Cannon Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Cannon Surname Meaning
The Cannon surname has Irish, Manx and English origins:

  • the Irish Cannon was an anglicized form of the Gaelic O’Canain, a personal name derived from cana meaning “wolf cub”
  • the Manx (Isle of Man) Cannon derived from the Gaelic Mac Canannain, son of Canannain, a personal name of uncertain origin
  • while the English Cannon came from the word canun which described someone or was a nickname for someone who worked in a clergy house.

In none of these cases did the surname have anything to do with the cannon firearm.

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Cannon Surname Ancestry


Ireland. Ui Canannain was the ancestral name of the Cannons and TirConnel – all of Donegal and part of Derry – which was known as the “Land of the Cannons.”

Their castle was located at Conlow on Letterkenny Hill in Donegal. However, the O’Cannon 350-year dynasty in TirConnel ended around the year 1250, defeated by the O’Donnells, and their ruling class more or less died out.

Still, Cannon remained very much a Donegal name. By the time of Griffith’s Valuation in the mid-19th century, the Cannon name had spread to neighboring counties on the west coast such as Galway and Mayo. Canning was the spelling that emerged in the Ulster counties of Derry and Tyrone.

There was Cannon emigration to America in the 1700’s. By the early 1800’s there were some 200 families bearing the Cannon name in Donegal. These were mainly small tenant farmers barely existing on the meagre potato patches that were allotted to them. The potato famine brought great misery and more emigration.

Isle of Man. Cannon was first recorded on the Isle of Man as MacCannon in 1497, but the “Mac” soon disappeared.

John Cannon was born around the year 1564 in Kirk Michael. His line extended to Hugh Cannon, a fisherman in Peel who did a little smuggling on the side. His son George, born there in 1766, was a slave-trading sea captain operating primarily in the
Caribbean. He was killed in 1811 when his crew mutinied. George’s son George Cannon caught religion and joined the Mormon church, emigrating to America in 1842.

England. The English 1881 census showed Cannons in the Isle of Man and in Lancashire (in part the result of Irish migration). But the largest concentration of the name had been in and around London.

The spelling was initially Canon. The name had appeared at an early time in Hertfordshire, in Clothall where there is a Cannon Lane. Cannon’s brewery was started in Ware in 1622. And there were many Cannons living in the market town of Hitchin in the 1881 census. Godfrey Cannon, born in Clothall, had moved there in the late 1740’s and his descendants were still there in the early
1900’s.

Robert Cannon, born in London in 1663, became Dean of Lincoln and is commemorated in Westminster Abbey. One of his sons Charles was a clergyman, another son Thomas achieved some notoriety by producing a pamphlet which may have been the earliest published defense of homosexuality in England.

Commodus Cannon was a master tallow chandler in London in the early 1800’s. He grew sufficiently wealthy from his trade that he was able to retire a country gentleman in Muckford, Shropshire.

America.  Early Cannons were from England.

One was John Cannon, a cooper from London, who came via Barbados to Henrico county, Virginia sometime in the 1660’s. His descendants moved south, first to North Carolina, then to South Carolina, and later to Georgia. 

Another was Thomas Cannon who arrived in Baltimore, Maryland also in the 1660’s. Later Cannons spread, James migrating to Mecklenburg county in North Carolina. In 1887 his descendant James W. Cannon founded Cannon Mills which was to become the largest towel manufacturer in the world. After his death in 1921, his son Charles ran the company until the 1960’s. 

And there was James Cannon, referred to by genealogists as Nanticoke James, who arrived in Dorchester county, Maryland in 1683. This later became Sussex county, Delaware. William Cannon, born there in 1809, was a wealthy merchant who was the Governor of Delaware at the time of the Civil War. Another line of descent led to Newton Cannon, born in North Carolina, who was the Governor of Tennessee in the 1830’s.

Irish.  The Irish arrivals began in the 1700’s. .Colonel John Canon,
born in 1741, was an early settler of Irish extraction in the Chartiers Valley area of Virginia. He fought in the Revolutionary War and was later a miller, judge, and the founder of three towns, one of which – Cannonsburg in Pennsylvania – bore his name.

It was said, because of religious persecution, that three Cannon brothers left Ulster around the year 1750 for America, two of whom ended up in North Carolina. William Cannon, born there, moved to Georgia in 1802. His son Almon was a rugged frontier farmer who had settled in Tennessee in 1833.

Matthew Cannon came with his family from Antrim to Delaware in 1753. He was for ten years a sea captain on the Dolphin plying from Philadelphia. He later moved to upstate New York. Meanwhile Thomas C. Cannon arrived in Virginia from Ireland around 1780 and settled in Jefferson county, Kentucky where he died in 1797.

Other Cannons emigrated at the time of the potato famine in Ireland or after. Dennis Cannon came to New York from Donegal in 1864, later settling in Ohio; while Patrick Cannon arrived with his family three years later and moved to Brooklyn.
Thomas Cannon and his family from Donegal came in the 1870’s to farm in Greeley county, Nebraska through the assistance of the Irish Colonization Association.

Mormon.  George Q. Cannon was a Mormon pioneer who arrived in Salt Lake Valley in 1849. He became one of their leaders and, with his brothers Angus and David, began a Cannon family in Utah which was influential in the state and beyond over three generations.

Canada. Edward Cannon, a master mason, had left – according to family tradition – his home in Wexford for Newfoundland in 1774. He moved onto Quebec in 1795. There he began to undertake large construction projects, assisted by his sons Ambrose, Laurence and John. It was John who carried on the family business after Edward died in 1814.

Subsequently the Cannons rose to become one of Canada’s most prominent families. Lawrence John Cannon, born in 1852, had a long career as a judge and magistrate. His two sons also distinguished themselves, Lucien serving as Solicitor General for Canada from 1925 to 1930 and Lawrence being appointed to the Canadian Supreme Court in 1930. A later Lawrence Cannon served in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Cabinet from 2006 to 2011.

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Cannon Surname Miscellany

Early O’Cannon History.  Canannain was fifth in descent from Flaithbertach mac Loingsig, high king of Ireland, and descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages who died in 405 by his son Conall Gulban who gave his name to TirConaill, the ‘Land of Conall,’ now county Donegal.

The O’Cannons have been described as ‘ancient Princes of TírConnaill.’  Their territory would seem to have been Tír Aeda, now the barony of Tirhugh. However, their 350-year dynasty in TírConnaill ended in 1250. After the deaths of Ruairí Ó Canannain (Rory O’Cannon) and his son Niall Ó Canannain in 1250, the sept declined greatly in power.  The O’Cannonclan remained subservient to the O’Donnell clan, the kings of TírChonaill, from that time onwards.

Cannons in Griffith’s Valuation in Ireland

County Number Percent
Donegal    320    26
Galway    198    16
Mayo    215    18
Leitrim    130    11
Dublin     94     8
Elsewhere    260    21
Total   1,217   100

Dean Cannon in Westminster Abbey.  There is a memorial tablet to Robert Cannon, Dean of Lincoln, on the south aisle of the nave of Westminster Abbey near his grave.  It has a black marble frame and was formerly surmounted by an urn with a cherub and drapery below. The Latin inscription can be translated as follows:

“Sacred to the memory of Robert Cannon, S.T.P. Dean of Lincoln and Prebendary of this Church who died on 28 March 1722, aged 59.”

STP stands for sacred theology professor.  His gravestone is in the south transept.

George Cannon’s Travels from the Isle of Man to America.  George Cannon, the son of Captain George and Leonora Cannon, was born in Peel on the Isle of Man in 1794.  He married Ann Quayle in 1825.  Through the efforts of George’s sister and his brother-in-law John and Leonara Taylor, the family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1840.  Two years later they decided to emigrate to America.

They departed from Liverpool on the ship Sidney.  Shortly after they had begun their voyage, Ann who was pregnant at the time became ill. She was ill during the entire voyage and died just before the ship arrived in New Orleans.  She and her unborn child were buried at sea.

George and his children settled in Nauvoo, Illinois and George married the widow Mary White.  However, George soon died from a heat stroke in 1844.  Mary remarried and her family, including his son George Quayle Cannon, latter headed west with the pioneers and settled in Salt Lake Valley, Utah.

The Cannon Family of Utah

George Cannon (1794-1844) Left the Isle of Man for Nauvoo,
Indiana in 1842.  Died two years later.
Second generation
George Q. Cannon
(1827-1901)
Came to Utah and was an early
Mormon leader.
Dubbed “the Mormon premier” by
the press.  Father of 32 children.
Angus M. Cannon (1834-1915) Brother of George.
Served in missions to preach the
Mormon faith in eastern states.
Martha H. Cannon (1857-1932) The fourth of Angus’s six wives.
In 1896 she was the first female
to be elected US state Senator.
David H. Cannon (1838-1924) Brother of George.
President of the St. George
temple.  Father of 31 children.
Third generation
John Q. Cannon (1857-1931) Son of George.
Editor of the Deseret News in Salt Lake City.
Abraham H. Cannon (1859-1896) Son of George.
Editor and publisher of The Contributor.
Frank J. Cannon (1859-1933) Son of George.
Utah’s first Senator, from 1896
to 1899.
George M. Cannon (1861-1937) Son of Angus.
First President of the Utah
State Senate.
James H. Cannon (1890-1950) Son of Angus.  Inventor of
the Cannon plug.
Founder of the Cannon Electric
Co. in Los Angeles.
Fourth generation
John K. Cannon (1892-1955) Son of John M. and grandson of
Angus.
World War Two Mediterranean
combat commander.
Cavendish Cannon (1895-1962) Son of John Q. and grandson of
George.
Long-term US foreign service
officer and diplomat.
Robert M. Cannon (1901-1976) Son of Lewis M. and grandson of
Angus.
US army officer who served in
the Pacific during World War Two.
Howard W. Cannon (1912-2002) Son of Walter and grandson of
David.
US Senator for Nevada from 1959
to 1983.

James W. Cannon and Cannon Mills.  Born in Mecklenburg county, North Carolina in 1852, James W. Cannon revolutionized the cloth industry and towel manufacturing.

In 1887 James had borrowed money from northern banks, consulted northern industrialists, and started what was to become Cannon Mills.  His plant started to manufacture cloth. Although the plant was small, Cannon’s products were desired.  They created a unique cloth that made cleaning easier.

During the mid-1890’s, Cannon realized that only the upper classes purchased towels, for others could not afford it. So in 1898 Cannon and his company “produced the first towel finished in the South.”  Within a year the mill was producing around 300,000 towels.

The town of Kannapolis was established in 1906.  This mill town had every community service, including churches, schools, parks, and the largest YMCA in the South.

As a result of Cannon’s good marketing and his preferred product, Cannon Mills soon established plants across the Southeast.

The Cannon Family of Quebec.  The extended Cannon family has had strong regional and national political influence in Canada for over a century and is considered to be influential as one of Canada’s hereditary ruling class families.

Its members have served in positions as lawyers, judges, Supreme Court judges, senators, ministers of defense, solicitors general, and members of parliament. They have had large influence in the national resource industries, as barons in the lumber industry particularly, as well as in broadcasting.

The family forebear was Edward Cannon who first arrived in Canada from Ireland in 1774.

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Cannon Names
  • Rory O’Cannon was the last O’Cannon chieftain who ruled TyrConnel in Donegal. He died in 1250. 
  • Edward Cannon who left Ireland for Canada in 1774 was the progenitor of one of Quebec’s foremost families. 
  • George Q. Cannon was the patriarch of the prominent Mormon family of Cannons in Utah.   
  • James W. Cannon founded in 1887 in North Carolina his company Cannon Mills, which was soon to become the largest towel manufacturer in the world.

Cannon Numbers Today
  • 13,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 26,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

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