Howse your name changed?

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Howse your name changed?

My last post described how a family’s name changed upon their arrival in the US.  It elicited a comment (for which thanks) that the name HOUSE pronounced by a Dorset person could easily sound like HOWES to American ears.  I promised to respond in my next post.  So here goes!

One family’s experience

The word House from Dorset may well sound like Howes, but I think it goes wider than than Dorset to America.  Consider this example which starts with an Edward HOWS born about 1740 whose family lived in the Thames Valley, (North of Dorset and West of London) for 200 years and during the course of that period moved only 20 miles (and note that our research is not yet finished)

  • we have Edward’s name recorded twice, once as Hows and once as HOWE
  • his son Richard’s name we have recorded six times: HOWSE (3), Hows (2) and House (1)
  • his son James, we’ve seen in nine different place so far as: House (4), Howse (3) and Howes (2)
  • his son Richard, we’ve seen in 14 different places so far: Howes (8), House (4) and Howse (2).  All of the non-Howes references were for 1871 and before, except one.
  • this last Richard died in 1938 and had eight children and 16 grandchildren.  All of the children and male children’s children have been referred to as Howes in every instance we have so far seen.
Note the spelling

Richard Howes’s birth cert

These folks came from a large family and we are by no means yet done finding every instance in which they were recorded.  We have a selection of birth, baptism, marriage, newspaper, death and burial records still to find.  It’s quite possible that we will find other spellings as we learn more.  One point particularly worthy of note is that the local Reading newspaper recorded Richard’s surname at his retirement party in 1922 as Howse even though for the previous 40 years he had been using Howes.

Note change in spelling

Richard Howes’s death cert


Over this 200+ year period we have seen several transitions, perhaps the biggest of which has been from a primarily spoken culture to primarily written one in which spelling now matters.  Early on, practically the only arbiters of spelling were the clergy and churchwardens who wrote up the parish registers.  All clergy were university graduates and many were not local.  Later came the census enumerators who were generally well-educated and local.  Looking back over the last century from now, we are all now so much better educated than our forebears and we know how to spell our own name!


Before the mid-19th century certainly, people wrote what they heard.  And yet, from 1740 to 1871 even in a relatively small area, where accents will have changed a little but not a huge amount, people managed to find five different ways to spell the same family’s name.  So it would seem like House sounded like Howes, or vice-versa if you prefer.

This family is by no means unique: we have probably 20 individuals in our database with all four major name variations (Howes, House, Howse and Hows) and one even with   How in addition.  He has what we call a “full house”!  Check him out at:

Next time

In my next blog, we’ll map at the distribution of our four major spelling variations over Southern England and provide yet more evidence that these four names are four different ways of spelling the same original name.

About Paul D. Howes

Paul Howes lives in New Jersey and when not indulging his obsession into family history is an executive coach. For most of his professional life he was an actuary and human resource consultant, having lived in six countries and worked in over 50. Paul has lectured on his award-winning study into the Howes, House, Howse and Hows names on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a member of the Guild of One-Name Studies for four years and was recently appointed the US National Representative for the Guild.

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  • Valerie Lineberry
    January 8, 2014 at 8:53 am

    Mack Morris coalson. My grandfather born in MC dowell county. When did they change spelling to coulson? Thanks

  • February 25, 2013 at 10:53 am

    PS Linda, as we’ve researched the name Howes we’ve found almost 70 different ways it has been mis-transcribed. Other one-name study researchers will tell you similar stories about their names. We get to see the overall picture that single family researchers often don’t see.

    With House there don’t seem to be as many mistranscriptions. Beyond the names in the graphic at the top of the post above, I’d definitely try looking for Honse. I’ve seen that one a lot in my own US research.

    Another trick you can try, if your data provider allows it, is to enter given names and years of birth for child and parents without a surname at all. Often that can get you what you are looking for and even possibly turn up another wild mistranscription!

  • February 25, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Hi Linda. Thanks for your thoughts. We already have two or three House families in Arkansas in our database but I’m certain it’s far from complete. Using the advanced search facility on the website, I ran a list of people born in the state and found 37 people, most of whom are named House. You can’t see all of them because we are cautious about people’s privacy, but try this link and see if any of them are “yours”:

    Whether or not you find someone in your family, if you would be interested to share your family details with us, we’d be happy to put them online and connect you up with others as we work back.

  • Linda E
    February 24, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    What a strange coincidence ! My maiden name is House spelled that way. I have hit a brick wall in my research in Arkansas. Maybe I need to start looking for the various spellings that you put forth. Would be nice to knock down that brick wall.

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