Dunn Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Dunn Meaning
Dunn has English, Irish and Scottish origins.
Both the English and Irish have the meaning of “brown-haired” or
“dark-colored,” whether it be from the Old English dunn or
the Gaelic donn
(which gave rise to the O’Duinn sept).
In Scotland Dunn might also have derived from the place-name Dun
Dunn and Dunne
are the two main spellings, Dunne in Ireland and Dunn elsewhere.

Dunn Resources on

Dunn Ancestry

Ireland. The
sept was separated into two branches:

  • first the Tara O’Duinns in county Meath
  • and then the Tinnahinch O’Duinns in county Laios.

Tara O’Duinns were dispersed at the time of the Anglo-Norman
invasion. The Tinnahinch O’Duinns held firm. As lords of
Iregan they became
of the principal
of Leinster and managed to resist
the English incursions in the 16th century.

their Chief Rents
were abolished in 1613; and then
stronghold of
Tinnahinch castle, built by Tadhg MacLaighnigh
Ui Duinn in 1475, was destroyed by Cromwell.
six Dunnes fought in King James’ army. Lieutenant
Colonel Dunne and Captain Terence Dunne both fell at the
Battle of Aughrim in 1691. Many Dunnes
then fled as “wild geese.”

The Dunne chief built for himself a more modest new home
1771 the Dunnes of Brittas conformed to the Protestant church. Francis Dunne, known as the Squire, was
to have been so angry at losing his silver mounted rapier that he
himself as a Protestant. However, he continued to have his
children baptized
and brought up as Catholics. A later
Dunne built a neo-Gothic mansion at Brittas in 1869, but this building
down in 1942.

The Dunns of Ards descended from a younger brother of the Dunne
chief of the late 16th century. Other
in Ulster were more
likely to have been of Scottish rather than of Irish origin.

Wales. Donne
came from the Welsh dwnn and t
he Donnes were a
distinguished family at Kidwelly in Carmarthenshire.
Sir John Donne was a Yorkist figure at the
time of the War of the Roses. He may
have been related to the Jacobean poet John Donne, although not as a
ancestor as Sir John had no male Donne grandchildren.
However, the poet did use the same coat of
arms as Sir John.

Scotland. The
early spelling was Dun. The Dunn
spelling was relatively rare until 1800.
But fifty years later the Dunns exceeded the Duns by almost six
to one
and now it is Dun that is rare.

The Dun name, possibly
originating in Angus, was to be found along the East Coast, from
Aberdeen to
the Borders. Early examples were:

  • Adam de Dun who was
    elected to the deanery of Moray in 1255
  • and Thomas Dun who was hanged at Elgin
    in 1296 for stealing books and vestments from the church.

Border Duns
appeared later but were sizeable in number by the 17th century. George Dun, a Covenanter in
narrowly escaped with his life in 1679

. Dunn has been very much a northern name, with
close to 50% of Dunns
the 1881 census
be found in the five northern counties.

North. Sizeable
numbers were in Northumberland. The Dunns were a Border reiver
family, albeit a minor one, on the Eastern Marches. The Dunn name
surfaced in Whickham and the surrounding villages of Blaydon and Stella
in the 17th century. Mrs Dunn of Burnt Houses in Whickham Fell
had lived to be
107 on her death there in 1804. The Dunns of Stella Hall were
Catholic. Matthias Dunn was an inspector of mines in the early
1800’s, his son Archibald a prominent local architect.

Yorkshire the Dunn name appeared in the East Riding – in the 17th
century at
Brandesburton and Hornsea and in the 18th century in places such as
Howden and South Cave.  
In Lancashire the
Dunn numbers were augmented by Irish immigrants such as Michael Dunn,
well-known Irish fiddler.

Elsewhere. Dunns
were to be found in the Hertfordshire village of Ware from the 17th
century. Robert Dunn went from there to South Africa in
1824 where he set himself up as a merchant trading in ivory. He
died in 1847.

“There are many stories as to how exactly Robert Newton Dunn
died. One was that his son John saw him trampled to death by an
elephant. Another said that he died after a fall from his horse
when surprised by elephants. A third was that he died in Congella
drunk on the side of the trail, supposedly from an apoplectic fit.”

Another branch of the family had clergymen overseas,
including the Rev. Andrew Hunter Dunn who served as the Bishop of
Quebec in the
early 1900’s. From his line came the Joan Hunter Dunn made famous by
John Betjeman’s poem.

John Dunn was born in Cornwall around the year 1670
and there were numerous Dunns at Megavissey in Cornwall a century or so
later. The best-known was James Dunn, a smuggler
during the Napoleonic Wars. His son
Samuel became a Methodist minister.
In Devon, there were Dunn yeoman farmers in Crediton and
Bondleigh at
that time.

America. The
first Dunn who came to America was probably
Thomas Dunn who arrived in Virginia in 1620 at the age of 14 on the Temperance as a servant to Governor
George Yeardley. He was later granted land
in Essex county and lived to be 93:

  • one line of his family migrated to North Carolina and were
    plantation owners in Wake county in the early 1800’s. David Dunn
    enlisted on the Confederate side in the Civil War but died of gunshot
    wounds in 1864.
  • another line
    headed north to Massachusetts and then to Vermont. Aaron
    Dunn married a Canadian in the 1820’s and
    moved to Nova Scotia before settling in Wisconsin

first Irish Dunn in America was probably Hugh Dunn
from Tipperary who had come to Piscataway, New Jersey in 1666 and was
one of the
early landowners there. But he was of
English rather than of Irish stock and Protestant not Catholic. In fact he took a leading role in organizing
the Baptist church in Piscataway. These Dunns then became
Quakers. Later:

  • Captain Hugh Dunn fought
    in the Revolutionary War and migrated afterwards with his family to
  • while Captain Josiah
    was plundering on the Georgia frontier and did not survive
    the war.

Dunn, born in Dublin, might have been a truer Irishman. He had
come to Bullitt county, Kentucky sometime in the 1790’s, drawn there by
reports of salt deposits. His brick house, built in 1805, still
stands. His son
Charles served as the Chief Justice of the
Wisconsin Supreme Court and Dunn county there was named after

Canada. Charles
and Rebecca Dunn were Loyalists of Scots
origin from Vermont who had crossed the border into Canada as early as
1778. They settled on a farm near
Trois-Rivieres in
Quebec. Their grandson T.H. Dunn
pioneered the development of the timber trade in the province in the
1800’s. Another descendant Oscar Dunn
became a prominent Montreal journalist.

New Brunswick.
The Loyalist John Dunn departed New York
for New Brunswick in 1784 and built his home (which is still standing)
in St.
Andrews, New Brunswick. Dunns from
Ireland came to the province in the early/mid 1800’s:

  • John Dunn arrived from Derry in 1824
    and established himself as a cabinet maker in St. John. His
    son John was a prominent St. John
  • while sometime later another Scots
    Irish Dunn family came to Bathurst and developed a very profitable
    building wooden boats. However, that
    business was in decline by the 1870’s and James Dunn, born into this
    family in 1874,
    also lost his father Robert when he was still an infant.
widow raised her son in the best Presbyterian tradition.
The mother and boy’s survival depended on her
selling the family furniture and working as a live-in housekeeper,
which she did.”

James’s rise from there was a rags-to-riches
story. He owed much of his success as a
in England to his relationship with fellow Canadian Max Aitken who
became Lord Beaverbrook. His daughter
Mona, described at the time as
the most beautiful girl in England, died tragically young; another
daughter Anne became a painter; while grand-daughter Nell Dunn made her
name in the 1960’s as an author and playwright

Australia. John Dunn was a miller in Devon who found himself eking
out a meager living in the 1830’s.
Poverty was so close that he
was only dissuaded from migrating to Canada in 1833 by a rise in
wages. He rented out his own mill until 1840 when he was
persuaded by
four of his six brothers to join them in South Australia.

with the emergence of Mount Barker as a wheat-producing center, his
fortunes changed dramatically. He and his sons prospered greatly
and he was running eleven modern mills by the time of his death
in 1894.


Dunn Miscellany

The Dunne Chief Rents.  The Dunne chief and Prince of Iregon in 1593 was Teige O’Doyne of Castlebrack in Laios county.  He was entitled to the “Chief Rents” from his tenants as

  • the
    Castlebrack tenants paid one penny heriot
    per acre, on the death of each head of the family, heriot
    meaning “a fine paid to the lord of the manor at the
    death of a landholder.”
  • the
    tenants of Kernymore paid yearly – two beeves,
    twenty-four crannochs of oats, forty cakes of bread, thirteen dishes of
    seventeen cans of malt; eight pence, heriot,
    in money, on the death of each head of the family; one reaping hook
    on one of every twenty acres; custom ploughs one day in winter and one
  • the
    inhabitants of the Ballykeneine quarter: meat and drink for
    twenty-four horse boys, or four shillings for their diet.
  • the
    inhabitants of
    Cappabrogan: like duties.
  • the
    inhabitants of Garrough: like duties.

Rents were abolished in 1613 by the Dublin government. 

George Dun the Covenanter.  Prior to 1679 there lived a merchant in Selkirk named
George Dun, ruled by the fear of God both in his house and his dealings
with his fellow-men, fond of his Bible and of the society of lively
Careful watch had been kept over him, as was done over Covenanters

He was noticed one day walking out the road
in the company of Archibald Riddell, the Covenanting preacher. It was a
suspicious circumstance in the eyes of the authorities to be seen in
company of Riddell.  George Dun was at once
seized and lodged in prison.  Probably for the purpose of
inflicting severe
sufferings on him, he was transferred from prison to prison and
lodged in Edinburgh tolbooth “where he endured a tedious and painful

length he was brought
upon trial for his life.  The charge preferred against him was his
being at
Bothwell Bridge.  One informer had been
got to assert positively that he had seen him there, but when put upon
oath in
the witness-box he relented and said: “He now believed that might not
be the

George Dun escaped with his
life.  But “all he had was taken from him
to the value of upwards of 3,000 marks.”  He endured the suffering
rather than prove
untrue to his principle.  By
this course he ultimately prospered.  He
became a tenant of Tinnis on the Yarrow where it was said: “he became
of double of what he lost for the safety and peace of his conscience.”

George Dun was fortunate to escape the fate of his namesake
Quentin Dunn, another Covenanter, who also ended up in Edinburgh
tolbooth.   Quentin Dunn was shipped out to Jamaica in
1685.  His fate there is unknown.

James Dunn the Smuggler.  Captain James Dunn was a man of contradictions.  He was a follower of John Wesley, yet he was
also a notorious smuggler.  In Truro Cathedral in Cornwall there
is a window
depicting John Wesley and dedicated to James Dunn and his son Samuel.

Born in
1755 in Mevagissey, Dunn was the owner of several Mevagissey vessels
the Clausina which was well known to
be involved in smuggling.

Smuggling before 1805 was an open practice. Ships
would go to Guernsey where spirits could be legally purchased in large
and during the return passage the barrels were emptied into smaller
ones. These
were landed and distributed for sale in England.

In 1799 income tax was
introduced to support war with France. This was a threat to a cash-rich
such as Dunn and he went into business as a shipbuilder with Thomas
Henna.  They
were in partnership from 1799 to 1806 and built many fine cutters for
the smuggling
business. These were either owned by Dunn or sold to Guernsey, Rye and

When the partnership broke up, Dunn continued as shipbuilder until
his death in 1842.

Christopher Dunn – from Yorkshire to New Zealand.  Christopher Dunn came from a prominent Dunn family in Howden in the
East Riding of Yorkshire.  Born in 1798, he tried life as a
midshipman in the Royal Navy before training and practicing as a
clergyman.  It was said that he served for a time as chaplain to
Queen Victoria.  In addition to his duties as a clergyman, he was
the author of several books and poems and also wrote music for the

At the ripe age of 60, he decided to uproot his family and take them
off for the remote Northland area in New Zealand.   They
became farmers at Pena.  In 1866 the Rev. Dunn started to teach
several pupils privately at his home and he later began the Peria
School.   He continued his work until the age of 78 and he
then lived on another four years.

On the voyage from England the family’s cottage grand piano was somehow
dropped into the tide at Taipa. It was despatched to Sydney for
repairs.  Years later it was put into storage on its side, but has
since been restored and is now proudly on display at Kaitaia’s Far
Regional Museum.

Captain Josiah Dunn During the Revolutionary War.  As the war broke out, Josiah Dunn was leading a
band of rebel guerillas on the Georgia border, killing and plundering
they found who was supporting the King’s cause.
These included those who had not been militarily behind the
American cause
and, in some instances, those who simply had property worth stealing, Eleven settlers were murdered in their own

one stage it appeared that
Josiah’s brother Nehemiah had turned against him.
But Nehemiah was later chastised by the Quakers
in Wrightsborough, Georgia for not condemning him and for aiding him instead.

Josiah was killed fighting at Kettle Creek in the last days of the war.

Reader Feedback – A Dunn Family from Muskingum, Ohio.  All I seem to know is our crest has a lizard under a fig tree and the color I believe is blue. I do know my relations served under many great rulers, believe Caesar was one. Our family had a book of genealogy and it was lost in a disaster so I can recall some things in it but not all.  It’s a great loss.

It’s great to read about the Dunns.  My brother is planning to go to Ireland and try to gather more information for me.  My father was Donnie Thomas Dunn.  His father was James Lorenzo Dunn.  His dad was Francis Marion Dunn, then David William Dunn, then James W. Dunn (1833-1919).

That’s where the trouble starts.  I came from John Wimer Dunn but I’m not sure where to go to get to John Wimer Dunn.  There are so many of them.  I’m just truly at a loss without that family book that is gone now.  What do I tell my children when they ask where we are from?  I do recall what John W Dunn looks like because his picture was on the front of the family tree book. This was a thick book full of details and so much information.  I’m empty without the information.

Melissa Dunn (missliss123@yahoo.com)

Dunns and Dunnes Today.  Dunne predominates in
Ireland; while Dunn is the main spelling elsewhere.  The table
following shows the approximate number of Dunns and Dunnes today.

Numbers (000’s) Dunn Dunne
Ireland    24
UK    42     9
America    40     3
Elsewhere    30     7
Total   112    43

Irish Song: The Dunnes.  The
author of this song is not known; neither are the Dunnes of the
song.  But the picture that is painted is an affectionate one.

“I once
was well acquainted, with a man called Mr. Dunne,
A very
jolly man was he, and full of harmless fun.
courted young and married was, when he was 21,
soon a big long family, had Mr. and Mrs. Dunne.


there was a high Dunne, low Dunne, underdone and overdone,
And the
other younger Dunnes, in and out did run.
was old Dunne and young Dunne, and Dunne’s youngest son,
And young
Dunne will be the Dunne, when the old Dunne’s done.

course of time the youngest Dunne, he took
himself a wife,
And when he did he found he had the hardest
fight for life.
To keep six little bellies full, and a wife
who weighed twelve stone,
Why any man who could do that! You ought to
say well done.

Mrs. Dunne presented Dunne with their
first bouncing son,
She named it Joseph Henry Dunne, but called it
cherry bun.
But when as thick as hops they run, ere many
years were done,
Says Mrs. Dunne to Mr. Dunne, “More bread or
we’ll be done”.

here’s good luck to
the oldest Dunne, likewise to the youngest Dunne,

hope the youngest Dunne’ll do as the oldest Dunne has done.
every Dunne to be a Dunne, and not a vacant one,
done” says Dunne, “should be well done”, so well done, good old Dunne!” 

English Poem: Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.  John Betjeman’s poem, however, described a real person.  He
saw Miss Joan Hunter Dunn for the first time in 1940 while working at
the Ministry of Information in the Senate House of the University of
London.  She was working there in the canteen.  Although
married, he was struck by her beauty, fell in love, and composed a poem
fantasizing about them being engaged and playing tennis together in

The poem,
entitled A Subaltern’s Love-song,
was published in early 1941.  They did meet shortly afterwards
when he apologetically presented her with a copy of the magazine which
had published the poem.  She was flattered.

The start and
end of the poem went as follows:

J. Hunter Dunn, Miss J. Hunter Dunn,
Furnish’d and burnish’d by Aldershot sun,
What strenuous singles we played after tea,
We in the tournament – you against me!

love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am
weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.

We sat
in the car park till twenty to one
now I’m engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.”


Dunn Names

  • Gilliananaemih O’Duinn was a poet and a historian in 1102 of the early Dunnes.
  • John Donne was the English metaphysical poet of the early 17th century.
  • Sir James Dunn, Canadian-born,
    was a prominent financier and steel magnate in London during the first half of the 20th century
  • Clive Dunn was the popular TV
    actor in the BBC sitcom Dad’s Army.

Select Dunn Numbers Today

  • 51,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 52,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 61,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)


Select Dunn and Like Surnames

Nicknames must have been an early feature of medieval life in a family or community as these nicknames later translated into surnames.  People then lived a more natural life than we do today and the surnames have reflected that.

They could be about color (Brown, Gray, Green etc), whether of hair or complexion or other factors; mood (Gay and Moody are two extremes); youth (Cox and Kidd); speed of foot (Swift and Lightfoot); and actions (such as Shakespeare and Wagstaff).  Then there were likenesses to animals (notably Fox and Wolfe but also Peacock) and to birds (Crowe and Wren for example).  And then there were some extraordinary nicknames such as Drinkwater and Wildgoose.

Here are some of these nickname surnames that you can check out.




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