Kennedy Surname Meaning and Origin

The Kennedy surname is commonly thought to mean either "helmet head" or "ugly head."
The Kennedy surname is commonly thought to mean either "helmet head" or "ugly head.". Getty / Cultura RM / Kevin Kozicki

The Irish and Scottish surname Kennedy has more than one possible meaning or etymology:

  1. A name that means "ugly head," a surname derived from the Anglicized form of the Gaelic name Ó Ceannéidigh, meaning "descendant of Ceannéidigh." Ceannéidigh is a personal name derived from ceann, meaning "head, chief or leader" and éidigh, meaning "ugly."
  2. An anglicized form of an Old Gaelic personal name Cinneidigh or Cinneide, a compound of the elements cinn, meaning "head," plus eide, translating variously as "grim" or "helmeted." Thus, the Kennedy surname could possibly be translated as "helmet head."

Kennedy is one of 50 common Irish surnames of modern Ireland.

Surname Origin: Irish, Scottish (Scots Gaelic)


Interesting Facts About the Kennedy Surname

The O'Kennedy family were an Irish royal dynasty, a sept of the Dál gCais, founded in the Middle Ages. Their founder was the nephew of High King Brian Boru (1002–1014). It is said that the famous Kennedy family of the United States descends from the Irish O'Kennedy clan.

Where in the World Is the Kennedy Surname Found?

According to WorldNames public profiler, the Kennedy surname is most commonly found in midwest Ireland, specifically the counties of Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford, Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly, Kildare, Wexford, Carlow, Wicklow and Dublin. Outside of Ireland, the Kennedy surname is most commonly found in Australia, and in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Famous People With the Surname Kennedy

  • Joseph Patrick Kennedy - American businessman, investor, and politician, and father of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and Senator Ted Kennedy.
  • John F. Kennedy - 35th president of the United States
  • Florynce Kennedy - American lawyer, activist, civil rights advocate and feminist
  • George Kennedy - American actor

Genealogy Resources for the Surname Kennedy

Kennedy Society of North America
Several hundred active members belong to this society, a non-profit social and historical organization interested in the Scots, Scots-Irish, and the Irish Kennedys (including spelling variations,) and their descendants who came to America.

Kennedy Family Genealogy Forum
Search this popular genealogy forum for the Kennedy surname to find others who might be researching your ancestors, or post your own Kennedy surname query.

Kennedy Family DNA Project
A Y-DNA project set up on FamilyTreeDNA to utilize DNA testing to "help prove a family connection between Kennedys and related surnames when a paper trail cannot be established."

FamilySearch - Kennedy Genealogy
Explore over 3.8 million results, including digitized records, database entries, and online family trees for the Kennedy surname and its variations on the FREE FamilySearch website, courtesy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Kennedy Surname & Family Mailing Lists
RootsWeb hosts several free mailing lists for researchers of the Kennedy surname. - Kennedy Genealogy & Family History
Free databases and genealogy links for the last name Kennedy.


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. "Kennedy Surname Meaning and Origin." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Powell, Kimberly. (2020, August 27). Kennedy Surname Meaning and Origin. Retrieved from Powell, Kimberly. "Kennedy Surname Meaning and Origin." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2023).