Recorded in many spellings including Danat, Danet, Danit, Dannatt, Dannett, Danett, Donat, Donet, Donnett, Dunnett, and probably others, this most interesting Anglo-Scottish surname has a number of possible origins. Firstly, it may be Scottish locational from Dunnet, a coastal parish and village near Thurso. Dunnet Head is the most northern point of the Scottish mainland. Secondly the name may be English and again locational from Downhead, in Somerset, or Donhead in Wiltshire. Both are composed of the old English elements "dun-heafod", meaning the top of the down. Thirdly the origination may have been as a diminutive medieval nickname for a man with dark hair or a swarthy complexion. This is from the old English word "dunn", meaning dark-coloured, plus the diminutive suffix "-ett", meaning small or 'son of'. In English records the surname dates back to the early 13th century (see below), and amongst the early recordings is that of John de Dunheued of Wiltshire in Sir Christopher Hatton's 'Book of Seals' in 1246. Other later recordings in the surviving registers of the city of London include Robert Donnett christened on January 7th 1592 at St. Andrew's Holborn, Lyonell Dann who married Katherine Lewes at St Mary Magdalene, on February 19th 1597, and Hannah Dannatt who married William Vasey at St Margarets Westminster, on August 2nd 1864. Scottish records first mention the name in 1541 when Sir Gilbert Dynnocht was vicar of Ardurnes, whilst Matthew and George Dunnett of Giles, Caithness were apprehended as rebels in 1670. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Walter Dunheued. This was dated 1201, in the Pipe Rolls of the county of Somerset, during the reign of King John of England, 1199 - 1216. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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