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Cavanagh or Cavanaugh is a surname of Irish origin, a variation of the Irish Gaelic family surname Caomhánach.

Cavanagh / Cavanaugh
Family name
Pronunciation Kav-na or Ka-va-na[1]
Meaning A variation of the Irish Gaelic surname Caomhánach.
Motto Peace and Plenty
Related names Caomhánach, Kavanagh, Kavanaugh, and more.
Clan affiliations Caomhánach

Surname origin[edit]

Cavanagh and Cavanaugh are anglicised variations of the Irish Gaelic surname Caomhánach (Caoṁánaċ in traditional Gaelic type).[2] The surname was first assumed by Domhnall, eldest son of the 12th century King of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada in Ireland.[3]

A considerable number of anglicised variations of Caomhánach exist, with some of the most common being: "Kavanagh", "Cavanagh", "Kavanaugh" and "Cavanaugh".[1]

Origin and meaning of name[edit]

It is referred to in a translation of the historical Annals of the Four Masters by John O'Donovan, noting that Domhnall Caomhánach was fostered for his training and education at the monastery of St. Caomhan at Kilcavan in the Barony of Gorey, County Wexford.[4] He was a son of Diarmuid Mac Murchadha, King of Leinster. According to Irish custom, because of this monastery education, Domhnall assumed the name Caomhánach as a descriptive byname, meaning 'a student or follower of St. Caomhan'.[5] Contrary to usual Irish practice, the name was adopted by his descendants as an inherited surname.[6] In 19th-century Gaelic dictionaries, Caomhánach is also defined as "a friend, companion" and "merciful".[7][8]

Art Mór riding to meet the earl of Gloucester, as depicted in an illustration to Jean Creton's Histoire du roy d'Angleterre Richard II

Numerous spelling variations have been seen as the name was anglicised: Kavanagh, Cavanagh, Cavanaugh, etc. Although Donal (Domnhall) was the first bearer of the name, the majority of the septs that proliferated from the fifteenth century on descend from Art Mór Mac Murchadha Caomhánach, King of Leinster (1375–1416), who died in 1416. The territory of the Cavanaghs at this period was huge, comprising nearly all of the modern County Carlow, and most of north and north-west County Wexford. This was known as "the Cavanagh's country" and with good reason: Art held complete control over it, reigning for forty-two years. He received dues from the English crown, the "black rent" as it was known. The chiefs of the family continued to take the ruling title Mac Murchadha, but by the mid-sixteenth century their power was on the wane, and was decisively broken by the start of the seventeenth century.

Cavanaghs were prominent among the great wave of native Irish aristocrats emigrating to Europe in the wake of the final defeat of Gaelic Ireland at the end of the seventeenth century, becoming officers in the armies of Catholic France, Spain and Austria; one, Charles Cavanagh was the governor of Habsburg Prague in the mid eighteenth century. Despite their loss of power and property, the line of descent from the last duly inaugurated Chief of the Name, Brian Cavanagh, The Mac Murchadha, remained unbroken down to recent times.

The lion passant on the Kavanagh arms is a classic heraldic device associated with feudal power but is unusual for a family of Gaelic extraction. Perhaps it is intended to signify the centuries-long connection of the family with the kingship of Leinster.[9]


List of people with the surname Cavanagh:


List of people with the surname Cavanaugh:

Variations of Surname[edit]

Clann Chaomhánach/Cavanagh covers the following known variations of the family name: Kavanagh, Kavanaugh, Kavanah, Kavenah, Kabana, Kavaner, Kavenaugh, Kavanacht, Kaveny, Cavanaugh, Cavanah, Cavenah, Cavana, Cavana, Cavner, Cavenaugh, Cavender, Cavenogh, Cavnar, Cavignac, Cavanaogh, Cavanogh, Cabanah, Chaomhana, Cowand and many others...[1][2]

Fictional characters[edit]

  • Jordan Cavanaugh, character from Crossing Jordan, an American television drama.
  • Toby Cavanaugh, character from Pretty Little Liars, an American television drama.
  • Alicia Florrick (née Cavanaugh), character from The Good Wife, an American television drama.
  • Miles Cavanaugh, character from The Edge of Night, an American television soap opera.
  • Sally Ann Cavanaugh, character from Fletch, an American comedy film.
  • Johnny Cavanagh, character in the story The Shepherd, by Frederick Forsyth.
  • The title characters from The Cavanaughs, an American television sitcom.
  • James Kavanagh, the main character in Kavanagh QC, a British television drama.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c James J. Kavanagh – Clann Genealogist. "Interpreting the Irish Name "Caomhánach"". Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Clann Chaomhánach. "What is Clann Chaomhánach". Retrieved 19 December 2007. 
  3. ^ Irish Pedigrees: Or, The Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation by John O'Hart – Published 1892, Volume 1, Page 493
  4. ^ Annals of Ireland, by the Four Masters by John O'Donovan (New York, N.Y.: AMS Press, 1966) Volume 4, p. 849, Footnote "Z".
  5. ^ Royal House of Leinster. "Origin of the Name Caomhánach". Retrieved 19 December 2007. 
  6. ^ Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall: Irish Names and Surnames by Rev. Patrick Woulfe (1923)
  7. ^ A Dictionary of the Gaelic Language: In Two Parts by Norman Macleod (1831) – Page 118
  8. ^ Dictionarium Scoto-Celticum: a dictionary of the Gaelic language (1828) – Volume 1 – Page 190
  9. ^ Ancestor Surnames Index, Irish Times