Powell Surname Meaning and Family History

The Powell surname derives from the Welsh given name Hywel, meaning "eminent or prominent."
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The Powell surname typically originated as a contraction of the Welsh "Ap Howell," meaning "son of Howell." The given name Howell is an anglicized form of Hywel, meaning "eminent" in Welsh. Due to the system of Welsh patronymics, many individuals living today who use the Powell surname originally descended down that line from a family that may have used a different surname.

Surname Origin: Welsh


Famous People with the Powell Surname

  • Colin Powell - American diplomat and military leader; the first African American appointed as the U.S. Secretary of State
  • William Powell - William Powell was a baritone-voiced actor remembered for playing Nick Charles in The Thin Man films.
  • Adam Clayton Powell Jr. - 20th century clergyman and U.S. representative; civil rights activist
  • John Wesley Powell - American scientist, soldier and explorer; credited with leading the first group of white men down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon
  • Enoch Powell - British politician, classical scholar, linguist, and poet

Where Is the Powell Surname Most Common?

The Powell surname, according to surname distribution information from Forebears, is the 1,441st most common surname in the world. It is most common today in Wales, where it ranks as the 23rd most frequent surname. It is also among the top 100 surnames in England (88th), the United States (91st) and Jamaica (32nd). Powell is a common last name throughout Wales, but especially in the southern regions such as around Glamorganshire, Brecknockshire and Radnorshire.

WorldNames PublicProfiler indicates the Powell surname is especially frequent in Wales and western England, particularly Herefordshire and Monmouthshire.

Genealogy Resources for the Surname Powell

Powell Surname DNA Project
Over 470 members have joined this Y-DNA project to work together to use DNA testing along with traditional genealogy research to help determine Powell origins and distinguish between various Powell lines.

Powell Family Crest - It's Not What You Think
Contrary to what you may hear, there is no such thing as a Powell family crest or coat of arms for the Powell surname. Coats of arms are granted to individuals, not families, and may rightfully be used only by the uninterrupted male line descendants of the person to whom the coat of arms was originally granted.

Powell Family Genealogy Forum
This free message board is focused on descendants of Powell ancestors around the world. Search the forum for posts about your Powell ancestors, or join the forum and post your own queries. Since Powell is an old Welsh surname, you may also wish to consider joining the Welsh Patronymics DNA Project.

FamilySearch - Powell Genealogy
Explore over 4 million results from digitized historical records and lineage-linked family trees related to the Powell surname on this free website hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Powell Surname Mailing List
Free mailing list for researchers of the Powell surname and its variations includes subscription details and a searchable archives of past messages.

GeneaNet - Powell Records
GeneaNet includes archival records, family trees, and other resources for individuals with the Powell surname, with a concentration on records and families from France and other European countries.

The Powell Genealogy and Family Tree Page
Browse genealogy records and links to genealogical and historical records for individuals with the Powell surname from the website of Genealogy Today.


Cottle, Basil. Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1967.

Dorward, David. Scottish Surnames. Collins Celtic (Pocket edition), 1998.

Fucilla, Joseph. Our Italian Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 2003.

Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1989.

Hanks, Patrick. Dictionary of American Family Names. Oxford University Press, 2003.

Reaney, P.H. A Dictionary of English Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1997.

Smith, Elsdon C. American Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997.

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Your Citation
Powell, Kimberly. "Powell Surname Meaning and Family History." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/powell-surname-meaning-and-family-history-4121123. Powell, Kimberly. (2020, August 27). Powell Surname Meaning and Family History. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/powell-surname-meaning-and-family-history-4121123 Powell, Kimberly. "Powell Surname Meaning and Family History." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/powell-surname-meaning-and-family-history-4121123 (accessed June 9, 2023).