Recorded in many spellings including O' Canavan, Canivan, Canovan, Guinevan, Guinan, Guinivan, Quinan, Quinivan, Quinevan, with seemingly interchangeable capitals of C, G, or Q - this is a surname of highly confused Irish origins. It derives from O' Ceann-dubhain meaning 'The descendant of the little black headed one' which may be a reference to a Welsh man. This is not known*. At first glance there seems little to connect the varied spellings but research shows that the O' Canavan clan were hereditary physicians, originally attached to the famous O'Flaherty's of Lemonfield, one of the leading land owners until the 18th century.Be that as it may the O' Canavans were from the west of Ireland and specifically County Galway, but over the years they split up. Today, in one spelling or another, they are found in all four provinces, but are not common anywhere. When the break up occurred is unclear, but it may be that their abilities as physicians allowed them to travel widely around the country, and to settle where it suited them. As regards surname spellings it has to be recognised that before 1870 education was restricted to only about ten percent of the population, so few could write their own name. Added to this was the 'thick' local accents, which often confused the church clerics into writing 'sounds like' spellings. Even in the 21st century Ireland still retains a number of local accents totally baffling to other 'English speakers'. Examples of surviving recordings include Bridget Canivan at Londonderry on June 17th 1866, and Sarah Kenevan at Belfast, County Antrim, on June 8th also 1866. Unfortunately most early Irish records were destroyed by the IRA in 1917, when they blew up the Public Records Office in Dublin.
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