This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 17th January 1994, reproduced by kind permission of the author, the late Desmond Holden.

The “What's in a Name” series was a regular feature in the Advertiser over the period 1993‑2004, taking a refreshing look at the derivation of some typically Derbyshire surnames.

Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames, and do not indicate any particular interest on Desmond's part in the genealogy, descent, or family history of individuals bearing the surnames featured.

Editor's Note: Articles are provided for general interest and background only. They are not intended to provide an exhaustive treatise for any individual family history - investigations of which may yield quite different results. Or, in Desmond's own words:

“In the end it must remain with individual bearers of the names to draw upon family traditions and to seek out such documentary evidence as is available to decide the matter for themselves.”

WHAT'S IN A NAME … Are you called QUINNEY?

The origins of the name "Quinney" and its related names, such as "Quin" and "Quinn", are obscure because there arc so many possible sources. The problem lies in the initial letters, "Qua-". This combination belongs to the Latin language and was not used in either Celtic or Gaelic, to which the name "Quinney" can be traced. These old native languages used a letter which was not very much different from the present-day "C" but sounded something like a thick, throaty "H" - as, for example, in the Scottish word "loch".

When the French-speaking Normans took over after 1066, they soon found that they could not pronounce it since such a sound did not exist in their language and so they substituted the nearest thing to it, which was the "q" and "u" in combination, borrowed directly from Latin from which French stemmed.

It is willingly conceded that the foregoing explanation is extremely simplistic but to enlarge upon the developments of the letters "c" and "k" in detail would be out of place here!

Armed with this information, if one replaced the initial letters of "Quinney" with either the letters "C" or "K" it does not require much mental, agility to come up with a name easily identifiable with "Kenny" and "Conney" and "Connor" and "Connell". Concentrating for a moment on "Quinney", it can be seen to have been derived from "Conn" and is certainly of Irish origin and means "One who is a descendant of Conn".

The next question, then, is: Who was Conn? Well, there are several claimants, but none of them can be positively identified. To start with: there is the very old word "cynn" which means "chieftain". Some bearers of the name might well lay claim to having been originally descended from a local Tribal Chief. It is easy to see how the word "cynn" (or "kynn") gave us the modern title of "King" which has subsequently provided many families with material for romantic geneologies!

The initial letters, however, such as "Cy-" or "Cu-" are shared among many first-names as well, and some have settled in the memories of successive generations as folk-heroes. In Gaelic, the word for "dog" was "cu" (Note: the corresponding Latin: "canis"). In early communities the attributes of a dog - its speed and ability to hunt down prey - were greatly admired and members of a group who displayed these talents were distinguished through names which likened them to a hound. Sadly, today, although we are a nation of dog-lovers, it is now no compliment to be called a "Dog!" - and most certainly not a "Bitch"!!!

Probably the most famous "Dog" was the Ancient British King called "Cunobelinus" - who is now better known under the' name given to him by Shakespeare, which is "Cymbeline".

Then there is the old word "cunnan" which is related to the word "can" in the sense of being able "to do things". From this it is suggested that the name "Conan" has been derived, meaning "he who is capable" - i.e. "intelligent". So people today might be able to point to an ancester who was famed for his "cunning". Note: the North Country word "canny" follows a different route and is comparatively modern.

In its original Irish form the unit "Conn-" would have appeared as "Cuinn" which accounts for the "-i-" in the middle. The final "-y" is a suffix, which, among other things indicated descent, although it is now more or less confined to "pet-names" such as "Billy" and "Betty". It would be interesting to trace the progress of the lettering and how the name ultimately took on the spelling "Quinn-". Former writers, unfamiliar with the Irish language, when they first encountered "Luimneach" and "Beal Feirste" did the best they could and came up with "Limerick" and "Belfast". No doubt a corresponding transliteration occurred in the case of many Irish surnames, not only Quinney.

In its shorter form, "Quin" it is the family name of the Earls of Dunraven and not a few distinguished doctors, actors and journalists bear the name and are of Irish nationality. Edward Quin, for instance, pioneered the publishing of magazines designed to be read by particular trades and professions.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 17th January 1994.

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