I admit have no verified connection to any of the various Lawhon/Lawhorn/Lovvorn/Loving families. In fact, until I recently found that about 1/4 of the matches I’d received from FTDNA’s Family Finder genealogical DNA product had connections to such names, I had no idea that they even existed.
I’m a Yankee, so maybe this should not be surprising. These names seem to be concentrated in the American South. I may be mistaken to think the name is uncommon or that they all share a single origin, but the pattern of autosomal DNA matches I have with these families is striking. I’ve been conducting a review of the suggested origins of the surname, and I’d like to offer one more.
I wonder if at least some of these families may have originated in County Donegal, Ireland and migrated to America in the mid-1700’s. On the grounds of pronunciation, I’d like to suggest that these families may have originally been called “Ó Lámháin” in the Irish language. In the northern dialects it would have been prounounced as “Oh LAWFH-ahn” in Ireland. Upon reaching America, I find it equally plausible that the various clerks recording the name could have rendered this single name as “Lawhon”, “Lawhorn”, “Lovvorn” or “Loving” in English, influenced by their own orthographic traditions from Southern England. In Counties Mayo and Sligo, nearby to Donegal, it is usually made "Lavin" in English today.
Like any theory, this one makes some assumptions that are open to debate. I really haven’t seen much evidence that could conclusively support any single theory. No ship registers, no solidly identified immigrant ancestors, etc. Apart from these and the probably mistaken idea that all Lawhon/Lovvorns are related, I’d say the biggest problems with my theory are that it is not if full agreement with the standard literature on the subject of Irish surnames, “Irish Families” written in the early 20th century by a man named MacLysaght.
MacLysaght was very knowledgable, but he had admitted errors in his work on several occassions. And his primary personal knowledge related to Counties Clare and Limerick—on the almost opposite end of the island as County Donegal. In this specific instance, MacLysaght describes the relevant family in Donegal as “Ó Liatháin” in Irish—which should lead to the very different pronunciation of “Oh LEEAH-hawn”. Indeed, he acknowledges that “Ó Liatháin” is usually rendered “Lehane” or “Lyons” in other parts of Ireland, although MacLysaght says it is usually made “Lawn” in County Donegal.
Nonetheless, MacLysaght seems correct in describing “Lawn” as an essentially County Donegal name. The returns of Griffiths Valuation in the mid-19th century show the vast majority of these families living in the Finn/Lagan valleys of lowland Donegal. Perhaps not coincidentally, this was the origin of a great deal of early Irish emigration to America.
And perhaps, too, it can account for the persistence of a legend of Scottish origin in some branches of the Lawhorn/Lawhon families. While “Ó Liatháin” and “Ó Lámháin” are clearly of native Irish origin, it is an historical fact that many native Irish families accommodated themselves to the customs and manners of the Scots who settled lowland County Donegal in the early 17th century. You will notice this by the inclusion of names such as “Doherty”, “McCloskey” and “O’Neill” among the early Scots-Irish settlements in America.
But that’s only one theory. Results of discussions with some of my DNA matches are pending, and until I have more definitive information, it may also be worthwhile recapping some of the other theories of Lawhon/Lovvorn origins that I have seen bandied about:
1. Welsh name originally spelled “Laugharne”. I personally regard this as one of the most persuasive, although it does some a bit of a stretch phonetically from that to “Loving”. Most people citing this origin mention the town of that name in southern Wales. There is such a town, but ironically the town seems to have been named after the family, and not the other way around. The original name seems to refer to a now obsolete place name in the Welsh language—Llangwarren. That would probably be most faithfully phonetically rendered as “Hthlan-gawahr-en”. There is an interesting write-up on the origin of this gentry family from St. Brides, Pembrokeshire at this link: http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/henry-owen/old-pembroke-families-in-the-ancient-county-palatine-of-pembroke-new/page-7-old-pembroke-families-in-the-ancient-county-palatine-of-pembroke-new.shtmlhttp://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/henry-owen/old-pembroke-families-in-the-ancient-county-palatine-of-pembroke-new/page-7-old-pembroke-families-in-the-ancient-county-palatine-of-pembroke-new.shtml
The earliest mention that I have seen of this name in America is 1725 in Isle of Wight County, VA to a Richard Laugharne. Can’t vouch for it personally—it was just a web quote-- but interesting none the less.
2. Version of the name “Lohan”, originally “Ó Leocháin” in Irish, according to MacLysaght. All I’ve seen supporting this theory is a family legend without any original source documentation, but that’s not really much different than the theory I was pushing earlier. But I do have to say that it seems at odds with the pronunciation of the original Irish language version, which would be something more like “Oh LYOH’n”, and is usually found today in County Galway, which was not a large source of 18th century emigration to America. It also seems a bit of a stretch to make this name into “Lovvorn” or “Loving”, even given the inevitable misunderstanding between clerks from southern England and immigrants from the west of Ireland.
3. A branch of the Scottish clan MacLaren, originally “Làbhrain” in Gaelic. Scottish Gaelic and the Irish language, especially Irish’s northern and western dialects have much in common, so I feel comfortable in saying that it is somewhat plausible that the name could equally be rendered “Lawhorn” or “Lovvorn” in English, and mangled into “Loving” by a scribe from the south of England. But from the point of view of migration history it seems less likely. Much of Highland Scots migration to early America seems to have been in the form of more-or-less self-contained colonies where such misunderstandings would be very unlikely. And the vast majority of migration into the north of Ireland that eventually turned into the “Scots Irish” of 18th century America would have had their roots in lowland Scotland—NOT MacLaren country. Also, I have not seen any of the expected transitional forms between “Labhairn” and “Lawhon” or “Lovvorn”, such as McLawhon, Clawhorn, etc.
4. Some Germanic name such as “Lauhorn” or “Lowenhorn”. While it is true that there is an Austrian town called “Lauhorn”, and that some early German families entered America from Philadelphia and migrated through Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky and Tennesee (where many modern Lawhorn/Lovvorns seem to have roots), I see no especial reason to think it is likely in this case. I don’t find any clear references to these families before the late 1700’s in the Carolinas, and none of the expected Germanic names such as “Frederick”, “Johann” or the like.
5. Variations of the English name “Loving”. This seems plausible enough in some cases. One frequently remarked upon feature of 18th century pronunciation in the south of England, which formed a large part of the population base for the early Southern colonies, was the dropping of the terminal “g”—as seen in the use of “huntin’” for “hunting”, etc., etc. So "Loving" to "Lovin" makes sense enough.
And just possibly the inclusion of an intrusive “r” to make “Lovvorn” could happen, although usually I’ve seen it occur in precisely the opposite way. For example, the original name “Raeburn”, with the emphasis on the first syllable, seems more often to have been turned into “Raebon”. Also, the transition of the first syllable from “LUV” to “LAW” seems a bit of a stretch.
So these are my thoughts about the possible origins of these families. Hopefully my DNA inquiries will lead to new insights. Until then I’d love to hear any of your thoughts on the issue.