This name is of Anglo-Saxon origin and is from a nickname for a man with particularly dark hair or a swarthy complexion, usually found as "Dunn", and of which "Downing" and "Dunning" are the patronymic forms, meaning "the son of Dunn". The derivation is from the Olde English pre 7th Century word "dunn" meaning "dark-coloured". The name may also partly derive from an Olde English byname recorded as "Dunn" or "Dunna", meaning "the dark one". The surname development has included Geoffrey Dounyng (1311, Essex), Alice Downyng (1379, Yorkshire) and John Downing, sheriff of Norwich (1432, Norfolk). Francis Downing was an early emigrant to the New World, being listed in the "muster" at Charles City, in Virginia, in 1624. Sir George Downing (1623 - 1684), first baronet, was scout-master-general of Cromwell's army in Scotland in 1650, and headed the movement for offering the crown to Cromwell. Also a notable foreign diplomat, Colbert called him "le plus grand querelleur des diplomates de son temps". His grandson, also Sir George (1684 - 1749), founded Downing College. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Richard Duning, which was dated 1197, in the "Fines Court Records of Oxfordshire", during the reign of King Richard 1, known as "The Lionheart", 1189 - 1199. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was 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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