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About the study
I have not as yet registered any variants of the surname Cowling. During my research in Cambridgeshire a number of spelling variations have been found for this family used inconsistently in parish registers, parish records and census returns: COWLING, COWLIN, COWLINGE, COULING, COWLAND, COWLEN.
If the surname dictionaries are considered the following are defined as variants of Cowling: COOLING, COULLING and COLLING and from Colling comes COLLINGE, COLLINGS and COLING. There is also some suggestion that Cowling or Colling may also be derived from COLIN / COLLIN / COLIN / COLLINS.
However, a consideration of surname distribution maps for those with sufficient numbers using a variety of data (see below) found that, whilst there were some similarities in the distribution of some of these names, notably Colling and Collinge, additional research is required to determine whether either of these is a true variant of Cowling.
With the evidence to hand to date it is concluded that the variants observed in the Cambridgeshire records are local alternative spellings rather than true variants.
The suffix "-ing" is found with patronymic and place name based surnames. The reference works offer a number of potential origins. It is primarily considered to be a toponymic place derived surname from Cowling in West Yorkshire. Consideration of a genealogical gazetteer based on place-names in the 1830s found three named Cowling: one in West Yorkshire, one in North Yorkshire and one in Suffolk. The distribution maps do not support the Suffolk Cowling but may reflect one or both of the Cowlings in Yorkshire.
Alternative suggestions are that Cowling may arise from a "place by (a hill called) Coll" or be a double diminutive of Nicolas, as is the surname Collin. The latter is considered less likely followed an assessment of surname distribution maps.