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  • Famous American Surnames

    Germany, Ireland and England are the places that most Americans claim as their ancestors' places of origin, so it's not surprising that many famed American surnames are Irish or English in origin.

    The Kennedys, of American political fame, are of Irish-Gaelic stock. The name Kennedy is an Anglicization of "O' Cinneidigh." The meaning of Cinnedigh is debated: "head of the clan," "helmet-headed," and "ugly-headed" are all suggested meanings. Before being American political elites, the Kennedys were titled and powerful in Ireland: the famed Kennedy progenitor, Cinnedigh, was a grand-nephew of the King of Thomond, and from the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries, the Kennedy clan were Lords of Ormond. The name O' Cinneidigh evolved to O' Kennedy, and during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, under the English penal code and the oppression of Irish Catholics, the "O" part of the surname was dropped. Kennedy became one of the more common surnames in Ireland, and subsequently an American surname.

    Actress Drew Barrymore, her grandfather John Barrymore, and his brother Lionel Barrymore also have Irish-English ancestry. The Barrymores originally came from Barrymore in present-day Lincolnshire, England; they were Anglo-Normans who went to Ireland as part of the Norman invasion of 1172. Many Irish families bearing the name Barrymore came to the United States during the great Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s.

    The Bush family's earliest American ancestor was Richard Bush, who came to Bristol, Plymouth Colony, in 1696. Richard Bush was English, and the Bush surname is English in origin. Its meaning-not surprisingly-was someone who lived by a bushy or forested area. Spelling variations of "Bush" include Bushe, Busch, Bysshe, Bish, and Bosch.

    Conrad Hilton, founder of the Hilton Hotel Chain, along with his infamous heiress Paris Hilton, also derive their names from English origins. The Hilton name dates back to at least 600 AD. It comes from Old English: "hyll," a hill, and "tun," a settlement.

    The surname Winfrey also dates back to at least the seventh century AD. It derives from Old English "Win," joy, and "Fred," peace. The earliest recorded version of the name was Winfrudus of Ethona, recorded in 1190 in England. The name evolved into "Winnifred" and later into various surnames, including Winfrith, Winfrid, Winnefrith, and Winfrey.

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