Select Kennedy Surname Genealogy

Kennedy is the anglicized form of the Gaelic O'Ceanneidigh, 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.

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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 seat was initially Dunure 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 1460's.  
  • 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 been identified 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 miners.

IrelandThe Irish O'Kennedys, originally from county Clare, had moved across the river Shannon to Ormond in northern Tipperary where they were lords of Ormond for many centuries. 

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 still to be found (in addition to the Scottish Kennedys there).

There were also Scottish Kennedys from Ayrshire who had became planters in Ulster.

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 more widely spread, with Dublin instead taking the top spot:

  • some 28% live in the Dublin area
  • a further 10% are in Tipperary 
  • 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 today.

America.  The Kennedy influx into America was first Scots and Scots Irish and later Irish.

The Rev. Samuel Kennedy, a Presbyterian minister related to the Ayrshire Cassilis line, came to New Jersey in the 1740's and was the pastor 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 early 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.

Select Kennedy Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Kennedy Names

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 US Senator from Massachusetts.
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 Kennedys Today
  • 49,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 67,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 88,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Select Surname List

Adams Ellis Johnson O'Connor
Allen Evans Jones O'Sullivan Shaw
Anderson Fisher
Kelly Parker Simpson
Bailey Foster Kennedy Perry Smith
Baker Fox King Peterson Stevens
Barnes Fraser 
Lee Phillips Stewart
Bell Graham Lewis Powell Taylor
Bennett Gray Marshall Price Thomas
Brown Green Martin Reed
Griffiths Mason      
Reynolds Turner
Campbell Hall McDonald Richards
Carter Hamilton Miller  Richardson Walsh
Chapman Harris Mitchell Roberts Ward
Clark Harrison
Moore Robertson Watson
Collins Henderson Morgan Robinson White
Cook Hill Morris Rogers Williams
Cooper Howard Murphy Ross Wilson
Cox Hughes Murray Russell Wood
Davis Jackson Nelson Ryan Wright
Edwards James O'Brien 

For other surnames check the surnames2 page where there are to be found the history and genealogy for more than 800 surnames.

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