Originally recorded as O' Fionnain, and now O' Finan, Finan, Fynan, and Fanning, this is an ancient Gaelic surname. Although Irish it derives from the word "fionn" meaning fair, and whilst widely held to be associated with St Finan, of which more below, it probably indicates a surname of Viking ethnic origins. It is not widely known that much of eastern Ireland was held by the Vikings from about the year 850 a.d. until circa 1000. During this time their capital was Dublin, in fact that name is Norse not Gaelic. The majority of the Vikings were much fairer skinned than the native Hibernians, who had a mixture of Olde English, Celtic and Scots blood. Be that as it may, the annals indicate that by the 17th century the clan were centered upon Counties Mayo and Sligo, although thereafter they gradually moved eastwards back to Roscommon. Here it is claimed, are to be found the greatest number of nameholders in the 21st century. The clan also claim association with St Finan, who died in 661 a.d. This is at least five centuries before the coming of surnames as we know then today, but such was his fame that it is not surpring that that there appears to be a clan dedicated to his name. The most famous name holder was probably Dr Francis O' Finan, the bishop of Killala, (1776 - 1845).
This interesting name of Medieval Irish origin is a modern variant, along with Fenning and Fauning of the name O'Finan, the Anglicization of the Gaelic 'O'Fionnain', the 'O' denoting 'descendent of', with the root word 'Fionn', meaning fair. However, Fanning is also a name introduced into Southern Ireland by the Normans, and is thought to have derived from the personal name Panin, and prominent in County Limerick, where Fanningstown indicates the location, although the family were originally from Ballingarry in County Tipperary. The O'Finans were of the Ui Fiachrach Muaighe group and chiefs of Coolcarney in County Mayo. St. Finan (died 661) is the earliest name bearer on record, Dominick Fanning was a mayor of Limerick who distinguished himself at the Siege of that city in 1651. Amongst the later Irish recordings is the christening of one Bridget Fannin, the infant daughter of William Fannin and Catherine Malone on January 12th 1866 at bourney, County Tipperary. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Nicholas Fanning, 'Lord of Aine', which was dated 1540, Knockainy, County Limerick, during the reign of King Henry V111, known as 'Good King Hal', 1509-1547. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

Surnames reference. 2013.

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