Surname dictionary entries for Kennedy and associated names

second version 12th August 2007

Iain Kennedy

Copyright © 2007 Iain Kennedy

On this page I am going to discuss what some of the more important surname dictionaries say about the name Kennedy and other names which may or may not be related. This is not intended to be a comprehensive survey (go here for a truly exhaustive bibliography of surname dictionaries). I will be concentrating on the works of Black, Woulfe, Bell and MacLysaght, and also discussing O Cuiv.

George Fraser Black (1866-1948) worked at the Public Library in New York. He produced what has come to be regarded as the definitive dictionary of the meaning and origin of Scottish surnames, 'The Surnames of Scotland', still available in reprint from Birlinn Ltd. I will focus on 4 separate entries, those for Kennardy, Kennedy, Kenneth and M'Walrick.


'Of local origin from Kennerty (in 1548 Kennarty, 1486 Kennardy) in the parish of Peterculter, Aberdeenshire. James Kennardy was admitted burgess of Aberdeen in 1467, James Kennarty in 1486, Robert Kennerti in 1504, and Thomas Kennerty in 1516 (Miscellany of the New Spalding Club, Aberdeen 1890-1908 vI p 21,32,46). Johannes Kennerty, cleric in Aberdeen, 1497, and Andreas Kennerty held a land in the burgh, 1499 (Registrum episcopatus Aberdonensis, Edinburgh, 1845 p339,345).'

Kennerty can still be seen on modern Ordnance Survey maps, although its presence is reduced to a mere farm now, just on the South-west outskirts of Peterculter. But this place and surname are worth keeping an eye out for since many early references to Kennedy are from the Aberdeen area too. Black himself includes variants Kennerty and Kinnerty under his Kennedy entry! Kennerty is probably too small to show on the 1654 Bleu atlas although Peter Cultyr can be seen, and the same holds true for many later maps too. It does however get a special mention in the first Statistical Account for Peterculter written in 1794:

'I am inclined to think that the name of the parish is Gaelic, because several places in it, and around it, do evidently derive their names from it. For instance south-west from the church is the barony of Kenarty or Kean-arde; so called from the ancient seat of the barons, which was situated on the top of a small eminence, at the extremity of higher ground.' The minister doesn't elaborate so let me point out the Gaelic stem words 'ceann' for chief and 'ard' meaning high or lofty place.

A Kennedy soundex search in the Peterculter OPR brings up no K*nn*rdy hits although Kenedy appears as early as 1651. However the additional 'r' breaks the soundex matching. A Scotlandwide search for K*nn*r*y (to capture a final 'd' or 't') brings up 15 - 14 Kennerty and just 1 Kennarty. The sole Kennarty is from Peterculter and 11 of the 15 are from Peterculter-Maryculter-Aberdeen, with a few singletons in other Aberdeenshire parishes. The most recent birth is from 1796. It would seem then that Black is correct at least so far as drawing a connection between the Kennerty surname and place, and it is most typical for the people to draw their name from the place rather than vice versa. There are no Kennertys listed in any of the census returns. However surname spelling variations were diminishing even by 1841 and with the introduction of civil registration in 1855 all but vanished for Kennedy variants, so it is not yet determined whether the line died out physically or had its spelling changed.


Sir Andrew Agnew ['The hereditary sheriffs of Galloway with notes on the early history of the province' by Sir Andrew Agnew Edinburgh 1893] says (I, p 33) that 'the first appearance of a Kennedy in Galloway" is in 1034, when "Suibhne mac Cineada ri Gallgaidhel" is mentioned in the Annals of Ulster. This however is an error. MacCinaeda is not MacKennedy but MacKenna. The earliest Kennedy recorded in Scotland appears to be Gilbert mac Kenedi, who witnessed a charter by Raderic Mac Gilescop of lands in Carric to the Abbey of Melrose early in the reign of King William the Lion (Melros, I, p29). Henry Kennedy or MacKenede is named in 1185 as one of the leaders and instigators of rebellion in Galloway, and is stated to have fallen in battle (Fordun, Annals, xvi)...

to be continued ...


We have to examine the name Kenneth simply because some sources insist that this is where the name Kennedy comes from. Most noticeably, Sir James Fergusson of Kilkerran states, in the introduction to his short work on the Kennedys, 'Their name signifies "son of Kenneth"', without explaining the derivation. Kenneth is normally taken to be an Anglicised form of Gaelic Cinaed and was made famous by Kenneth MacAlpin (Cinaed mac Ailpin), the first king of unified Scotland. Brian O Cuiv (of whom more later) has separate entries for Cennetig and Cinaed in his work 'Aspects of Irish personal names'. This in itself seems to punch a hole in the argument of the 'Kenneth' theorists. I have noted elsewhere though that Angus County Council believe Pitkennedy is named after Kenneth. Kenneth Jackson, Professer of Gaelic at Edinburgh University, wrote at some length about the origins of Cinaed in his work 'Gaelic notes in the Book of Deer':
'...Cinaed, a quite common one in Ireland and Scotland. It occurs first among names of the Pictish kings, and is probably of Pictish origin, having perhaps found its way to Ireland early, where it appears to have become popular first in the person of Cinaed son of Irgalach, king of Ireland 724-8. The earliest traceable form seems to have been Ciniod, genitive Cinedon, Cinadon (AU, 878, s.a. 877, Cinadan); but was later regarded in Gaelic sources as a compound of the word aed 'fire', gen. aeda, whence Cinaed, with genitive normally Cinaeda........The form Kenneth is simply a Norman spelling, with k- to indicate the fact that it is the occlusive, not s-, and th as a normal way of writing the sound which was still the (voiced) dental spirant in Gaelic when it was adopted. It went out of use later in the Gaelic of Scotland, and the modern treatment whereby Coinneach (older Cainneach), really quite a different name, is regarded as the equivalent of Kenneth is quite secondary.'
I should also point out that like O Cuiv, Jackson has discussed both Cennetig and Cinaed in the same work without drawing any connection. Given the reputation of these two scholars, I believe we can rest our case that Kennedy is not derived from Kenneth. Black himself says this:
'G. Coinneach. The name of S. Cainneach, contemporary of S. Columbam, recorded by Adamnan in Irish-Latin as Cainnechus, comes from cannico-s, 'fair one'.... Kineth, Kyneth or Kinef appears as witness in Lindores charters c. 1200 (Chartulary of the Abbey of Lindores 1195-1479 Edinburgh 1903 p11, 38,88)...
the name that appears in English as Kenneth is of different origin. It is the old Scots Gaelic king's name Cinaed, found in the Book of Deer as Cinatha. It means 'firesprung', the 'aed' being the same as 'aed' in Mackay. In early record it appears as Cinaed, Ciniod, Cionaodh, Cinaet, Cinaeth, Ciniath, Cinioch, Kinat, Kinath, Kinet and Kineth.'
It is a little frustrating that for the second time, Black is using the same surname under two different origins, in this case Kineth (see Kennerty above).


Coming soon ...