Ireland was one of the first countries to adopt hereditary surnames. It is known that these were in use before the 1070 - 1071 A.D. Norman Invasion, although early records are fragmentary. The usual surname form was patronymic, but very occasionally a habitational style was used. This is the case with Tunney (in its various spelling forms). It derives from the Gaelic "tonnach", which translates literally as "by the waves", or "by the wetlands". That it (Tonnach) was a place of habitation would seem to be confirmed by the first recording (see below), which is in a French form. The sept was originally from the Sligo-Donegal-Mayo area, and is a branch of Cenel Conaill, the Gaelic form being O'Tonnaigh, meaning "the descendant of Tonnaigh". The Famine Records show the name spelling as Tunney, Tunny, Tuny and Tunuy, one Patrick Tunney being an emigrant on the ship "Colonist" of Liverpool, which sailed to New York in April 1846. Recordings from Irish Registers include: the christening of Sarah Tooney (as spelt) on December 3rd 1788, at Donaghmore, County Tyrone; the birth of Thomas, son of Thomas Tunney and Elizabeth Simpson, on September 9th 1804, at Dromore Parish, County Down; and the birth of Hugh, son of Owen Tunney and Mary Sheenan, on July 31st 1867, at Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Ralph de Toen, which was dated 1283, marriage to Petronella de Laci, in Dublin, during the reign of King Edward 1 of England, known as "The Hammer of the Scots", 1272 - 1307. 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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