This distinguished surname recorded in the spellings of Cunningham, and the rarer Irish Conningham and Conaghan, is of early medieval Scottish origin. It is a locational regional name from Cunninghame, one of the territorial divisions of the county of Ayrshire. First recorded as "Cunegan" in 1153, the spelling represents a British (pre-Roman) name of uncertain origin. Locational surnames were originally given to the lord of the manor and his descendants, or as a means of identification to those who left their place of origin to settle elsewhere. A Scots family of this name can trace their ancestry back to one Wernebald, a vassal of the Norman nobleman, Hugh de Morville, who obtained the manor of Cunningham from his feudal superior in the early 12th Century. Alexander de Kuningham, noted in the charters of North Berwickshire, witnessed the grant of Kirkbride Largs to the nuns of that shire, in 1190, whilst in 1403, William de Cuningham was vicar of Dundonald. Notable bearers of the name were William Cunningham, fourth Earl of Glencairn and lord high treasurer of Scotland, in 1526; and also Sir Charles Cunningham (1755 - 1834), first lieutenant of the "Hinchingbroke" with Horatio Nelson in 1779. The coat of arms borne by the earls of Glencairn is a silver shield with a black shakefork, the crest being a silver unicorn's head couped, armed gold, and the motto "Over fork over". The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Richard de Cunningham, which was dated 1210, in the "Ancient Records of the Scots Peerage", during the reign of King William of Scotland, known as "The Lion", 1165 - 1214.
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