Cunningham Name Origin

What was Statute Acre and How was it Related to Cunningham? How did the name Cunningham Originate? Who was John Cunningham? Which countries have the most Cunningham Surnames?
Cunningham Name Origin

A name is a part of a person’s personality because it remains even after the person’s death. Few names are carried on for generation after generation, while others are not. Names have a meaning no matter whether they have a common origin or a unique origin. And today, you will find out about the Cunningham name origin along with the Cunningham name meaning.

1. History of Cunningham Name Origin

Somewhere in the 12th century, a particular measurement was used to measure the plantation land (Ulster Plantation), known as plantation acre. The English Acre and Cunningham Acre were the ones among which the area was divided. The Cunningham acres matched the pattern of English and Scottish influences.

The Cunningham perches from southwest Scotland are thought to have originated in Gaelic Ireland. Cunningham was the name of a comital district in Scotland and the Strathclyde Region from 1975 to 1996. It is from there the surname is generated and spread. Only five of the total 50 Scottish undertakers for the Ulster Plantation were given the name, and they were allotted lands in Co Donegal. (See Where Do Last Names Come From?)

2. The Cunningham Name Meaning 

Cunningham is a name of Irish origin and has more than one meaning. According to researchers, Cunningham was an area in Ayrshire, Scotland and so was originated from the name of a place. Must read the 7 moat around castle facts. 

  • It is a hybrid name generated in the Gaelic language that includes the only first half of the term, that is, cunning, it means milk pail, but conn also means leader or chief. But towards the 12th century, the word ham, which means village in the Gaelic language, was added after the Cunningham name origin. 
  • It is also said that the cunningham name origin was from the words coney or cunny, which means rabbit, and the word hame means home. So, after combining both the words, the meaning forms as rabbit home. (Also read What Does Gangnam Style Mean?)

3. The Cunningham Who Prospered

Cunningham name origin1

John Cunningham, from Kilbline, Ayshire, was the one Cunningham who prospered and stayed in the area. One of the five Cunninghams got a total of 1000 acres of land that he gave away, but he stayed back with his descendants. The other four received 50,000 acres of land but could not prosper much. People from the towns of Newtown Cunningham (An Baile Nua) and Manorcunningham (Mainear UiChuinneagain) still remember John Cunningham as their ancestor who laid the foundation of the Cunningham in Co Donegal.

After successfully establishing the family line in Co Donegal, the family name turned into the famous surname, Cunningham. People prospering in the area kept it as their surname because it also denotes where they belonged. (See Ninja vs Samurai)

4. Cunningham Becoming Synonymous

Towards the start of the 19th century, the name Cunningham became synonymous with more than 20 names used across Ireland.

  • It was popularly used as an anglicization of Irish surnames. O Cuinneagain and O Coinneachain were synonymous after the Cunningham name origin. These were mentioned in the book, The Surnames of Ireland by Edward Mac Lysaght that O Cuinneachain was a sub-clan that was located towards the south of Athlone. According to him, the anglicized form of the name was (O) Kinahan.
  • As the generation spread across the different countries and nations, the name Cunningham also became synonymous widely. A few of the most common synonyms found in the records are Paterson, Kerr, Johnston, Millar, Robertson, McKay, Donnelly, McLean, Thompson, Williamson, Henderson, Anderson, and Wilson. (See Different Words for Breasts)

5. The Principal Irish Name


In the Census list issued in 1659, Cunninghams are listed as the landowners mainly from Co Donegal along with Down and Tippery. In the Donegal baronies of Raphoe, Boylagh, and Bannagh, and the Co Antrim Barony of Toome, the name Cunningham was listed as one of the principal Irish names.

Today, in Ireland, the name Cunningham comes on the list of 75 most numerous names. But this name is common in Antrim, Ulster, and cos Down areas because they are mainly of Scottish origin. (Also read  Who Named Our Planet Earth?)

6. Countries having Cunningham Surname

As per the records developed after the Cunningham name origin in world names public profiler, the Cunningham surname is most common inside and outside Ireland. Apart from the Donegal, North East, and West regions of Ireland, this surname is popular in Australia, New Zealand, and Scotland. According to the distribution maps of the Forebears, the largest population with the Cunningham surname is located in Jamaica, Ireland, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. (See What are the Names of Coldest Places on Earth?)

7. Famous People with Cunningham Surname

Abraham Benjamin Cunningham

From the land of war to space, people with the Cunningham surname made a mark in history:

  • Merce Cunningham was an American dancer and choreographer.
  • Andrew Cunningham was a British Admiral during World War II.
  • Redmond Christopher Archer Cunningham was the only Irishman who received the Military Cross on D-Day. (See Why Did Dean Martin And Jerry Lewis Break Up?)
  • Walter Cunningham is a former astronaut at NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). He was assigned as the Lunar Module Pilot on the first human-crewed Apollo Mission, Apollo 7.
  • Randall Cunningham is a former American football quarterback player in the National Football League (NFL), and he played for 16 seasons of the National Football League.
  • William Johan (Billy) Cunningham is a former professional American basketball player and coach nicknamed Kangaroo Kid.
  • Liam Cunningham is an Irish screen and stage actor known for his role as Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones.
  • David L. Cunningham is an International filmmaker named with this surname long after the Cunningham name
  • Michael Cunningham is an American screenwriter and novelist. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner for his novel The Hours in 1998.
  • Colin Alexander Cunningham is an American film and television actor best known for his role as John Pope in the series Falling Skies.
  • Sarah Lucie Cunningham is an American stage, film, and television actress.
  • Tom Cunningham is a Scottish musician, and he is best known for Wet Wet Wet as a drummer.
  • Philip Cunningham is an English guitarist and a member of various bands, including New Order, Marion, Shadow Party, and Bad Lieutenant.
  • Abraham Benjamin Cunningham (Abe) is an American musician and drummer for the alternative music band Deftones. (Also read Famous People With Vitiligo)
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