Recorded in several spellings including Durnan, Durnian, Durnion, Durnin, and Durning, this unusual surname, recorded from the mid 16th Century in the English county of Lancashire, and in the Irish county of Donegal, is of dual derivation. It may be either a locational name from Durn, a minor spot in the Littleborough urban district of Lancashire, or an Anglicized nickname form of the Old Gaelic "O'Duirnin", meaning "The descendant of the strong-fisted one", from "dorn", meaning fist. Durn in Lancashire is believed to be so called from the Olde English pre 7th Century "derne", meaning secret or hidden, and sometimes given to places difficult to find. The suffix "-ing", when attached to a placename meant "the dweller at". The "O'Duirnin" sept belonged to Ulster where the name is perpetuated in the placename Ballydurnian, County Antrim, whilst Durnion is the more usual form in Counties Tyrone, Fermanagh and Donegal. The various Durning's mentioned in 16th Century Ulster records as being Exchequer officials and army officers, are probably of English origin. Examples of the surname recording include in 1816, the marriage of Daniel Durning to Catherine Rortey at Donegal, whilst on March 30 1846, Michael Durnin, sailed from Liverpool on the ship Shakespeare, bound for New York. The first recorded spelling of the family name is possibly that of Allice Durning, which was dated May 12th 1553, at Croston, in Lancashire. This was during the reign of King Edward V1 of England, known as "The Boy King", 1547 - 1553. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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