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Kennedy: family name history

Origin of the Surname

The Kennedy surname, known in Irish as Ó Ceanéidigh or Ó Cinnéide, is one of the most distinguished names in Ireland. Its roots trace back to the ancient Gaelic tribes of the Emerald Isle.

Etymology and Meaning

The name Kennedy is derived from two Gaelic words: “ceann” meaning head, and “éidigh” translating to wretched or ugly. Thus, the surname is often interpreted as “ugly head,” though it may have been more akin to “wounded head,” hinting at a fierce warrior or leader.

Earliest Known Usage

The first recorded spelling of the family name Kennedy, according to ancient manuscripts and cartularies, was that of Teag Ó Cinnéide, dated around 1095, in the “Ancient Irish Tribes.”

Geographic Distribution

Historically, the Kennedys were Lords of Ormond and held considerable territories in the counties of Tipperary and Kilkenny. Today, the name is widespread throughout Ireland and has a strong presence in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Original Geographic Location

The original geographic location of the Kennedy family is in the region of Ormond, now part of counties Tipperary and Kilkenny in Ireland.

Migration Patterns

The Kennedy family, like many Irish families, saw a significant wave of emigration during the Great Famine (1845-1852). Many Kennedys left Ireland for North America, Australia, and other parts of the British Empire, leading to a global spread of the surname.

Historical Context

Notable Historical Events

The Kennedy family has been involved in several notable historical events, including Ireland’s fight for independence and the subsequent formation of the Irish Free State.

Involvement in Key Moments in History

One of the most significant moments involving the Kennedys was the election of John F. Kennedy as President of the United States in 1960. His presidency, though cut short by assassination, marked a high point in the global prominence of the Kennedy name.

Notable Bearers of the Surname

Famous Individuals

The most famous Kennedys are undoubtedly members of the Kennedy political dynasty in the United States, including President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy.

Influential Figures

In Ireland, influential figures bearing the Kennedy surname include Mary Kennedy, a television personality and author, and Michael Leay Kennedy, a former member of the Irish Parliament.

Variations of the Surname

Spelling Variations

Spelling variations of Kennedy include Kenneday, Kennedye, O’Kennedy, and Kennedi, among others.

Regional Differences

Regionally, the Kennedy surname has been anglicized differently across Ireland and the world, such as “Minneedy” in some parts of Ireland or “O’Kennedy” for some families who migrated to the United States.

Current Statistics and Distribution

Frequency and Global Distribution

The Kennedy surname is most common in Ireland and the United States, with substantial numbers in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

Changes Over Time

The distribution of the Kennedy surname has expanded significantly over time, moving from its original geographic location in Ireland to become a globally recognized name.

Family Coat of Arms

The Kennedy family coat of arms features a dolphin on a black shield, symbolizing charity and a kind and loving nature. Above the shield is a helmet, and atop that, a silver arm wielding a silver sword, signifying justice and military honor.


  1. Edward MacLysaght (1985). The Surnames of Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press.
  2. Patrick Hanks, Richard Coates, Peter McClure (2016). The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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