This unusual name is of Olde Norse origin, and is a locational from the place, a headland, in Orkney, called 'Kirkness'. The placename means 'the church at the headland', derived from the Northern Middle English word 'Kirk', meaning 'church', and the Olde Norse 'nes', a headland. The word 'kirk' derives ultimately from the Olde Norse 'kirkja', and the later Olde English 'cyrice'. There is also a 'kirkness' in Shetland, with the same meaning and derivation. The name is recorded quite frequently in Scandinavian documents, reflecting the long domination of the Northern Scottish islands by the Norsemen. One Angus of Kirkness was Archdeacon of Hjaetland (Shetland) in 1426, and John Kirkness of the ilk was 'lawrikman' in North Sandwick, Orkney, in 1678. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Sir Thomas de Kirkness, charter witness, which was dated 1391, register of the Great Seal of Scotland, during the reign of King Robert III of Scotland, 1390 - 1406. 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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