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Our 2,765 members have registered
2,405 study surnames with us
and a further 6,120 variant names.

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About the study

DUIGNAN is my maiden name. This one-name study has grown out of my attempts to trace my own ancestry.
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.

Variant names

Dagnan, Degnan, Deignan, Diegnan, Dignam, Dignan, Duigenan, Duignam, Dygnan and Ó Duígeannáin
Some of these forms (e.g. Diegnan, Dygnan) are probably deviants rather than variants, and some do not occur in Ireland, but are relatively common in areas to which bearers of the original surname emigrated in the the nineteenth century.

Name origin

Duignan and its variants are all anglicized forms of the native Irish surname Ua (modern Irish Ó) Duibhgeannáin. This name is usually rendered Ó Duígeannáin (occasionally Ó Duígneáin) in modern Irish spelling. The assertion on the website that Duignan derives from the Gaelic name Ó Duibhginn whilst Duignam derives from Ó Duibhgeannáin is incorrect.
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.
The earliest recorded reference to the surname is the death, in 1296, of Mael-Pedair Ua Duibhgeannáin, archdeacon of Breifne (Annals of Ulster, Annals of the Four Masters)

Historical occurrences of the name

The best known Uí Duibhgeannáin were members of a north Connacht family of chroniclers and scribes. They were hereditary historians to the Mac Donaghs, the Mac Dermotts and the O Farrells, and had bardic schools at Kilronan in Co. Roscommon and at Castlefore in Co. Leitrim.
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)

Name frequency

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.


This study is still at a relatively early stage.
I have collected all the data from the 1901 and 1911 (all-Ireland) censuses, from Griffith's Primary valuation of tenements (1847-1864), and from the surviving fragments of the 19th century Irish censuses. I have also collected the raw data from most of the Irish Tithe Applotment Books (ca. 1823-1838), but have not yet checked the information. At present I am completing the collection of data from the England and Wales censuses (1841-1911).  
I have collected BMD data from the Dublin and London General Record Office indexes up to 1958.
My next step is planned to be the collection of Scottish census and vital record data, after which I hope to move on to the consistent collection of data from North America and Australasia, which up to now I have been acquiring in a very haphazard fashion.