Recorded in several forms including Dearness, Deerness, Durness, and possibly Duness, this is possibly an Anglo-Scottish surname, but is more likely to be entirely Scottish. It would appear to originate from the parish of Deerness in the Orkney Islands, and specifically from the town of Sanday, where the name is well recorded from the mid part of the 18th century. It may be that earlier recordings do exist perhaps in relation to land charters, but if so we have not been able to identify any publically available examples. There is also a River Deerness in England in County Durham, and it is just possible that this river may have given rise to some nameholders. This is not apparent from the records of Durham where the name is not recorded until 1855, but the possibility, however remote, does remain. The name probably translates as 'river-loch' from the Olde English and now Welsh pre 5th century word 'dwfr' meaning river and the later Norse 'nes', which can mean a creek, a ridge or headland, or more commonally a loch or lake, perhaps one connected to the sea. Early examples of church register recordings taken from the surviving registers and all applying to Sanday township include William Dearness, a witness there on October 21st 1737, James Derness and his wife Elizabeth, witnesses at the christening of their son David on January 13th 1740, and William Deerness, also at Sanday, on April 15th 1794. Surnames in much of Europe were introduced about the year 1300, and on the mainland of England and Scotland were in normal use by the year 1400. Exceptions though were remote areas of Wales, small communities and the out islands, where hereditary surnames were often not in use as late as the 18th century.
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