Origins of the Bowler Surname


When I first started researching my Bowler family history in 2002 I had no idea as to the origin of the Surname Bowler. I posed the question to somebody on a stall at a family history fair who suggested that it was an occupational surname ie 'somebody who made [wooden] bowls' I repeated the question on the first version of my website asking if anybody had ideas or suggestions as to the origins of the name. I received several replies essentially suggesting 2 possible sources, the occupation as above or that the name was an 'import' most likely from France (or possibly Ireland) perhaps arriving as 'Bolour' (or similar) and gradually evolving into Bowler.

Having done no more research myself I cannot say which, if either is correct, it even seems possible that the name has more than 1 root and both the above are correct or even another totally different origin lost somewhere in the passage of time, perhaps the name might even have different roots in different parts of the country. If you have other suggestions or some evidence as to the origins of the name please do pass them on. I would also be interested if you find any very early (13th century or before) mentions of the surname, if so where?  Contact details on the home page.


*       Spelling:-

Although Bowler is pretty much the accepted spelling today I have found the spelling Boler or Boller quite common in the 19th century (and possibly before). It is not clear at what date the spelling Bowler was first used (some references suggest not until 1700) but looking at the Princess Risborough parish registers I found the spelling Boller in use from 1562 to 1608 and the spelling Bowler in use from 1581 into the 20th century, there were 3 instances of Boler all in the 17th century. Of course this is only one parish and the spelling used is likely to have varied widely, Bowler could easily have been used earlier than 1581. I would be interested to hear of any earlier recorded use you may have found.


The 2 maps below show distribution of the name (spelling Bowler), the data extracted from the 1881 census, the map on the left showing actual numbers per county and the map on the right per 100,000 of population.



Distribution of the name Bowler from the 1881 census, actual numbers (left) and per 100,000 of population (right)

Larger scale maps with county labels can be found here


As a percentage of the population the name is most common in Buckinghamshire (data from 1881 census), events taken from parish registers in Buckinghamshire would suggest Princess Risborough as the most common parish.  The name is also quite common in counties surrounding Bucks (as you might expect) and further north the name is common in Derbyshire and surrounding counties. The reference from The Penguin Dictionary of Surnames, (entry shown below), describes it as a surname of Derbyshire and surrounding counties.


Bowler is the most common spelling of the name in England and Wales in the 1881 census, numbers for the various spellings listed below:-

Bowler            3653

Boler                173

Boaler              153

Boller               45

Bolur                6

Boular              4



*       How common today?

Data from the ONS in 2002 ranks the name Bowler as the 1109 most common in England and Wales with 7090 persons having the name.


*       What the reference books say:-

The Penguin Dictionary of Surnames by Basil Cottle, second edition:- 'Bowler O  'bowl-maker / seller of bowls', or N  'hard drinker'; both from 'bowl' OE.  A surname of Derby-Ches-Lancs'


Surnames of the United Kingdom: A concise etymological dictionary by Henry Harrison published 1912:-  'BOWLER (Eng) Bowl-Maker [M.E. Boller (e, bolour (e; M.E. Bolle, O.E. Bolla, a bowl + the agent. Suff. -ere'] 'Robert le Boller. - Parl. Writs'


Parl. Writs = Parliamentary Writs (AD 1272 to 1326), M.E. = Middle English, N = nickname, O = occupation, O.E = Old English

English Surnames their sources and significations by Charles Wareing Bardsley, M.A. Second Edition published 1875:- 'Our common 'Bowlers' represent such olden personages as 'Robert le Bollere' or 'Adam le Boloure,' they who made the cheap wooden 'bowl' or 'boll.' The spelling still survives botanically in such a phrase as we find in the Authorized Version where it speaks of the 'flax being bolled,' that is, the seed vessel was forming. It is always so spelt with our mediaeval writers.'

FamilySearch website:- English (chiefly Nottinghamshire): from Middle English boller (from Old English bolla ‘bowl’, ‘drinking vessel’ + the agent suffix -er), an occupational name for a maker or seller of bowls. Medieval bowls were made of wood as well as of earthenware.


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