Cunningham: Surname, Meaning, and Origin

One origin for the Cunningham surname comes from Gaelic words meaning "rabbit home"
Getty / Javier Fernández Sánchez

The Scottish surname Cunningham has more than one possible meaning or etymology:

  1. A place name from the Cunningham area in the Ayrshire district of Scotland, which, in turn, got its name from the words cunny or coney, meaning "rabbit" and hame, meaning "home" (rabbit's home).
  2. Another possible translation is that the name derived from cuinneag, meaning "milk pail" along with the Saxon ham, meaning "village."
  3. An Irish surname adopted from the Scottish by bearers of Gaelic Ó Cuinneagáin, meaning "descendant of Cuinneagán," a personal name from the Old Irish personal name Conn, meaning "leader" or "chief."

Cunningham is one of the 100 most common surnames in Scotland.

  • Surname Origin: Scottish, Irish
  • Alternate Surname Spellings: Cunnyngham, Konningham, Koenigam, Cunningham, Coonaghan, Counihan, Cunnighan, Kinningham, Kinighan, Kinagam, Kinnegan, Maccunnigan, Conaghan, Kinaghan

Where the Cunningham Surname is Found

According to WorldNames public profiler, the Cunningham surname is most commonly found in Ireland, especially the Donegal, North East, and West regions. Outside of Ireland, the Cunningham surname is most popular in Scotland, followed by Australia and New Zealand. The surname distribution maps at Forebears puts the greatest density of people with the Cunningham surname in Northern Ireland, followed by Jamaica, Ireland, and Scotland.

Famous People with the Surname Cunningham

  • Andrew Cunningham: British admiral of World War II
  • Glenn Cunningham: American distance runner
  • Merce Cunningham: American dancer and choreographer
  • Redmond Christopher Archer Cunningham: the only Irishman to receive the Military Cross on D-Day
  • Walter Cunningham: NASA astronaut and Lunar Module pilot on the first manned Apollo mission (Apollo 7)

​Genealogy Resources for the Surname Cunningham

  • Cunningham Irish Clan: A website devoted to providing historical content on the Cunningham surname and serving as a platform to connect Cunningham individuals around the world.
  • Cunningham Family Genealogy Forum: Search this popular genealogy forum for the Cunningham surname to find others who might be researching your ancestors, or post your own Cunningham surname query.
  • Cunningham Family DNA Project: This Y-DNA project includes over 180 members interested in using DNA testing to help prove a family connection between Cunninghams and related surnames when a paper trail cannot be established.
  • FamilySearch: Explore over 2.5 million results, including digitized records, database entries, and online family trees for the Cunningham surname and its variations on the FREE FamilySearch website, courtesy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • Cunningham Surname & Family Mailing Lists: RootsWeb hosts several free mailing lists for researchers of the Cunningham surname.
  • Free databases and genealogy links for the last name Cunningham.
  • The Cunningham Genealogy and Family Tree Page: Browse genealogy records and links to genealogical and historical records for individuals with the Cunningham surname from the website of Genealogy Today.


  • Cottle, Basil. Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1967.
  • Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of Surnames. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Hanks, Patrick. Dictionary of American Family Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • MacLysaght, Edward. Surnames of Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1989.
  • Smith, Elsdon C. American Surnames. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997.
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Your Citation
Powell, Kimberly. "Cunningham: Surname, Meaning, and Origin." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Powell, Kimberly. (2020, August 27). Cunningham: Surname, Meaning, and Origin. Retrieved from Powell, Kimberly. "Cunningham: Surname, Meaning, and Origin." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).