This name is from an area in Ayrshire which in turn got its name from "cuinneag" meaning "milk pail" along with the Saxon "ham" meaning "village".
In the 12th century, the lands of Kilmaurs in Ayrshire were granted to a Norman named Warnebald. His descendants took the territorial name Cunningham and Harvey de Cunningham is reputed to have fought for Alexander III> at the Battle of Largs against the Vikings> in 1263.
The Cunninghams gave support to Robert the Bruce> and received additional lands as a result. King James III> created Sir William Cunningham as Lord Kilmaurs in 1462 and earl of Glencairn in 1488. But the first Earl was killed (along with his king) a few months later at the Battle of Sauchieburn when James was attempting to subdue some rebellious barons.
Alexander, the fourth Earl of Glencairn was a friend of the protestant radical John Knox> and may have been responsible for vandalising the chapel at Holyrood after Mary Queen of Scots> defeat at the Battle of Langside in 1568. During this time there was a feud between the Cunninghams of Glencairn and the Montgomery earls of Eglinton. The 4th Earl of Eglinton was later murdered by the Cunninghams in 1586.
The 8th Earl of Glencairn led an uprising in support of Charles II> in 1653 and against General Monck, who was Governor of Scotland. He was captured but managed to stay alive until the Restoration in 1660 when Charles II appointed him Lord Chancellor. The title of Earl of Glencairn is now extinct.
The 14th Earl was a patron of Robert Burns> (Burns named his fourth son James Glencairn Burns) and the poet wrote a lament on the Earl's death."The mother may forget the child
That smiles sae sweetly on her knee;
But I'll remember thee, Glencairn,
And a' that thou hast done for me."
Legend has it that the Cunningham motto "Over fork over" originated from an occasion when a Cunningham sheltered King Malcolm III> and covered him with hay. The more likely explanation is that a Cunningham was a master of the King's Stables.
The name spread to many parts of Scotland (with many variations in spelling) and it was the 78th frequent surname at the General Register Office> in 1995.
There is a Clan Cunningham Web site here and here.
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