Kenny Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Kenny Meaning
Kenny is an Irish surname, being an anglicization of the Gaelic O’Cionnaith – from Coinneach or Cainnech, an Old Irish personal name borne by a 6th century monk and saint who gave his name to the town of Kilkenny. An O’Kenny sept later emerged.

The Kenny surname also appeared in England and Scotland, but from different roots. Kenny and Kenney are the principal spellings today.

Kenny Resources on

Kenny Ancestry

English origin of Kenny seems to have come from the Norman John de
Kenne who
held lands in Somerset during the 12th century.
Nicholas Kenne, believed to be a descendant,
moved to Ireland in 1472 and married into a Norman family holding lands
Wexford. One of his descendants, also
Nicholas, became General Escheator for Ireland under Queen Elizabeth. There is little Kenny presence in Somerset

Later Kennys in England were
invariably of Irish origin. A Kenney family from Dublin
around in 1800 and ran the Boodles club in London.
James Kenney of this family became a
well-known playwright. His son Charles
in his father’s footsteps.

Ireland. An
O’Kenny sept
had its roots in Roscommon and Galway, being lords
of Muintir Kenny along the Shannon during the 13th century.
By coincidence Kenny was also the name of a
prominent English family who had arrived in the area from Wexford in
the 17th
and, through extensive intermarriage with Galway families, became
landowners there and in Roscommon.

As a result there were Kennys
on both
of the religious divide – the Rev. Arthur Kenny, an anti-Catholic
controversialist, and the Rev. Peter James Kenny, a Jesuit priest and
Catholic preacher.

Roscommon. Irish
Kennys emigrated from Roscommon at the time of the famine or
later, particularly from Strokestown. Many Kennys families dispersed
at this time. Some of them made it to
Baltimore, others to Canada. Still, the Kennys in Ireland today show
a significant number remaining in the area. Patrick Kenny is
Chairman of the Famine Museum there today.

Clare. There
were Kennys in
county Clare from the early 1700’s, starting with Edward
Kenny, a tenant of the Earl of Thomond at Treanmanagh
in Ibracken parish.

story goes that he
married Eleanor, the sister of Russian Field Marshal Count Lucy, became
priest after his wife’s death, and died in France.”

Clare there was

David Kenny of
brother James
Kenny the
Archdeacon of Kilfenora, and their nephew Matthias of Freagh Castle.
Two prominent later Kennys were General Thomas Kelly-Kenny of
Treanmanagh and the nationalist leader Matthew Kenny of Freagh Castle.

Scotland. Kenny can be a Scottish surname, from the
Gaelic name Cionaodha.
The name crops up in Angus on the East Coast. However, Kennys in
Scotland today may equally be the result of Irish in-migration.

America. Kenney is more common then
Kenny as a surname in America. It is not quite clear
whether this reflected the Irish names as they came to America or
those that were transcribed for them on arrival. It is noteworthy
that the Kenny/Kenney split was 20/80 in Massachusetts, but roughly
40/60 at other arrival states on the East Coast.

There was a Kenney family of English extraction (originally
Kinne or
Keney from Norfolk) which came to Massachusetts in the 1600’s.
One branch settled in Sutton, Massachusetts in the
1720’s. Sumner Kenney’s 19th century
house there is still standing. Thomas Kenney of this family was a
captain in the War of 1812 and
received a land grant in Illinois.

General George C. Kenney of World War Two fame grew up in
Brookline, Massachusetts. His family genealogy was narrated in
Roland W. Kenney’s 1973 book The
Ancestors of General George C. Kenney

Early Kennys elsewhere were:

  • James Barnett Kenney who was born in Augusta county, Virginia in
    1752 from Irish parents. He fought in the Revolutionary War and
    afterwards took up new farming land in Bourbon county, Kentucky.
    His son Moses moved to Illinois where he founded the township of Kenney, Illinois.
  • Charles
    Kenny who arrived from Donegal in 1791 and settled in Chester county,
    Pennsylvania. His son Thomas was a farmer and coal merchant in
    Mifflin township.
  • and
    Kenney who came from Clare in 1829 and settled in Rochester, New
    York. His son, also named Cornelius, was a tea and coffee
    merchant in
    Baltimore, whose business became the basis for
    the present-day Sara Lee company.

Canada. Kennys
started arriving in Canada in the 1820’s, coming to the Maritime
Quebec and Ontario (notably to Gatineau and the Ottawa valley).

One Kenny who made the most of his
new country was Edward
. Born in rural poverty in Kerry, he moved
to Cork
and then, in the employ of a merchant there, to Halifax, Nova Scotia. He and his brother started their own wholesaling
business in 1828 which prospered. By the 1860’s Edward was thought to be the second
richest man in
Nova Scotia and “Papa”
Kenny ranked as a leading figure in Halifax society.

Australia and New Zealand.
Early Kennys
in Australia were convicts, including:

  • John and James Kenny from Carlow who were arrested in Cork and
    transported to Sydney in 1793
  • Charles Kenny from Roscommon who was transported there in 1821
    for sedition and treason, his crime being “opposing the English
    occupation in Ireland.” His wife and children followed him there
    three years later.
  • and Eugene Kenny from Kerry who was brought to Australia in
    1827. He eventually made his home at Ravenscroft in Eccleston, NSW.

arrived in South Australia from county Clare in 1842. He moved to
Eyre Peninsula where he was one of the first farmers to grow grain
rather than
to raise sheep. Port Kenny there was named after him.

Michael Kenny came to Brisbane from Kilkenny in 1862. He married Mary
Moore in
Inverell, NSW in 1872. Their fourth child Elizabeth joined the
Army Nursing Service during World War One. Sister Kenny really
made her
name during the interwar years for her novel approach, subsequently
for the treatment of polio sufferers. Her uplifting story was
told in
Victor Cohn’s 1975 book Sister Kenny.

The early Kennys in New
Zealand seem to have come via the British army. David Courteney
from Galway had enlisted in the early 1800’s and gone to India. A
Kenny came to New Zealand in 1856 and settled in Marlborough district,
SI after
having been wounded in the Crimean War. Colonel Nepean Kenny came
to the
same area in 1864. His daughter was the writer Alice Annie Kenny.


Kenny Miscellany

Kennys in Ireland.  The majority of the people belong to families located in Galway and Roscommon.  This was the homeland in early times of the O’Kenny sept of the Uí Máines (Hy Many) and of the same stock as the O’’Maddens.  Another sept of the same name was in early times in Tyrone, but there is little trace of it left there now.

When Kennys are found of long-standing connection with county Down, they probably come from the minor Ulster sept of O’Coinne.  Meanwhile in Leitrim Kenny to some extent absorbed the local Keeney name. 

Kennys in Ireland Today.  A telephone directory survey in Ireland in 1992 revealed 2,900 Kennys, of which Dublin, due to migration over the years, accounted for the largest share, around 22 percent.

The traditional origin of the name in Roscommon and Galway remained well represented, although there had been a shift away from Galway and towards Westmeath, Roscommon’s eastern neighbor.  The other place for Kennys was Wexford.

Reader Feedback: My heritage is the Donegal Kennys who subsequently moved down the west coast to Roscommon and east Galway resulting from the Cromwellian invasion. I would like to pin this down to exact details.  If there`s any further info could you let me know.  Kevin Kenny (

The Kenneys in London.  The Boodles club in London has had
strong Irish connections since 1800 when a
Dublin family called Kenney arrived in England and James Kenney took it over.  Under his management, some of the
most influential English establishment figures of the day retired
behind the club’s portals to indulge in gaming, drinking and other pursuits.  And the Kenney family themselves went on to
make a mark on the literary life of the English capital.

Among James Kenney’s
family was his 20-year-old son, also called James.
His father wanted him to become a banker.  So
he took a job at the banking house of
Herries, Farquhar and Co.  But young
James Kenney loved theatre and wanted to write.

only 23, his first two-act
farce, called Raising the Wind, was
staged.  He became one of the most
prolific and popular playwrights of the early 19th century, producing
over 40
dramas and operas and numerous songs and poems.
One of his plays, The Pledge,
had a command performance before the young Queen

in life Kenney developed a nervous
affliction, which, coupled with his Dublin accent, caused some
Londoners to
mistake him for an escaped lunatic.  His
sons had to rescue him from being incarcerated. It was a scene worthy
of one of
Kenney’s own farces.

Kennys Who Dispersed.  There were eight children of William and Marcella Kenny of Ballinasloe in eastern Galway where William worked as a coroner.  They scattered in the famine years.

The youngest son Edward made it to Salem,
Massachusetts.  However, he had lost
touch with his brothers and sisters who had also crossed the Atlantic.  Maria was thought to be in Philadelphia and
James and Bridget in Baltimore.  It is
not known whether he received any reply to the advert he placed in the Boston Pilot in 1850 looking for their

another brother
Patrick had already departed for Australia in 1842.   James did
resurface and joined him in Australia, as did another brother William

Reader Feedback – Kennys of Treanmanagh.  I am
a descendant of the Kennys of Treanmanagh in Ibrickane, county
Clare.  According to my family documents which date from late
1800’s and
were written using the oral histories of older members from the
then in their 90’s, these Kennys were not of English descent
nor were
they O’Kennys from Galway. Instead they were the Cork
MacKennys.  The MacKennys to my knowledge died out in the
line. They said they were originally
from the Kinsale area and had moved to Waterford.

The first Kenny of Treanmanagh and
Dysert was
Mathias Kenny.  His sons were:

  • David of Treanmanagh
  • James the
    Archdeacon of Kilfenora
  • Edmond of Carhue and Dysert
  • and John.

Edmond a famous descendant was Judge William Kenny, a Unionist MP.  From John came Mathias who acquired Freagh
Castle through marriage and Matthew J. Kenny who was for a time a
MP.  General Thomas Kelly-Kenny was a descendant through grandson
David.  The Quinlivan mayors of Limerick were also Kenny
through David’s sister Margaret.

Margaret Gallery (

General Thomas Kelly-Kenny.  Thomas Kelly-Kenny
was born Thomas Kelly in 1840 at Treanmanagh in county Clare.  He later took the surname Kelly-Kenny upon
inheriting the Treanmanagh estates of his uncle, Mathias Kenny.

18 he embarked on a military career which
began in India and ended with distinction in the Boer War.
In contrast to many senior military figures
who were aristocrats who saw war as a sport, Kelly-Kenny worked his way
through the ranks and was respected by the rank and file soldiers.

ended up
being a highly decorated soldier.  His
orders, decorations and medals included the Star of a Knight Grand
Cross of the
Order of the Bath, the Royal Victorian Order, the Queen Victoria
Jubilee medal,
the Order of The Red Eagle of Prussia, and the Order of
The Rising Sun awarded by the Mikado, the Emperor of Japan.  He was in his later years an adviser and
friend to King George V.

Edward Kenny in Halifax.  Edward Kenny had become a wealthy merchant in Halifax, Nova Scotia
by the 1850’s.   He built a grand
house, Thornvale, on the North West Arm of the
waterfront.   One son Thomas
married into the commercial elite in New York.   Another
son Edward died at sea in 1870.  Of his six
surviving sons, three joined the family firm and three others, after
some hesitation, opted for
careers in the Jesuit order.

that time was a very stratified society with an Anglo-Protestant
ascendancy.  Kenny became an active champion
of the Irish Catholic cause, being a close friend of Archbishop
Connolly and
serving as president of the Charitable Irish Society.
He staunchly backed Reformer Joseph Howe in
his 1840’s campaign to
responsible government to Nova Scotia, but
broke ranks and joined the Tories in the 1850’s when Howe assailed
religion in
politics.  Politics was still alive at that
time with
sectarian and ethnic jealousies.

Kenny was notoriously laconic as a public speaker.
But his wealth, personality, and extensive
social contacts made him extraordinarily useful to Irish Catholics in
Halifax at this time.

Kenney, Illinois.  The village of Kenney, Illinois was filed in 1871 by Moses Kenney in honor of his father, James Kenney.
It was incorporated in 1875.

one looks backward to the conditions as
they existed at that particular time, one cannot but admire the courage
of Moses
Kenney in the undertaking of such a project as a new town.  The town of Franklin, located just three miles
to the north and east, was already in existence with three small
blacksmith shop, flour mill, saw mill, post office and school.  Also three miles to the north was another
small town with stores, blacksmith shop and schools.

The only thing Moses Kenney had in his favor
was a railroad.  That proved to be enough,
however.  Kenney began to “grow like
a weed” and in only a few years became one of the best and most widely
known small towns in the entire state.
Kenney did not live to see his dream fulfilled as he died four years
later in 1875.

doesn’t have many people today.  But it does have a Heritage
Society and a small local museum to preserve the past.

Kennys and Kenneys Today.  The following are the approximate numbers of Kenny and Kennys today.

Country (000’s) Kenny Kenney Total
Ireland    14     1    15
UK    15     2    17
America     6    10    16
Elsewhere    12     5    17
Total    47    18    65



Kenny Names

  • James Kenney was a popular playwright in England in the early 19th century. He
    came from an Irish family. 
  • Peter James Kenney was the Jesuit priest who
    founded Clongowes Wood College and was a prominent Catholic
    preacher in Ireland during the 19th century.
  • John Kenny was the long-time President of Clanna-Gael in New York, an organization which supplied support to the rebels in Ireland, culminating in
    the Easter Rising. 
  • George C. Kenney was commander of the Allied Air Forces in the SW Pacific during World War Two. 
  • Enda Kenny is the leader of Fine
    Gael, Ireland’s second largest political party. 
  • Pat Kenny is a popular Irish radio broadcaster with RTE.

Select Kenny Numbers Today

  • 17,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 18,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts)
  • 32,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)


Select Kenny and Like Surnames 

The Irish clan or sept names come through the mists of time until they were found in Irish records such as The Annals of the Four Masters.  The names were Gaelic and this Gaelic order was preserved until it was battered down by the English in the 1600’s.

Some made peace with the English.  “Wild geese” fled to fight abroad.  But most stayed and suffered, losing land and even the use of their language.  Irish names became anglicized, although sometimes in a mishmash of spellings.  Mass emigration happened after the potato famine of the 1840’s.

Some surnames – such as Kelly, Murphy and O’Connor – span all parts of Ireland.  But most will have a territorial focus in one of the four Irish provinces – Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht.

Connacht in NW Ireland covers the counties of Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, Galway, and Roscommon.  Here are some of the Connacht surnames that you can check out.


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