The name Cunningham may have originated during Roman times, as suggested by Nigel D. Cunningham, writing to our website from Sydney, Australia. According to Mr. Nigel Cunningham, the name "Cunning" originally signified "courage in battle" and came from "Cunedda" who was a king of the "Gododdin," a Celtic branch of Britons known by the Romans as the "Votadini." When the Dalriada Scots emigrated from Ireland in about 500AD, they were confronted by the Strathclyde Britons, the Gododdin Britons and the Picts. The name Cunedda eventually led to the names and words Cyning, Kynge and finally King. The "ham" seems to signify "hamlet" or small town and was probably added in Norman times.
The kingdom of the Gododdin (or Goutodin) centered on its capital of Din Eidyn, later called Edinburgh by the Angles. They also used Traprain Law (Haddington in Lothian) as a substitute capital. This region, between Hadrian's and the Antonine Walls, was under direct Roman military rule between AD 138-162, and after that was organized as a buffer state, reaping many of the rewards of alliance with Rome, but not under its rule. A branch of the Gododdin inhabited the area of Manaw (Manau) around the Forth's headwaters and a natural citadel at Stirling. It is from here that Cunedda Wledig migrated to Wales in about 450AD to found Gwynedd. His pedigree suggests that his was a Roman family in origin, running as follows: Tacitus - Paternus - Aeternus Cunedda. According to BRUT Y BRENHINEDD, a medieval Welsh history, Cunedda's daughter, Gwen, was the mother of Eigyr (Igraine), Arthur's mother, thus making Cunedda Arthur's great-grandfather.
The Kennedy Clan has another Cunedda interpretation. According to Kip Kennedy, in his article posted to the Kennedy and Young Information Pages website, "in the Celtic language Cunedda was rendered as Cinneidigh (meaning ugly or grim-headed). The name gradually became especially associated with the district of Carrick in Ayshire, Scotland."
Another theory has it that the word Cunning came from "coney" or rabbit. This theory is popular because the coat of arms of the Earls of Glencairn reflects two coneys as the supporters. It is interesting to note that in a Gaelic on-line dictionary, the word "coney" (or rabbit) translates as "coinean" and the name Cunningham translates as "coineagan." So this theory seems to have some merit. Another translation is "milk pail" from the Gaelic word "cuineag." This theory seems the least plausible.
Despite these different translations, it seems plausable to deduce that the district may well have taken its name from the original Cunedda family of Britons. In the twelfth century, Hugh de Moreville granted the manor of Cunninghame and most of the parish of Kilmaurs to his loyal warrior, Wernebald, progenitor of the Earls of Glencairn. The land which Wernebald received had been named Cunninghame for several centuries. In the 12th century many landowners assumed the name of their estates as a last name, as did Wernebald's sons and grandsons. Eventually Cunningham became the name of the northern third of Ayrshire.
http://millennium.fortunecity.com/sherwood/553/index.html (Kennedy family website)
The name of Cunningham is a place-name recorded in the early history of Scotland. The District of Cunningham is shown on an early atlas as the area now known as Renfrewshire and Ayrshire, west and southwest of Glasgow, encompassing a large area with many small towns.
Several Gaelic words are tied into the meaning of this ancient name. Before the lands were inhabited by Friskin (generally considered the progenitor of the Cunninghams), they were called "Cunygan" which comes from the root words "Cunny" or "Coney" meaning rabbit and "Hame" meaning home. Hence comes the meaning "Rabbits Home."
Around 500 A.D. a group of Teutonic (German) peoples had spelled the name as "Konigheim"; "Koening" (King) with "Heim" (Home); properly signifying "Cunningham" or "Konigheim" as the "Kings Home."
Some say the first to bear the surname of Cunningham was Malcolm, son of Friskin. Malcolm had concealed Prince Malcolm, son of King Duncan (1st Historical King of Scotland) as he was making his escape from MacBeth?s soldiers following the defeat and murder of King Duncan. Upon regaining the throne of Scotland some 17 years later, as Malcolm III, he awarded Malcolm (son of Friskin) the Thanedom of Cunningham for having saved his life. With the title came land, power, and authority.
Other sources say that Warnebaldus de Cunningham was the first to bear the name in the 1100's after having been given the lands of Kilmaurs by Hugh de Moreville. From Warnebaldus descended the Earls of Glencairn and many branches of the Cunningham family.