This Ulster surname has a complex and not entirely proven, etymology. It is believed to derive from the same roots as MacSweeney, which is Mac Shuibhne in the Gaelic. This is a nickname surname of endearment. It means 'the son of the pleasant one', which makes quite a change from the more descriptively personal surnames such as O' Kennedy', translating as 'the descendant of the ugly headed one'. Certainly Mac Shuibhne is recorded in the spelling of Mawhinney, MacWhinnie, MacQuinney, and MacWeeny, as well as the short 'Mc' versions. The surname is recorded in Petty's 1659 census of Ireland, which was the first attempt by the successors of the (then) late Oliver Cromwell, to produce a unified gazetter of Ireland. However Petty's only indicated landholders. Nethertheless some fifteen families with the spelling of MacWynny or Mac A Vynny or the really weird 'Ny Woona', see below, were registered in Ulster, It is probably from these people that all the modern nameholders descend. Curiously the name is connected by a torturous synonym route to the famous Scottish clan 'Buchanan', who held considerable lands in Northern Ireland in thw 18th century. Early examples of name recording include Martha M'Whinney at Carnmoney, County Antrim, on December 1st 1708 and David McWhinnie, also at Carnmoney although a century later, on July 26th 1807. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Katherine ny Woona, which was dated June 26th 1659, at Templemore, County Derry, during the reign of Richard Cromwell, known as 'The Lord Protector', 1658 - 1659. 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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