic and epochal defense, joined the fighting Protestant ranks or otherwise supported the Protestant movement. Some recent English writers say:

It is a significant fact that this Strathclyde region was the stronghold, or, as it might be otherwise put, the hotbed, of the Covenantry (sic) movement. … This Strathclyde region is even now (1907) the greatest stronghold of dissent (against the established and the Roman Catholic Churches). Proportionately to its inhabitants dissent is a good deal more powerfully represented in Glasgow than in the eastern capital (Edinburgh).

It is true that some of the Ewings adhered, with disastrous results, to the cause of Prince Charles Edward Stuart which terminated at fatal Culloden April 27, 1746. That Charles, we know, was a Catholic; but he was a Scotchman and, from the Scotch standpoint, the rightful heir to the throne. The comparatively few Ewings who did join his standard, like heroic Flora McDonald, who aided him to escape, finally landing her in London Tower, and then by happy fate an exile to America, were actuated rather by motives of patriotism than by sentiments of religion. But our direct ancestors, as we have said, then had long been out of Scotland.

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Page last updated 13 October 2008.
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