This most interesting and unusual surname has two possible origins. Firstly, the name may be of Scottish origin, as a variant of "Swain", which itself is of Old Norse origin from the Old Norse "sveinn", Middle English "swein", an occupational name for a retainer or servant, and also found as a personal name ("Sveinn"), originally meaning a "boy or servant". Swein Ulfkills was a witness in King Edgar's charter granting Swintun to the monks of St. Cuthbert, circa 1100. The surname is regularly recorded in the Church Registers of the Orkney Islands, hence the name may be of Scottish locational origin from Swannies Point on Burray Island, but this is disputed by Mr. J.S. Clouston, who states, "I do not think that Swannay is derived from either Swona or Swannay in Birsay (Burray), but is a truncated form of Swaneson (Swein frequently lingers in old deeds as Swane)". Variants of the surname in the modern idiom include Swannay, Swanney and Swanie. Henry Swanny married Margaret Peace in December 1635, at Shapinsay in the Orkney Islands, while the christening of Katherine, daughter of James Swannie, took place on June 25th 1699, also at Shapinsay in the Orkney Islands, Scotland. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Thomas Swony, which was dated February 1st 1596, a christening witness at St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate, London, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1, known as "Good Queen Bess", 1558 - 1603. 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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