This article looks at how common Dunne is as a last name in Ireland and the United States from the 19th century to the present day.
You’ll learn the meaning and origins of the Dunne surname while exploring some notable and famous people that held it.
I use census records, emigration lists, and military archives to uncover fascinating patterns. If you’re studying your genealogy, check out my sources at the end of the post so you can do your own research.
How Common Is Dunne As A Surname In Ireland?
Detailed current statistics about surnames are not publicly released by the Irish government. Instead, they offer the ten most frequently occurring surnames among newborns in the previous year. Dunne
However, an Irish genealogist studied the top one hundred surname numbers in Ireland between 1992 and 1997. Seán Murphy based his research on telephone books. This isn’t as accurate as a census but gives a good approximation.
Dunne was ranked 29 in the top one hundred names in this decade with a total of 18,400 entries.
This graphic shows how it ranks compared to the 1st, 33rd, 66th, and 100th entries in the survey:
Dunne In The Early 1900s
The only full censuses that are publically available in Ireland are from 1911 and 1901. Prior decades were either destroyed through government action (to reclaim storage space) or by a catastrophic fire during the Irish Civil War.
So, let’s concentrate on the early decades of the twentieth century.
I used online archives to calculate the total numbers by surname. I consider these estimates due to some percentage of transcription errors. So, I’ve rounded the numbers to the nearest fifty.
There were 12,350 residents named Dunne on the island in 1911.
Ten years earlier, Dunne had about 12,100 residents in the 1901 census.
Population Estimates In The 1890s
A study of Irish surnames was conducted in 1890 by the head of the Civil Registrations Office. It was published as a “Special Report on Surnames In Ireland.”
The survey estimated that there were about 16,300 people named Dunne in the country.
Emigration To America After The Irish Famine
The Irish have historically emigrated to Britain, the United States, Canada, and Australia. They were motivated by multiple factors, including social unrest, economic desperation, and hunger.
The largest wave of emigration to the United States occurred during the 19th century. The peak was in response to the Great Irish Famine, which took place between 1845 and 1852. A plant disease devastated the main food and income crop for much of the population.
I reviewed the Dunne name in the shipping passenger lists arriving in New York during this period. The departures were from both Ireland and England.
This picture shows how the numbers rose and fell in the years after the famine:
How Common Is Dunne As A Last Name In The U.S.?
Based on the 2010 U.S. census, the name Dunne ranks about 10,626 among Irish names in America with 8,941 bearers.
Although the 2010 census has exact numbers and rankings, the rank I assign here is my estimate. If you’re curious about how I got there, here’s a brief explanation…
Estimating Rank In The United States
Historically, some Irish families with Gaelic surnames took English-sounding names as translations under the influence of colonization.
As these names also have English origins, they will have been brought to the United States by both British and Irish immigrants. Because the census doesn’t ask about specific European origin (e.g. England vs Ireland), it’s impossible to identify the proportion with Irish heritage.
I reviewed the census to identify which names are predominantly Irish in origin. In order to estimate the relative rankings of “Irish” names, I’ve mostly excluded surnames that have varying origins.
Dunne In Historic Times
It’s interesting to look at how the numbers of a surname change over time in a relatively young country like the United States. These changes can reflect the broader demographic shifts within the nation. It’s not just migration from outside. It’s also birth rates, improved child mortality, and people living longer.
The historic census records have been transcribed and digitized. I used online archives to run counts of surname populations.
But the totals can’t be exactly accurate due to transcription errors. So, I’ve rounded the numbers to the nearest 50 in the graph below.
This picture shows the numbers every twenty years from 1860 to 1940:
These are the numbers in the graph:
- 1860: 350
- 1880: 1,000
- 1900: 2,000
- 1920: 3,600
- 1940: 5,200
Dunne In World War II
About 8.3 million men and women enlisted in the U.S. Army during the Second World War. Many were of Irish heritage, and some were born in Ireland.
There were registration records for 322 soldiers named Dunne who enlisted between 1938 and 1946.
There were 15 who were born in Ireland.
Dunne Surname: Meaning And Origin
Dunne comes from the Gaelic “Ó Duinn”, which translates as “descendant of Donn”.
The personal name Donn derives from the Gaelic word donn which means “brown” or “dark”. Early bearers were likely brown or dark-haired.
Legend has it that one prominent Dunne family was descended from Cathoi Mor, a King of Ireland of the second century. These Dunnes were a powerful family in Leinster, the eastern province of the island.
Famous Or Historic People Named Dunne
Here are some notable people with the family name:
- Bishop Edward Dunne (1848-1910): his family emigrated from Tipperary to Chicago where Edward was ordained in 1871. He rose to the position of Bishop of Dallas.
- Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936): born in Chicago to two Irish parents, Peter Dunne became a celebrated writer and satirist. His fictional articles in the voice of “Mr Dooley”, an immigrant Roscommon publican, were read by a wide audience including President Theodore Roosevelt.
- Ben Dunne (1908-1983): both Ben Dunne’s parents ran businesses. After working in a clothing store, Ben opened his own drapery shop in 1944. He expanded to form a chain known as Dunnes Stores, one of the best-known business brands in Ireland.
The Ireland 1990s estimates are from Seán J. Murphy’s research paper.
The population estimates of 1890 are based on the “Special Report on Surnames in Ireland“, published in 1909.
The population figures for the 2010 U.S. Census come from a file provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Some of the population numbers are based on my own research and calculations using online archives. I’ve rounded those numbers to the nearest 50 to account for transcription errors and other technical issues with online databases of this type.
The Irish census estimates for 1901 and 1911 are my calculations based on the Irish National Archives
I plotted the emigration figures from 1845 to 1854 based on calculations from the archives of the New York Passenger Lists (1820-1957).