Recorded in a large number of spellings including Conyngham, Cunningham, Cuninghame, Cunninghame, Coningham (Scottish), and Conningham, Conaghan, Counihan, Cunihan, Coon, Coonaghan, and Kunihan (Irish), this is a famous surname of medieval origins. It is locational from Cunninghame, a manor near the town of Kilmarnock, and also a former territorial division of the county of Ayrshire, Scotland. The place name is first recorded as Cunegan in the year 1153, the spelling being British (pre-Roman) of uncertain origin. The main branch of the family trace their ancestry back to a knight called Wernebald. He was in the service of Hugh de Morville, a Norman French settler, and from him Wenebald obtained the lease of the manor of Cunningham in the 12th century. Early recordings from this time include Alexander de Kuningham, in the charters of North Berwickshire, in 1190, and William de Cuningham, the vicar of Dundonald in 1403. It is unclear how some of the Irish forms such as Coon were originally conceived, and the Irish Dictionaries offer no explanation, but it would seem to be a 'fused' or short form of Coonaghan. It is well recorded in the USA from after the infamous Famine of 1849. The name has been much associated with the British Royal Navy. Sir Charles Cunningham (1755 - 1834) served under Admiral Nelson, whilst Admiral Lord Cunningham was the commander of the British naval forces in the Mediterannean in the Second World War (1939 - 1945). The coat of arms borne by the Cunninghams as earls of Glencairn has the blazon of a silver shield charged with a black shakefork, the crest being a silver unicorn's head couped, the motto "Over fork over". The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Richard de Cunningham. This was dated 1210, in the "Ancient Records of the Scots Peerage", during the reign of King William of Scotland, known as "The Lion", 1165 - 1214.
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