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Blazons & Genealogy Notes

Ar. on a saltire purp. five hearts or. Crest—A demi lion ramp. guard. holding a fleur-de-lis or.

Origin, Meaning, Family History and Kenny Coat of Arms and Family Crest


The name Kenny is an Anglicized surname which is thought to be derived from one of two sources. The first states the name comes from the ancient Scottish name Cionaodha which is a compound of two medieval Gaelic words, cion which translates to “absences” or “deficit” and Aodh who in Scottish mythology was the god of the underworld. The second source states the name comes from the ancient Irish O'Cionnaoith. O'Cionnaoith is a compound of two medieval Gaelic elements. “O” as a prefix on any Irish name translates to mean “son of” the suffix in this name, Cionnaoith, an Irish given name.

Surnames in Britain prior to the Norman conquest were largely unheard of. In the small settlements and villages which existed during earlier times, residents found little need for surnames as everyone in these communities new each other and a given name would usually suffice. However, with the passage of time, population growth and expansions of communities as villages gave way to towns and cities, it became necessary to add a qualifier to a people's names to distinguish them, one from another. Therefore one person may have been identified by their given name plus their occupation while another may have been identified by their given name and one of their parent's names. The introduction of surnames by the Norman aristocracy after the invasion seemed to be the next logical step in this evolution. There was a boundless supply from which surnames could be formed, in addition to the use of patriarchal/matriarchal names or reference to the individuals occupation, there were things such as defining physical traits, a familiar geographical location or a topographical landmark found near the individuals home or birthplace, the name of the village in which the person lived, and so much more. Soon, surnames would come not just to represent an individual but whole families.

There often exists variations in spelling of many surnames, as with many given names which date back to the early centuries. The variation in spelling of both given and surnames during this time period can be attributed to a lack of continuity regarding guidelines for spelling which was compounded by the diversity of languages in use in European countries at this time. The variations in the spelling of the surname Kenny include but not limited to; Kenny; Kennie; O'Kenny; and Kennie, among others.

The earliest record of any variation of this surname is that of Matyle Kennie which appears in the London tax rolls from 1563. These rolls, were a series of census and tax records kept by the English Treasury by order of Queen Elizabeth I, with the oldest dating back to the 12th century. They hold the distinction of being the oldest consecutive set of records detailing English governance in the United Kingdom. These records span a period of over 700 years and have proven invaluable to researches over the years. Additional, official records show Reverend P. J. Kenny founded a private college in Ireland in the 19th century.

The first recorded immigrant to America bearing the surname or any variation of the spelling was Edmund Kenny who arrived in 1635 and settled in Virginia. Richard Kennu landed and settled in Virginia in 1637 and Edward Kenny arrived and settled in Virginia in 1655.

There were also many immigrants to the British Common Wealth countries of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand bearing the surname Kenny. Joseph Kenny landed in 1812 and settled in Canada. Michael Kenny arrived in 1846 and settled in Adelaide, Australia. John Kenny arrived in 1840 and settled in Auckland, New Zealand.

Worldwide, the highest concentration of people with the surname Kenny are found in Ireland, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand . By state, the largest percentile of those with the surname Kenny live in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.

There are many persons of note who bear the surname Kenny. Sir Anthony Kenny was born in Lancashire, England and is a renowned scholar of philosophy with primary interest in philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, and the history of philosophy.

Kenny attended the Venerable English College in Rome and was ordained in 1955 after receiving a degree in Licentiate of Sacred Theology. After his ordination, he went on to the University of Oxford where he received his doctorate in philosophy. In the early 1960s, Kenny returned to a lay state in a quest to devote his time to philosophy. In 1992, Kenny was made a Knight Bachelor.

Kenny Coat of Arms Meaning

The two main devices (symbols) in the Kenny blazon are the cross and heart. The three main tinctures (colors) are purpure, or and argent .

The pattern engrailed is a series of scalloped indentations with the points facing outwards – and should not be confused with invected, which has the points facing inwards! Wade believes that both of these indented forms represent “earth or land”, and one perhaps can indeed see the furrowed earth embodied in them.

The bright yellow colour frequently found in coats of arms is known to heralds as Or, or sometimes simply as Gold.1. Along with, argent, or silver it forms the two “metals” of heraldry – one of the guidelines of heraldic design is that silver objects should not be placed upon gold fields and vice versa 2. The yellow colour is often associated with the Sun, and the zodiacal sign of Leo.3.

Argent is the heraldic metal Silver and is usually shown as very pure white. It is also known more poetically as pearl, moon (or luna) 4. In a sketch or drawing it is represented by plain, unmarked paper 5.

No other symbol appearing in heraldry is subject to as much variation as the cross 6. Mediaeval Europe was a deeply religious and Christian and many of the nobility wanted to show their devotion by adopting the symbol of the cross as part of the arms. In its basic form, the cross is created from two broad bands of colour at right angles covering the whole extent of the shield. It has been subject to all manner of embellishment, and the interested reader is referred to the references, especially Parker’s Heraldic dictionary for many examples of these. 7 8 9 Suffice it to say that any armiger would be proud to have such an important device as part of their arms.

The heart is represented by the conventional symbol that we see today on playing cards. In later arms it can also appear emflamed and crowned. 10 Guillim, the 17th century heraldic author, believes that it shows the holder to be a “man of sincerity…who speaks truth from his heart”. 11

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  • 1 Boutell’s Heraldry, J.P. Brooke-Little, Warne, (revised Edition) London 1970, P 27
  • 2 A Complete Guide to Heraldry, A.C. Fox-Davies, Bonanza (re-print of 1909 Edition), New York, 1978, P85
  • 3 Understanding Signs & Symbols – Heraldry, S. Oliver & G. Croton, Quantum, London, 2013, P53
  • 4 Understanding Signs & Symbols – Heraldry, S. Oliver & G. Croton, Quantum, London, 2013, P53
  • 5 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1847, P11
  • 6 Boutell’s Heraldry, J.P. Brooke-Little, Warne, (revised Edition) London 1970, P 47
  • 7 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Cross
  • 8 A Complete Guide to Heraldry, A.C. Fox-Davies, Bonanza (re-print of 1909 Edition), New York, 1978, P106
  • 9 A Treatise on Heraldry, J. Woodward, W & A.K Johnston, Edinburgh & London, 1896, P160-173
  • 10 A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Heart
  • 11 A Display of Heraldry, J. Guillim, Blome, London, 1679, P184