"Dowling Name Meaning

English: nickname for a stupid person, Middle English dolling, a derivative of Old English dol ‘dull’, ‘stupid’ (see Doll). Irish: variant of Dolan 1."

Source: Dictionary of American Family Names (c) 2013, Oxford University Press  as used by Ancestry.


We have a choice as to whether we consult or use an original source, such as the one above, and, if we decide the source is useless, inaccurate, inappropriate or just unhelpful we can decide not to use it in future.  We have no choice as to whether Ancestry actually displays this incorrect definition next to our name. This source is promoted by Ancestry who publish it on-line when a user types this name into it's 'What's in a Name' search engine, despite it's inaccurate application in this case to a name that is not 'Middle English'.  This comes up in and

Ancestry have been contacted about this insulting and highly unreliable search result and Aisling, a Customer Solutions Associate, on 23 July 2018 has passed the buck to the Oxford University Press.  This is the equivallent of publishing insulting and abusive language and pleading it is acceptable to leave it on-line because someone else said it.  This excuse in not acceptable for website publishers who RE-PUBLISH racist, disciminatory or inciting language and I do not believe it is acceptable for this to remain a search result for Ancestry.

To illustrate my point for the staff of ANCESTRY I have looked up some of their names in an ALTERNATIVE source: 

Alternative Dictionary of American Family Names (c) 2018, Chiswell Green University Press 


Bell Name Meaning

Hungarian: nickname for a person who makes a lot of noise but is empty inside. 

English: a person who makes a lote of noise, Middle-English bell-like.  Anglo-Saxon bell, bellow, cry.


Keeley Name Meaning

Gujarati: name for a murderous person, Gudjarati Keel translates as kill, murder.

English: a person who gets thing upside-down, Middle English/Old Norse keel, on the bottom (See keel-over)


Kempski Name Meaning

English: a person who likes bondage, chains, Anglo-Saxon camp, in bodage, fettered; 

English: a person always at war with themselves or other people, Anglo-Saxon cempa, war, battle. (See also Old Norse kempa, bearded, course)


Lincoln Name Meaning

Anglo-Saxon: person who does the laundry, Anglo-Saxon lin, linen and coln, river.  Washerwoman, old scrubber, wet around the ears.


Murray Name Meaning

Anglo-Saxon: person who is addicted to inhailing plant material, Anglo-Saxon Murra, aromatic plant, weed, intoxicating herb.


Norris Name Meaning

English: a person who is negative but always knows better, Middle English nor, never, nil.


Noto Name Meaning

Latin: a person who cannot do anything unless its written down for them, Latin noto, note, scribe, instructed.


Panicker Name Meaning

English: a person who panics a lot, English panic, anxious, not in control.


Rivas Name Meaning

English: a person who is unstable or split-minded, inconsistent, Middle English rive, split, apart, torn.


Source: Alternative Dictionary of American Family Names (c) 2018, Chiswell Green University Press 

Ancient Dowlings

The name comes from Ireland at around 350 AD.

The name is a Gaelic Irish Surname that originally referred to the 'Sept' of Ui Dublhaoidh who were Lords of Fertullagh in the County of Westmeath around that time. This is in the South East of Ireland. The Topographies of O'Heeran, O'Dugan, O'Brien, O'Halloran and others also refer to Dowlings as Chiefs of various clans in Ossory, Offaly and Leix (or Kilkenny, King's and Queen's County).

In the ancient kingdom of Leinster (a province which covers the South-East of Ireland) were the Irish Chiefs and Septs of Hy-Kinselagh and Cualan. In their lands the Dowlings were Chiefs of Siol Elaigh and the Lagan. Siol Elaigh is now in the Barony of Shilelagh in South of County Wicklow.

The original territory of the family was at Fearann ua n-Dunlaing (O'Dowling's Country). This area covered along Western bank of the River Barrow. The O'Dowling's were one of the Seven Septs of Leix, significant families in the County once called Queen's County.

In the 16th and 17th centuries the family was prominent, in that same locality, but subject to transplanting by the English to other parts of the island.

A large transplantation in 1609 took Dowlings to Tarbert on the border of Limerick and Kerry.

Whilst they can be found today in almost every county in Ireland they are still most numerous around Carlow, Kilkenny, Cork and Leix.



Dubh is Irish for black or dark (this could be black as in bad or dark skinned or dark featured or great, prodigious, or can mean burned). It is interesting to note here that Dublin or Dubhlinn, the capital city of Ireland, means black pool. It is near this pool that the Norsemen built their fortress in the 9th century.

Laodh is Irish for calf.

The o' or ua means grandson or perhaps more realistically a male descendant. It is important to note that Dowling in this very early context was probably not a surname as we understand it at all, as O'Dowling was a male descendant of a man whose baptismal name was Dowling.

That is not to say an O'Dowling is a male descended from a black calf! The true reasons for the name are lost in time. It is more likely that the calf, however described, was a symbol to indicate the individual. Perhaps the original Dowling owned the calf or used one to mark the entrance to his territory. Perhaps the expression was used in the way today we may use the expression 'black sheep of the family' to describe an outcast. It should be noted that it is very rare in Ireland, as opposed to England, to call people after places so it is unlikely to refer to being from a place.

The variation Dubhshláin means challenge.


There are a number of variations on the ancient Irish name, all about as liable to variation as the anglicised versions below, including:

  • O'Dubhlaoich - more properly a translation of O'Dooley 
  • O'Dubhlaich - more properly a translation of O'Dooley (The Four Masters)
  • O'Dubhlaoidh - more properly O'Dowling, Dooling, Doolin, Doolan (
  • O'Dubhlaing - more properly a translation of O'Doolan (Connaught)
  • O'Dubhlainn -more properly a translation of O'Doolan (Munster)
  • O'Dunlaing - generally O'Dowling.
  • O'Dunlainge - generally O'Dowling.
  • O'Dobhailen - generally O'Dolan or O'Dolen.
  • O'Dubhlain - more properly a translation of O'Dolan

The O' was, as with many other prefixes to Irish names, dropped in the practice of anglicisation which occurred predominantly around the 18th century. Direct religious persecution is not necessarily the cause as many still kept faith in those times but it was more a matter of social expression when communicating with protestants.

Further variations are common today as different branches stemming from the same tree:

Doolan, Doolen, Dolan, Dowley, Dulen, Dooly, Dooley and more.

Although Dowling is English in appearance, the name is rarely found originating in Great Britain. An English version is derived from 'Dolling' which is Olde English for Dull One.

Partly sourced from: Annala Rioghachta Eireann. Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters ... to 1616. Ed. by John O'Donovan Dublin 1851. from Irish Families- Their Names and Origins, Edward MacLysaght (1972) Allen Figgis and Co Ltd.