Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Rowena

Rowena is an ancient name and therefore its meaning is not entirely certain.  What we do know is that this is a name with a fair amount of historic and literary cache.  The name first appears in Welsh historian Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th century Historia regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) though in many different versions (Rowena being the modern translation). She is described as “the [pagan] daughter of [the Saxon chief] Hengist” and “one of the most accomplished beauties of that age.” Book VI. Chapter 12. The Christian King of the Britons, Vortigern, fell in love with Rowena: “The king, at the sight of the lady's face, was on a sudden both surprised and inflamed with her beauty; Vortigern being now drunk with the variety of liquors, the devil took this opportunity to enter into his heart, and to make him in love with the damsel… that he, who was a Christian, should fall in love with a pagan.”
 
There are several theories as to the origin of her name, complicated in part by the various spellings originally used in the 12th century: Ronwen, Renwein and Romwenna. One theory suggests it came from a Latinized corruption of an Olde English name of ancient Germanic origin – from the Germanic element “hrod” meaning “bright-fame; bright with glory” and the Olde English “ƿynn” meaning “joy, pleasure, bliss” (associated with the prehistoric Proto-Indo-European root *wen- "desire"). Another theory suggests it’s related to the Welsh (Celtic) name Rhonwen meaning “fair-haired” or, in other translations, “horsehair.” Lastly, the name Rowena is also often associated with the rowan tree (though this is a more modern connection). The rowan tree derives its name from the Old Norse “reynir” (“to redden”) in reference to the red berries found on the tree.  In ancient European mythologies, the rowan tree was believed to contain magical powers and was said to protect against malevolent mischief-makers such as witches which is why the tree was often planted near one’s front door. 
 
It really wasn’t until the 19th century, however, when the name was popularized owing to its usage in Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel Ivanhoe (Lady Rowena was the name Scott gave to his Saxon heroine and the love interest of the book’s titular character, Ivanhoe). Lady Rowena is the archetypal medieval damsel in distress and the object of desire for several men in the novel. Due to her noble Saxon bloodline and her striking beauty, she proves the perfect “lady” around whom acts of knightly chivalry can take place.     
 

All About the Baby Name – Rowena

Personality

OF THE GIRL NAME ROWENA

The number Four personality is marked by stability and discipline. This is the personality that follows the rules and is conservative by nature.  They have an earth-bound energy that prefers to build things methodically on top of firm foundations; they don't cut corners. Fours take their time and don't like to be hurried. But the outcome of their endeavors is likely to result in some strong and useful structure, which makes them great engineers and inventors. Fours are anything but frivolous or controversial. This is a trustworthy, straight-forward personality that embodies dedication and organization. They are the backbone and anchor in their relationships, careers and communities. They are tidy, punctual, and full of integrity. Hard-work comes naturally to a Four and they are immensely reliable. This is the personality you can always count on.

Popularity

OF THE GIRL NAME ROWENA

Sir Walter Scott gets the credit for bringing this name into the mainstream. While Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Rowena was a bit of a femme fatale who turned on her Christian husband, Scott’s Rowena – though also a Saxon – was the epitome of the beautiful medieval heroine (which helped bring positive associations to her name). In use since the 19th century, the name Rowena has never been particularly popular, per se, but she has enjoyed familiar usage in modern times. In the United States, this name was most popular in the late 19th century into the turn of the 20th century. By the mid-1960s, however, Rowena all but disappeared. It’s no longer on the radar – but one we think is worth considering. In fact, in the year 2014, only 14 baby girls were given this name. Talk about unique! It has a lovely meaning and pretty cool origin. And its literary cache adds to its medieval charm.  

Quick Facts

ON ROWENA

GENDER:

Girl

ORIGIN:

Celtic

NUMBER OF SYLLABLES:

3

RANKING POPULARITY:

N/A

PRONUNCIATION:

ro-EE-nə

SIMPLE MEANING:

Bright with fame and joy

Characteristics

OF ROWENA

Dependable

Solid

Practical

Hard-working

Industrious

Studious

Conservative

Cultural References to the Baby Name – Rowena

Literary Characters

OF THE BABY NAME ROWENA

Rebecca is Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm in the Kate Douglas Wiggins’ childrens’ classic of 1903. It was also made into a popular 1938 movie starring – you guessed it – Shirley Temple. Rebecca is an irrepressible 10 year old girl from an impoverished family who goes to live with her two paternal aunts at the beginning of the novel, and a lovely and still high spirited, young woman at the end. In between she alternately charms and exasperates her aunts and the townspeople, makes new friends, and matures into a generous human being. It is a lovely look at a more innocent time, but lest you think it too saccharine, remember that two giants of American literature, Jack London and Mark Twain, were among the first to welcome and praise this heroine.

Popular Songs

ON ROWENA

We cannot find any popular or well-known songs with the name of Rowena


Famous People

NAMED ROWENA

Rowena Wallace (actress)
Rowena Spencer (phycisian)

Children of Famous People

NAMED ROWENA

We cannot find any children of famous people with the first name Rowena

Historic Figures

WITH THE NAME ROWENA

We cannot find any historically significant people with the first name Rowena