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King – Irish, English and French origins

The surname King is a common one in several countries around the world. It has various origins in Europe, and the Irish version of the name can be traced as far back as before the 10th century.

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The Irish name King is an anglicisation of the ancient name Ó’Cionga. This was the name of a powerful family clan from the area now known as Galway. The leader of the clan would have been known as Cionga. His family would then have taken his name with the added Ó prefix, meaning they were the descendants of Cionga. The Ó’Ciongas also held the territory of the Irish island of Inishmore.

History of the Irish name King. Image copyright Ireland CallingOther versions of the name King also developed in both England and France, completely unrelated to the Irish version.

In medieval England, the name King was given to someone who behaved in a kingly manner, perhaps the leader of a tribe or even a strong warrior who earned the title in battle. Someone who had won a sporting contest or demonstrated great physical strength could also be labelled King by others.

As Britain invaded Ireland on numerous occasions from the 12th century onwards, the two versions of the name began to merge into one. This process was completed after Oliver Cromwell’s invasion in 1649. He took complete control over Ireland and most of the land was given to British settlers. From that point, it was difficult to find work with an Irish sounding name, so most people named Ó’Cionga chose to anglicise their name to King, and also Conroy.

The name was spread across the world in the mid-19th century, when millions of Irish people were forced to emigrate because of the ‘Great Famine’.

Another version of King comes from the French word roi, which means king. This was the surname given to French orphans in the 16th century. The king of France would pay for these children to be homed and educated, and they were known as ‘the king’s children’. Many were sent to be raised in Canada, and the French Roi was translated into the English King.

Famous Kings

The name has become so popular around the world that there have been literally hundreds of people named King that have made a mark in their given field.
Stephen King. Photo copyright Comicon CC2
Stephen King is a world-famous author. He has written countless best-selling books and is renowned for his ability to grip a reader by building up the suspense and tension in his stories.

Ben E. King is a legend of American soul music. He is most famous for the classic 1961 hit Stand By Me, which is still one of the most played songs around the world today.

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Billie Jean King is a former professional tennis player. She completed the Grand Slam when she won the French Open in 1972, the last major missing from her collection. In total, King won 12 Grand Slam titles in her career. She was inducted into the tennis Hall of Fame in 1987.

Don King is a veteran boxing promoter. He is famous for his white beard and bushy hair. King was the man that put together epic Mohammed Ali fights such as “The Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman, and the “Thrilla in Manila” against Joe Frazier.


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