These are all interesting questions, but I do not believe they can be answered definitively for all people named Howder.
Origin. One likely theory is that the surname originated in Switzerland. An article titled "The Hauters From the Monbijou Estate" in the October 1988 issue of Mennonite Family History states that it derives from a place named Haueten (which other sources locate near the city of Bern). The article shows that the family was driven from Switzerland during the Peasant War because of its Mennonite beliefs, and found its way to Zweibrücken in Germany around 1711. The descendants "are now scattered all over the world."
I received an e-mail message from a Haueter in Switzerland. He said that he believes the surname may have to do with forestry, specifically with the "cutting of trees."
Another theory from Switzerland implies that it is a derivation of the surname Howard. "From what we are told two clans settled in two valleys: Emmental and Simmental. In 1375 a troup of French and British soldiers (Gugler) fought against the Hapsburgs, especially the British soldiers got into the region of Solothun and Bern. And one of them stayed in the region: Howard. As times went by: Howard, Howerd, Hauwerd, Hauweter, Haueter. When you visited Bern, may be you visited the Muenster (church), there is a plate stating bernese soldiers who died on March 5, 1798 against the French (among others: Haueter Hans von Aeschlen and Haueter Christian von Zollikofen)."
I also received an e-mail message from a Hauter in the United States. The writer said that her branch "is a derivation of the name de hauterive (pronounced de o t' rev'). It was changed to Hauter by my forebears in the Palatinate. In Holland, it became Van Houten (importers), and Hunter in England. Hauterive meant high place or bank on a river."
Certainly many people with the surname in the United States descend from Ulrich and Elizabeth Houder, who immigrated from Bavaria and settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in the mid-18th Century. Much of this lineage can be found in the book "Houder-Westcott Proud Connections" by G.T. Isaacson, available on microfilm through any Latter Day Saints Family History Center. Many of the Howders located in the Midwest appear to descend directly from Ulrich and Elizabeth, with the surname having been transformed from Houder to Howder in one of the earlier branches. I haven't traced my Howders to this line but they came to New York from Pennsylvania in the same general time period, so hopefully someday I'll make a connection.
Following hunches at the National Archives while reviewing census rolls, I occasionally find what appear to be random (unrelated) Howders listed as being born in foreign countries. The points of origin have varied all over Europe, but concentrate in German-speaking areas.
Dictionary Definition. I'll mention one other interesting tidbit, which I believe threw members of my immediate family off-track for quite some time. I was told growing up that the Howders came from Scotland. Why would they believe this when all the other evidence points towards Switzerland, Germany and places such as that? The word "howder" sometimes appears in very large unabridged dictionaries. It can't be found in standard dictionaries, and the spell-checkers on most word processors flag it as an error (the one I use suggests Howler, Holder, Chowder and Powder as replacements). For instance, one large dictionary defines it as:
howder, -ed/-ing/-s, chiefly Scot : to heap or crowd together : huddle
I also found a web server in the United Kingdom that had the "proceedins o the Scots Spellin Comatee" page. It discussed Scottish spellings and pronunciations. Its list of verbs included "most verbs the spelling of which can give difficulty." One of the verbs in this list was "Howder."
Does this suggest that some Howders may have in fact immigrated from Scotland or is this just a coincidence? I'm leaning more towards the coincidence.
Bottom line, your guess is as good as anybody's.
Pronunciation In our family, Howder is pronounced like "Chowder" without the "C."
Howder; © 1995-2009 All Rights Reserved. Last Updated April 2, 2009.