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About the study
Because Duignan is a relatively uncommon name even in Ireland, I began to record all references to the name that I found, and so a one-name study was born.
Ó Duibhgeannáin is a papponymic, that is to say a patronymic form derived from the personal name of a grandfather rather than a father. None of the anglicized forms of the name retains the prefix 'O' in modern times. It is not yet clear when these forms became current. As late as the 16th century, in the Tudor Fiants, the name appears variously as O Dowgenan, O Dowgynan, O Dougenane and O Duygenain, clearly attempts by non-Irish speakers to write it in English orthography. In this context a pardon granted in 1592 to 'Patk. Duignam of Achchurren, gent.' is interesting as it may be the first recorded occurrence of one of the modern anglicized forms of the name, with the prefix 'O' omitted.
Historical occurrences of the name
There are many references to members of the family in the medieval Irish annals, including an entry relating to my namesake Lasairíona, 'daughter of Fearghal Ó Duibhgeannáin', who died in 1381.
- Maghnus Ó Duibhgeannáin (fl. 1400), principal scribe of the Book of Ballymote
- The unfortunate Maghnus Buidhe Ó Duibhgeannáin, strangled by his wife (!) in 1534
- Cú Choigríche Ó Duibhgeannáin (fl. 1630s), known in English as Peregrine O Duigenan. He was one of the compilers of the Annals of the Four Masters
- Patrick Duigenan (1735-1816), barrister and politician. He was MP (1790-1801) for Old Leighlin in the Irish House of Commons, and for Armagh (1801-1816) in Westminster, after the Act of Union. He was violently opposed to Catholic Emancipation.
- W. H. Duignan (1824-1914), Staffordshire lawyer, antiquarian and local politician. He was a supporter of Irish Home Rule.
- Mary Anne Duignan (1871-1929), better known as 'Chicago May'. After absconding from home in Co. Longford with the family savings in 1890, she emigrated to the USA, and pursued a lurid career as a thief and prostitute.
- Basil (1905-1979) and Mark (1909-1989) Dignam, English actors (and brothers)
The 1901 Census of Ireland records a population of 4.45 million people on the whole island. In this census there are only 1005 individuals named Duignan, compared to 56,720 individuals named Murphy, admittedly the most common surname in Ireland. This shows how rare the surname is, even in its homeland.
Distribution of the name
Of the 1005 individuals named Duignan recorded in the 1901 Census of Ireland almost 70% are living in three counties, viz. Roscommon (338), Leitrim (253), and Meath (113). The name does not occur at all in thirteen of the thirty-two counties.
Today, according to the site Public Profiler (World names), the highest occurrence of the surname is in Ireland, followed - a long way behind - by New Zealand and then the United Kingdom.