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& Other Variations

By William Little Kenny

Estimated populations for the Kenny variation from "Kenny Families Around the World" (1988 by Halbert’s Inc.):

Country Population (1988)
Gt. Britain 15,442
Northern Ireland 803
Canada 5,677
United States 17,261
Australia 6,956

I have read many articles/books/pamphlets over the years and have found the following.

Our surname appears to have two distinct origins, Celtic and Norman. I have in my possession a copy of the genealogy of "Kenney of Kilglocher, co. Galway". This forms part of the "Joly collection" in the possession of the National Library of Ireland. This document describes the ancestry of this family and describes how John De Kenne held lands in Somerset during the 12th year of King Henry II‘s reign. The family appear in the Domesday book as Chen (spelt Kenne in the Penguin reproduction recently printed). This became anglicised as Kenn and seems to have produced the variants Kenn, Kenne, Kenney, Kenny and Kenning. This John De Kenne appears in Stowe’s chronicle (page 107) as a companion of William the Conqueror.

The English/Norman Kenny’s appear to have left little information. In any event Nicholas Kenne (vel Kenney) a descendant of the above moved to Ireland in 1472 and married into a Norman family holding lands in Wexford (1472).One of his descendants (also Nicholas) became General Escheator for Ireland under Queen Elizabeth I. This would have been a dreadful job since the Irish detested English rule and even more so the Protestantism which accompanied it.

Our coat of arms is unusual. They have been formed from the Arms of the Kenne family, which was an ermine background with three red crescents, after moving to Ireland Nicholas added the fleur de lys (since he was the sixth son and this is represented in heraldry by this symbol – this is known as cadency). The colours were changed to Blue and Gold. The motto is generally accepted as "tuneat, luceat. floreat" or "hold, shine and flourish", however according to the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland and heraldic records it is actually "Dextra Dei Dabit" or "the right Hand of God will bestow". I have yet to establish if the scroll, which is held by the hand in our crest, has any significance.

These "English" Kenny’s became established and as stated by MacLysaght intermarried with the already established family bearing the same name. The indigenous Irish Kenny’s are of Celtic origin. It is generally accepted that our conjectural origins are indicative of "Cian" and "Aodh" or "beloved of Aodh", an ancient Celtic God or deity. MacLysaght cites "fire sprung" as another possible meaning. The fact that the name is possibly representative of such mystical origins may indicate that these Kenny’s belonged to the Druid caste, the elite of Celtic society. Indeed today you can read in the introduction to "Irish families" by MacLysaght the surname is associated with Law and Medicine. From the whole we can deduce that the true origin of Irish Kenny’s may never be accurately determined, although hopefully DNA can tell us otherwise.

The name being so diverse the origin is difficult to determine. It is also accepted as a variant of the name MacKenzie (i.e. son of Kenny) and many documents are in existence of MacKenzie’s being known as McKenny, Kenney, McKenna, McKinney and the like. This is further backed up by the following passage taken from "The Highland Clans" by Ian Moncrieffe of that Ilk and David Hicks (1967).

"The Gaelic name of the MacKenzies was MacConniagh. There was no "Z" sound in the name till the mid eighteenth century, the nearest in sound of MacConniagh was Kenny, McKenny, Kinnie or McKinnie".


Adapted, with permission, from the author's January 24, 2006, email to GKBopp.
4 February 2006