Gowda, also spelled as Gauda (Kannada: ಗೌಡ) is a titular surname widely used in the state of Karnataka in India. The word Gowda which traces its origin with Kannada, one of the Dravidian languages, refers to the administrative head of a typical Karnataka village. In practice, the title might annex through the generations as the hereditary Surname of the headman's family. Typically, a Gowda in person commands huge clout, respect and landholding in the village and has been vested with the authority of decision making in the village by the virtue of his rights over Gowdike. Lingayats and Vokkaligas, the dominant, landholding and politically conscious communities of Karnataka widely use the surname in practice. The popular variants of the surname include Gowder or Gauder (Usually in North Karnataka) and Gowdru (honorific, plural).
Lingayats of North Karnataka also use a variant, Nadagowda or Nadagauda, who is a head among the gowdas of the cluster of villages.
The etymology of Gauda is also heavily debated by scholars. The term and its archaic forms Gamunda, Gavunda, Gavuda (and hence Gauda), appear frequently in the inscriptions of Karnataka, recorded in the Epigraphia Carnatica. In fact the Epigraphia Carnatica is replete with such references to land grants, donations to temples, hero-stones (Veeragallu), stone edicts and copper plates dating back to the age of the Vijayanagara Emperor and earlier. Attributing a Sanskrit origin, H.V. Nanjundayya has derived the word from Grama or Gava meaning a village and Munda meaning head, thus a Gamunda being the head of the village.
Edgar Thurston, the British ethnologist, in his work Castes and Tribes of Southern India, and the popular Kannada linguist Shamba Joshi (Book : Halumatha Darshana) and others attribute the word to be of Sanskrit origin - go (cow) and govala (cowherd) (Govala->Goula->Gowda).
The following communities actively use and nurture the surname: