MacKenna is an ancient name that originated in Ireland and Scotland. It is most popular in the Co Monaghan area of Ireland and Galloway in Scotland.
There are several variations to the name including Kenna, Macenna, Mackinna, MacKinney, Makenna, McKenna, McKenney, McKinney and Mikenna.
Celtic god of fire
The name comes from the old Gaelic name Mac Cionaoith. The ‘Mac’ prefix means ‘son of’, while Cionaoith was a personal name. Cionaoith was made up of two parts. Firstly ‘cion’ was an old Irish word that meant love or respect, and secondly, Aodh, which was the name of a pagan god.
Aodh was the Celtic god of the sun, or of fire. So the surname meant ‘son of the devotee of Aodh’.
Ireland and Scotland
In Ireland, the MacKennas were a branch of the O’Neill family. They migrated from Co Meath and settled in Co Monaghan. They were an important clan in Co Monaghan and were Lords of Truagh.
They became a prominent family in the field of literature. In particular, Niall McKenna, who was born in 1700 in Co Armagh and became a poet and harpist. He is remembered for writing the song Little Celia Connellan.
The name also has origins in Scotland and is well populated in the Galloway area to this day. It is possible that many MacKennas have both Irish and Scottish roots as there was a lot of emigration in both directions across the Irish Sea.
The name develops
Irish names became anglicised in the 17th century. The country had fallen under British rule and people would find it difficult to find work if they had an Irish sounding name. The fact that English clerks would write down people’s names for tax purposes also contributed to the Anglicisation of the names.
While most families dropped their Gaelic prefixes to their names around this time, the majority of MacKennas maintained the ‘Mac’ or Mc’ at the start of their name.
In 1771, John MacKenna was born in Co Tyrone. He studied engineering in Barcelona before emigrating to South America. He became known as Juan MacKenna and was a hero in the Chilean War of Independence.
The name spread across the world in the 19th century as millions of Irish people were forced to leave their home to escape the potato famine. They travelled to places such as Britain, the USA, Canada and Australia.
Barney McKenna was an Irish musician from Dublin. He had a long and successful career as a banjo player with traditional Irish music legends the Dubliners.
T.P. McKenna was an Irish actor from Co Cavan. He was well respected in theatre, film and television. Some of his best known films include Ulysses, Straw Dogs and All Creatures Great and Small.
Another actor was American Kenneth MacKenna. He had a long career on Broadway and in movies and also had a career as a director.
Paul McKenna is an English hypnotist. In the 1990s he presented a popular entertainment show in which members of the audience would do embarrassing things while under hypnosis. Later in his career he became known for helping people with various issues such as stopping smoking or losing weight.