Kennedy Surname Meaning, History & Origin
descendant of Ceanneidigh.
The root of the name is ceann,
meaning “head,” and eidigh,
meaning “ugly.” There were two origins for the Kennedys, one
in Scotland and the other in Ireland.
Kennedy Resources on
- Kennedy One Name Study. Kennedy data and
- Kennedy Society of North America. Kennedys in America.
- Samuel Kennedy Family. Kennedys from Scotland
to New Jersey.
- Kennedy. Kennedys in Newfoundland.
- Captain William Kennedy. An extraordinary
- JFK’s Family Tree. Family tree from Patrick
Kennedy in Ireland.
- The Kennedy Web. The Kennedys.
Select Kennedy Ancestry
Scotland. The Scottish
clan originated in Carrick in south Ayrshire where the first of the
family was Duncan de Carrick in the early 13th century. This
section of Ayrshire was part of the Galloway Gaidhealachd, a
strong Gaelic-speaking area of the Scottish Lowlands. The family
Castle overlooking Ayr Bay and then Culzean Castle at Maybole.
These Kennedys had mixed fortunes in the following centuries:
- Gilbert Kennedy was close to the
Scottish monarchy and served as its Regent during the
- David Kennedy was created Earl of Cassillis in 1509 but died four
years later fighting the English at Flodden Field.
- his grandson Gilbert the third Earl was poisoned by the
French in the 1550’s for refusing to agree that the Scottish crown
should go to the French Dauphin should he marry Mary Queen of Scots.
- while David the 10th Earl remade Culzean castle in 1792 into the
palatial estate that it is today, but went bankrupt in the process.
The origin of
the Highland Kennedys is uncertain. According to clan
legend, Ulric Kennedy had fled Ayrshire in the 15th century to seek
refuge in the Highlands. From this Highland branch, Kennedys
are thought to have settled around Aberdeen
and on the Isle of Skye.
By the time of the 1841 census, Glasgow accounted for the largest
number of Kennedys, followed by Inverness in the Highlands, Ayrshire
and Perthshire. The Glasgow numbers swelled as the 19th century
proceeded, in part because of Irish Kennedys arriving in Scotland.
England. The Kennedy name
was to be found across the Scottish border in both Cumberland and
Durham by the late 1600’s. One Kennedy family in Cumberland has
as rural farmers in the Stapleton/Bowcaster area near the border.
Kennedys also showed up at Whickham in
Durham, some of whom may have been coal
Ireland. The Irish
O’Kennedys, originally from county Clare, had moved across
to Ormond in northern Tipperary where they were lords of Ormond for
The sept then split into three branches, the
chiefs of which were referred to by their hair colours: don
(brown), fionn (blond), and rua (red). Around
1600, a branch migrated to county Antrim where many Irish Kennedys are
to be found (in addition to the Scottish Kennedys there).
There were also Scottish Kennedys from Ayrshire who had became
By the time of Griffith’s Valuation in the 1850’s, Tipperary
accounted for 28% of all Kennedys in Ireland, with the other principal
numbers being in Ulster, Dublin, and Kerry. Today the name is
widely spread, with Dublin instead taking the top spot:
28% live in the Dublin area
- a further 10% are in
- but only 2% are to be found in Wexford, the home county of
President John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy is the 16th most common surname in Ireland
America. The Kennedy
influx into America was first Scots
and Scots Irish and later Irish.
Samuel Kennedy, a Presbyterian minister related to
the Ayrshire Cassilis line, came to New Jersey in the 1740’s and was
at Basking Ridge until his death in 1787. Archibald Kennedy, also
of this line, was resident in New
York at the time of the Revolutionary War. But George Washington
took possession of his New York home, No. 1 Broadway, and his land on
Long Island was confiscated because of his pro-British sympathies.
John Kennedy, Scots Irish, came to Baltimore in 1785, married well, and
prospered there for a while as a merchant. However, he was forced
into bankruptcy in 1809 and became reliant on his wife’s income.
Their two sons though did well:
- John was a literary writer who entered politics and was appointed
US Secretary of the Navy in 1852.
- while Anthony was US Senator for Maryland from 1857 to 1863.
Tipperary accounted for the largest number of Irish Kennedys that came
in the 19th century into the Boston
area. However, the origin of the most famous Kennedy clan in
Boston was Wexford. Patrick Kennedy left his home Wexford in
Ireland (now the
Kennedy Homestead museum) for Boston in Massachusetts during
the potato famine. Joe
Kennedy grew up in the Boston Irish community and made the family’s
money in the early 20th century. From Joe came the Kennedy
dynasty, starting with John F. Kennedy the 35th President.
Canada. Kennedys from
Wexford also made it to Newfoundland, and at a much earlier time.
Kennedy fishermen were to be found there by 1700, bringing their
Wexford herring cot with them. Terence Kennedy came in the
1750’s; Nicholas Kennedy arrived with his wife Grace in 1808.
There were many Kennedy sea captains from
Newfoundland over the 18th and 19th centuries.
Kennedys from Ireland had also come to Gaspe in Quebec by 1750 and many Kennedys were buried in the Catholic graveyard there. Sire Kennedy arrived in the Neppanee area of SE Ontario from Ireland around 1830. His son Samuel, an Orangeman, headed west and was one of the founders of the Boyne settlement in Manitoba in the 1870’s.
Alexander Kennedy had come to the Hudson Bay Company post in Saskatchewan from Aberdeen in Scotland in 1803. A fur trader and company factor, he was later posted further west and established on the coast the site for Fort Vancouver (later the town of Vancouver). His son William was perhaps even more noteworthy – an Arctic explorer (he led the search for Sir John Franklin in the 1850’s) and an early arrival in the 1860’s at the Red River settlement in Manitoba.
Dunure Castle. Dunure Castle is
located close by the town of Ayr and has a commanding view overlooking Ayr Bay on the Firth of Clyde.
The site dates from
the late 13th century, with the earliest charter for the lands being
The Kennedys of Carrick were
granted the lands in 1357 and, from this vantage point, they ruled over
SW Scotland. Sir James Balfour described
Dunure Castle in the 16th century as “a
great and pleasant strong house, the most ancient habitation of the
Kennedy, the Lairds of Dunure and now the Earls of Cassilis.”
The castle and estate of Dunure was
purchased by Sir Thomas Kennedy of Kirkhill in the late 17th century. However, by that time the castle was in
ruins. The Cassilis Kennedys had removed
themselves to their Culzean castle.
Kennedy Intrigues at Culzean. When Sir Archibald Kennedy died in 1710 and his soul was said to have been taken by the ‘muckle devil’ to hell, his son Sir John
felt it unwise to publicize his Jacobite allegiance. Instead, he became
and spirit merchant — and a smuggler! — using caves beneath Culzean to
contraband. Jacobitism and smuggling went hand-in-hand, as it was
a good way of
getting back at the Hanoverians without the same risks as rebellion.
trade was continued by Sir John’s sons
after his death in 1742. Sir Thomas, who inherited the estate in 1744,
the Hanoverian army. However, after
Culloden he returned to his Jacobite roots. He went to Paris to learn
the viol (an early form of violin), as his father and grandfather had
done. In his absence, the smuggling trade
in the hands of his factor, Archibald Kennedy, before dying out by the
The Origin of the Highland Kennedys. The origin of the Highland Kennedys is unclear, clan legends notwithstanding. It appears that they were at
Leanachan in Lochaber in the early 1600’s and possibly earlier. They
started to congregate in northern Perthshire by the mid to late 1600’s
in the Logierait area, one of their biggest concentrations, by the time
1691 hearth tax.
The registers of Inverness burgh indicate that the Kennedys
did not arrive that far north until almost 1700, despite a Duncan
witnessing a document there in 1548 and a John Kennedy being seized of
further north in Dornoch in 1579. The Kennedys did have a large
Invernessshire, particularly in Lochaber, by the time of the 1881
The connection between Highland and Lowland
Kennedys remains unproven.
Ulrich Kennedy story first appeared in 1723.
According to the version that has circulated, Ulrich Kennedy
Lochaber on a cattle-stealing raid and, tempted by the fertile lands he
the charms of the daughter of the Robertson laird, he decided to settle. Other accounts have the Highland Kennedys
being indigenous to the region or having come from the Western Isles. All of these accounts seem to be just
stories, with no backing behind any of them.
The O’Kennedy Clan. The 14th century poet John O’Dugan had described the O’Kennedys as follows:
of the crimson arms,
Is chief of the smooth and extensive
Omra lay in the eastern part of county Clare and
it was from there that the O’Kennedys had been driven by the O’Briens
Ormond in northern Tipperary in the early part of the 12th century.
O’Kennedys had derived their descent and name
from Cineadh, who
had been related to the O’Brien Kings.
They were powerful chiefs in the Ormond area from the 11th to
of the 16th century.
close of the 16th century saw the O’Kennedys
sinking into obscurity in Tipperary. A
branch of the family had removed itself to Dublin in the early part of
century and gave sheriffs to the city for a number of years.
The Rev. Samuel Kennedy’s Plantation. The Rev. Samuel Kennedy put his plantation in Somerset county, New Jersey up for sale in 1767. The following was the notice that appeared in the New York Mercury concerning this sale.
be sold at public venue on Wednesday the 17th day of June next by the
Kennedy of Bernard’s Town in the county of Somerset, and province of
plantation on which he now lives, containing 300 acres of land, bounded
on one side
by the dead river and on the other by the river Passaick, having the
that leads to the city of Perth Amboy going through it.
It 20 miles from said city.
this plantation there is a dwelling house
with three rooms and two fireplaces on the lower floor.
It is situated at a small distance from the edge
of the Passaick river. A good quarry for
building may be opened at the distance of a few poles from the house. There is also on the plantation a good barn a
stable at each end of it, and an orchard containing 57 old apple trees,
young ones, some of which are grafted.
is about 72 acres of plough land cleared and fenced and about 27 acres
cleared, 12 and half of which have been mowed for a considerable number
and about 2 acres of which have been mowed for two years past and about
sowed with timothy seed, together with one and half acres more which
expected to be mowed this summer. Some 100
acres more of good meadow may be made on a very rich bottom, being the
whereupon Mr. Moses Doty formerly lived.
the said day Samuel Kennedy proposes to sell horses, cattle, sheep,
and utensils of husbandry etc. when good attendance will be given and
of sale made known.”
Kennedy Sea Captains in Newfoundland. There were many Kennedy sea captains in Newfoundland. The table
below shows the Kennedys that were recorded in the 17th and 18th
the vessels they commanded.
Kennedy sea captains were recorded in the first half of the 19th
The Kennedy Homestead. When famine struck, a poor farmer named Patrick Kennedy left his home at Dunganstown in county Wexford in 1848 and boarded a
ship for America. What he left behind
was a typical rural Irish cottage. This
has now been transformed into the Kennedy Homestead experience.
the outside, it looks like any of the
other cottages in the village. On the
inside it has been converted into a small museum of all things Kennedy
mostly of all things JFK). There are no
earth-shattering exhibits conveying new insights into the President. However, it does provide a good overview of
the family history, the historical background, and the impact of JFK’s
and his death.
was made of his
visit to Ireland, seen by many as on a par with the visit by Pope John
- James Kennedy was Bishop of St. Andrews and briefly Chancellor of Scotland during the 15th century.
- Joseph Kennedy was JFK’s father and US ambassador to Britain at the outbreak of World War Two.
- John F. Kennedy was elected 35th President of the United States in 1960 and assassinated in 1963.
- Robert F. Kennedy, his brother, was the
US Senator from New York assassinated in 1968.
- Ted Kennedy, his younger
brother, was the long-time US Senator
- Ludovic Kennedy from Edinburgh
was a British journalist and broadcaster.
- Paul Kennedy from NE England is a British historian, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.
- Mary Kennedy is one of the leading personalities on Irish TV.
Select Kennedy Numbers Today
- 49,000 in the UK (most numerous
- 67,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
- 88,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)
Select Kennedy and Like Surnames
The surnames found here cover most of the US Presidential surnames since the first President, George Washington. Click on the surname below if you wish to know more of that particular President and his name.
Return to Main Page
Leave a Reply