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P08567.002

Owen Glendower Howell-Price was one of a family of brothers from the greater Sydney region who served with distinction during World War I. Owen was studying agriculture when war broke out, and he was commissioned second lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion of the Australian Imperial Forces.

Appointed assistant adjutant, he was immediately promoted when the adjutant was killed on the first day of the Gallipoli landing. Promoted to captain, he won the Military Cross for his fighting at Lone Pine, and due to heavy casualties, was temporarily in charge of the whole battalion. A fine trainer and organiser, he continued fighting even when wounded.

After the evacuation from Gallipoli, Owen was sent to northern France where his courage set a magnificent example during those bloody battles, always placing himself in the most dangerous positions. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for his leadership abilities, and promoted to lieutenant-colonel.

In 1916 Owen was shot in the head, and died the following day; his last words were: “Give my love to the battalion”. The young officer, just 26 when he died, was perhaps too serious and responsible for real popularity, but behind his stern manner lay a deep loyalty to his men, and his final thoughts were for them.

Owen’s brothers Philip and Richmond were also killed in France, so of their six boys, five of whom served overseas during World War I, the Howell-Prices lost half.

Owen is the modern form of the medieval Welsh name Owain. One of the most famous of its namesakes is Owain mab Urien, a 6th century prince from one of the kingdoms of northern Britain who fought valiantly against the Angles, and was killed in battle, thus ending any hope that the kingdom could continue.

So celebrated were the victories of he and his father, King Urien, that they were given a place in Arthurian mythology as Knights of the Round Table, despite being more than a generation too late to be contemporaries of any historical King Arthur. In Arthurian legend, Owain is often said to be King Arthur’s nephew, and the son of Morgan le Fay.

There have been several other British and Welsh kings and princes named Owain. Owain ap Gruffudd was known as Owain the Great, and the first to be known as Prince of Wales. Owen of the Red Hand was a Welsh soldier who fought with the French against the English during the Hundred Years War, and was a claimant of the title Prince of Wales until his assassination. Like King Arthur, he is supposed to be merely sleeping until he can become king of the Britons.

Owen Glyndŵr (or Glendower) was the last native Welshman to hold the title of Prince of Wales, and instigated the Welsh revolt against Henry IV. His uprising was fiercely fought, long-running, and initially quite successful, but ultimately the Welsh were defeated. Owen Glyndŵr evaded capture, ignoring offers of a royal pardon from Henry V, and was never betrayed, despite having a large reward on his head.

He features in William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, and is an important figure in Welsh nationalism, on par with King Arthur, and has the same familiar theme of simply waiting until Wales is threatened so that he can once again rise to its defence. It was this Welsh national hero that Owen Howell-Price was named for: his father was born in Wales, and his mother was of Welsh heritage.

Owen Tudor, a courtier of Henry IV whose father had been one of Owen Glendower’s rebels, fought for the English at Agincourt. He secretly married Queen Catherine Valois, the widow of Henry V, and became the founder of the Tudor dynasty, which included the powerhouse Henry VIII, and reached its final flowering in Elizabeth I.

There is a 7th century Saint Owen, a man of high rank who became a Benedictine monk in England, and a French Saint Owen, or more correctly Ouen, who was a Frankish bishop of Rouen. Ouen is based on the Frankish name Audoin, perhaps based on a Germanic name such as Odwin. Yvain is the usual way of transliterating Sir Owain’s name in medieval French chronicles.

The origin of the name Owain is not known for sure. It is often said to be a Welsh form of the Greek name Eugenius or Eugene, but another theory is that it is a Welsh form of the medieval Irish name Éoġan (modernised as Eoghan), which is said exactly the same as Owen. Unfortunately, it is not quite sure what this means either – some say it means “born from the yew tree”, although others are of the opinion that this is also a form of Eugenius, bringing us back full circle.

Although etymologists cannot agree among themselves, what is clear is that Owain shares a similar sound with several other names, like Eoghan and Eoin, and may have been understood as their Welsh equivalent, even if of a different origin.

Owen is a classic name which has never left the charts in Australia. It was #112 in the 1900s, and joined the Top 100 the following decade, remaining there until the 1950s. It reached its lowest point in the 1990s at #166, then began climbing steeply. It reached the Top 100 again in 1997 at #85, then returned in 2003 at the same level. Currently it is #73 nationally, #90 in New South Wales, #81 in Victoria, #86 in Queensland, #46 in Western Australia, #47 in Tasmania, where it was the fastest-rising boys’ name last year, and #67 in the Australian Capital Territory.

This is a handsome, solid classic which has never been out of the Top 200. It has a rich royal history which has become intertwined with romantic legend, yet it feels very modern. Rising gently in the charts, it is now at its highest level of popularity, and fits in perfectly with contemporary name trends. It’s a softer-sounding boys’ name that is still very masculine, and even heroic, which might make it easy for parents to agree upon it. It is certainly a very easy name to own, and if you choose it, you will be owin’ nobody an explanation. Oh, when it’s time to pick a baby name, it’s Owen for the win!

POLL RESULTS
Owen received an outstanding approval rating of 85%, making it one of the highest-rated names of 2014. People saw the name Owen as cute on a little boy but dignified on a grown man (28%), handsome and classic (23%), and strong and masculine (14%), while 12% loved its connection to Arthurian myth and Welsh legend. However, 6% thought it was too popular. Nobody thought the name Owen was cutesy or wussy.

(Picture shows the officers of the 3rd Battalion; Owen Howell-Price is second from the right in the second row from the front. Of these 26 men, 14 of them were killed in battle. Photo from the Australian War Memorial).

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