English Place-name Society

Survey of English Place-Names

A county-by-county guide to the linguistic origins of England’s place-names – a project of the English Place-Name Society, founded 1923.


Major Settlement in the Parish of Howden

Historical Forms

  • Æt Heafuddęne, to Heafuddęne, Heafuddęne, Heafuddene, Hæafuddene 959 YCh4 c.1200
  • Hovedene, Houeden(e) 1086 DB
  • Houeden(e), Hoveden(e), Hovedena 1080–6 YCh 1114–6 YCh 1576 NCWills
  • Hovedon(e) 1279–81 QW 1281 YI 1311 Dunelm
  • Houenden(e), Hovenden(e), Hovendena 1080–6 LVD50 1130,1172 P 1279–81 QW 1512 FF
  • Ofendene 1153–60 YCh937
  • Ouenden 1307 Ebor
  • Ouedan t.Hy2 BM
  • Hofden 13th YD
  • Hocden 1204 ChR
  • Houden 1231 FF 1279 Ebor 1424 NCWills
  • Howden 1403 Test 1828 Langd
  • Howeden 1238 Ebor 1314 Dunelm 1569 FF
  • Haueden 1249 Cl
  • Hawden 1402 FA 1407 YD
  • Howlden 1583 FF
  • Holden 1522etfreqto1608 FF 1525 ADiii


Howden is clearly a compound of OE  heafod 'head' and denu 'valley,' but from the time of the Conquest the various spellings show the substitution of the cognate OScand  hǫfuð, and the spelling Huuedensyre for the wapentake name (supra 244) has OEScand  huvuþ . The origin of the Hoven - spellings is obscure.The spellings Hocden (and Hogdonesyr for the wapentake) are inverted spellings which could arise when early ME  hoc -, hog - and hov - had fallen together as how -. Similarly the late forms Hol -, Howl - are inverted spellings which came in when original ME  hol - had also become how -.

The significance of the original compound is not altogether clear. OE  heafod could hardly have its normal topographical meaning of 'head, top of a valley,' nor is the sense 'chief' (known in OE) likely here. It seems probable therefore that in this case OE  heafod means 'headland, spit of land,' a sense clearly demanded by Thicket and Turn Head infra 264, 257. Howden is some distance from the Ouse, so that the valley implied by denu is hardly the Ouse valley. It is in fact a reference to the old valley of the Derwent. From the present river Derwent near Loftsome Bridge a stream ran to Howden which is still called the Old Derwent, and thence it flowed into the Ouse probably near Howden Dyke or possibly a little further east. This river- course was probably the denu and the long stretch of land between the Ouse and the Old Derwent was the heafod . 'Valley by the spit of land.'