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Our 2,897 members have registered
2,470 study surnames with us
and a further 6,271 variant names.
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About the study

HEENAN is my father's surname.  I chose to keep it when I married because there are so few of us with this name in my home area of Wales in UK.

I didn't really know anything about our history until the late 1990s when I decided I would try to document this as a 40th wedding gift for my parents. What I discovered was that "our" branch of the family came from a tiny area of County Limerick. Exactly when my great great grandfather Patrick Heenan came to Wales isn't clear. All I know is that by the time of the 1871 census he was established in Rhymney, an iron making town in South Wales.

The more I dug for information the more hungry I became for more. This one-name study has developed from that hunger. 

Current status

This study is in its infancy.

  • I have collected census data for Wales and England. I am in the process of analysing this information, and looking for family groupings. This data can be accessed in raw form  as a Google spreadsheet via this link for England and this link for Wales
  • I have collected Births, Marriages and Deaths for England and Wales 1837-1974. Available via this link 


Variant names

Variations of HEENAN include: O'Henaghan, O'Hennegan, O'Henehan, and without the prefix as in Heanaghan, Henehan, Henihan, Hennigan, Henaghan, Henaughan, Henekan, Heanan and Henan. 

For the purposes of my study I will include only the name HEENAN at this stage. 

Name origin

Meaning of the Heenan surname

According to the American Dictionary of Names HEENAN is an  anglicized form of the Gaelic name Ó hÉanáin (descendant of Éanán). Woulfe, however, believes it to be a form of Ó hEidhneáin, which he derives from a diminutive of eidhean ‘ivy’. The same source indicates it may sometimes be a reduced version of Heneghan.

A difference source (namely describes HEENAN as an ancient Irish surname from the 13th century. It is thought to be a nickname or metonymic, and to supposedly owe its derivation from the early Gaelic word "ean" meaning a bird. It derives from the ancient name O'hEeanchain, which loosely translates as "The descendant of the son of the Bird". Who the "Bird" was and how he became so named, is not known, but since it was normal for Gaelic surnames to descend from the original chief of the clan, it may be that the Bird was a hunter or hawker or a bird trainer. 


History of the name

  • Early examples of the surname recordings include Thomas O'Henegan in Pettys "Survey of Ireland" for County Mayo in 1659, and Father Patrick Henecan, the parish priest of Ballysodare, and Dean of Achonry in 1743.
  • The first known recorded use of the name is believed to be that of Tayg O'Henehan, who was brought before the courts of County Kerry in the year 1295. His fate is not known. (source:
  • In April 1860 Bare knuckle fighter John C. Heenan fought for the world title
  • Bobby the Brain (Bobby Heenan), American professional wrestler, manager and wrestling commentator. Career spanned 40 years from 1960s. Indicted into Hall of Fame of World Wrestling in 2004 Federation Source:
  • 2014 Deirdre Heenan, University of Ulster pro-vice chancellor was named as co chair of new commission established to inquire into Northern Ireland economy. Source:

Name frequency

The surname HEENAN is most commonly found in Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, North America and the UK mainland.

According to the UK Office of National Statistics in September 2002 there were 829 individuals with the surname of Heenan in the UK giving it a ranking of 7685. Source:

Within the United States it ranks 12,610 out of 88,799 surnames with a frequency of 0.001%. Source:

Distribution of the name

As the chart below from Public Profiler indicates, based on publicly available telephone directories and national electoral registers, between 2000-2005, the highest density of the surname remains within Ireland. 

HEENAN worldwide distribution - public profiler

Within the UK, census information I've collected to date shows rapid growth in the number of individuals with the surname HEENAN in England between 1881 and 1891. Growth in Wales was considerably more modest. 

HEENAN - uk census - distribution chart

Outside of Ireland, distribution of the name became more scattered from the late 19th century. A comparison of data collected via Public Profiler for 1881 with that for 1998 shows how frequency of the name has increased in Scotland and the industrial heart of England  with a clustering in South Wales and the adjacent counties in England. 

HEENAN distribution 1881 vs 1998


  • GRO births, marriages, deaths England/Wales from 1835 
    Click the link here to view the data as a spreadsheet in Google docs
  • Wales Census 1861-1911
    Click the link here to view the data as a spreadsheet in Google docs
  • England Census 1841-1861  click here to view the data as a spreadsheet in Google docs