This unusual surname is almost certainly French in origin. It is believed to derive from the Breton De Guen, and its diminutive De Guenin. "Guen" means white and is cognate with the Welsh "gwinn" also meaning white or fair. It is therefore possible that the orginal nameholders were of Welsh stock, being so nicknamed by the Bretons of Brittany. If this is correct then the name has almost come full circle. The first De Guenin's into Britain were Huguenot refugees fleeing from the tyranny of catholic France under the repressive bigot King Louis X1V. A study of available records suggest that the nameholders arrived in London about the year 1700, and between then and 1760 the name was gradually anglicised to the "modern" spellings of Dignan, Dignon, and Dignam. The French were highly unpopular in England, if not Scotland and Ireland, throughout the 18th century, and almost everybody with a French sounding name "transposed" the spelling into a more acceptable "English" form. Early examples of the surname recording include Joshua de Guenin, christened at Threadneedle Street French Huguenot church, London, on January 13th 1717, and Elizabeth Dignan, the daughter of Dominick Dignan, born at Holborn Hospital, London, on October 29th 1758. The first known recording is probably that of Theophille de Guenin and his wife the former Anne Arnaud, at Threadneedle Street French church, London, on October 13th 1710. This was during the reign of Queen Anne of England, (1701 - 1714), known as the last Stuart Monarch.
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