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Our 2,768 members have registered
2,405 study surnames with us
and a further 6,120 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. 

What is clear is that the surname originates in Ireland. Even there it is relatively small in usage terms.  

Current status

Most of my effort until now has been capturing information from core records such as births, marriages, deaths and census returns in Wales and England. I am in the process of using this information to reconstruct some families. 

The next step will be to repeat the exercise in Ireland and Scotland. 


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. 

At present I am focusing on the name HEENAN without its variants. 

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. 


Historical occurrences 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. Known as the Benica Boy, he became a notorious figure. Information on him is available here
  • 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. More information is available here
  • John Carmel Heenan, Archbishop of Westminster, UK from 1963 until his death in 1975.
  • Richard Hammersley Heenan, industrial magnate and founder of Heenan and Froude which built Blackpool tower and multiple bridges and railways across the world. Download a full  profile of this engineer from Ireland, here

Name frequency

The surname HEENAN appears to originate in Ireland. Even there it is a relatively uncommon surname.

The Griffith's Valuation in Ireland, which itemised owners of property (including land) between 1847 and 1864, shows 132 households where the property owner bears the surname. The majority of these were in County Tipperary and County Down. Although most of the other counties had property owners bearing the name Heenan these appear to be one or two families per county. 

By the time of the 1901 census the number of Heenan households In Ireland had declined to just 70 across the whole of the island. The majority of these (31) are still in County Tipperary with County Down the second most populous (15 households). The 1911 census saw a further decline to 67 households. 


Distribution of the name

Migration patterns show that the most popular destinations were New Zealand, Australia, North America and the UK mainland.

HEENAN worldwide distribution - public profilerIn the UK, by the time of the 1881 census there were just 241 individuals bearing the surname Heenan, making it the 10843th most common surname. The largest number of these were in England which saw the period of greatest growth between the two census years of 1881 and 1891. This period is many decades after the famine in Ireland which was a major contributor in migration. 

In Wales, there were no individuals with the surname of Heenan until the census of 1871 although birth and marriage records indicate there were a few people within the country by the late 1860s. Thereafter the numbers increased at a very modest pace, remaining in double digits even into the 1930s.  





From the late 19th century it's evident that people with the surname Heenan began to move more widely within the UK.  A comparison of data collected via Public Profiler for 1881 with that for 1998 shows how the frequency of the name 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

There was a distinct jump in Heenans who headed across the Atlantic in the mid 1850s and lasting until the early 1870s. Most of these immigrants settled in the north eastern states but there were small clusters spread across most of the states by 1920. The majority of these people became farmers and labourers. Today within the United States the Heenan name ranks 12,610 out of 88,799 surnames with a frequency of 0.001%. Source:


The data I have captured to date includes:

  • 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
  • Soldiers killed in World War 1
  • Wills and probate in England/Wales
  • Civil registration births (1864-1915), marriages (1870-1939) for Ireland 
  • 1901 and 1911 census returns for Ireland
  • Births, Baptism and Marriages for Kilbehenny parish, Limerick County, Ireland
  • Griffith Valuation - County Limerick, Ireland
  • Tithe Applotment - County Limerick, Ireland
  • Dog licence applicants, Ireland