Recorded in several spellings including Donan, Donnan, Dunan, Dunnan, Dunnon, and possibly others, this interesting surname is Irish. It derives from the pre 10th century medieval Gaelic O' Dunain, from County Fermanagh. The original nameholders were known as "erenagh", which translates as lay lords, and described a hereditary situation where the tenancy of the local church and lands was held by the erenagh, even when in some cases the original church itself had disappeared. The "erenagh" also held the ancient privileges of the church and maintained a priest. Sometime in the 16th Century the church reclaimed its right and following the Reformation the church itself lost most of its exemptions. This surname is quite rare, but recordings include Ann Donan, aged 21, who left Ireland on the ship Independence bound for New York, on July 15th 1846, at the very begining of the fatal Potato Famine, whilst James Dunnan and his wife Jane (nee Thompson), were witnesses at the christening of their son Hugh, at Kilwood, County Down, on June 18th 1867. The first recorded spelling of the family name in surviving church records may be that of Alexander Donnan. This was dated January 20th 1762, when he was christened at Seaforde, County Down, during the reign of King George 111, known as "Farmer George", 1760 - 1820. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was sometimes known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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