This is a PARTIAL surname history for the SULLIVAN surname.
Surnames of Irish origin have experienced many changes in their spellings and forms. Before being translated into English, Sullivan appeared as O Suileabhain, which is partially derived from the word suil, which means eye. The surname probably means either one-eyed or hawk-eyed.
The Sullivan family is said to descend from the line of Heber, who conquered Ireland in 1699 BC with his brother Heremon. Although Heremon killed Heber short thereafter, it was not before Heber had begun a line of illustrious descendants including the great Irish king, Brian Boru.
Before the 11th century in Ireland, people went by only a single name. After that time, the population was great enough that one name was not sufficient for people to remain distinguished from their neighbors, and so many adopted surnames.
Many early Irish surnames were patronymic in origin. Patronymic surnames were formed by taking the name of the bearer's father or an older male relative and adding a prefix such as Mc, meaning son of, or O, meaning grandson of. Nickname surnames like Sullivan used the same prefixes, but, rather than names, added them to a word related to a physical characteristic or attribute of the father or relative of the original bearer indicated. These prefixes are extremely common in Irish hereditary surnames.
During the Middle Ages, the general population was illiterate. As a name was spelt by scribes solely based on how it sounded, one's name could have been recorded many different ways during the life of its bearer. Numerous spelling variations were revealed in the search for the origin of the name Sullivan family name.Variations found include Sullivynd, Hossullivyn, Hossulliven, Hossullivan, Osullivan, Sullivan, Sulivan, O'Sulivan, Sullivint, Osulivan, Sullivent, Sullivend, Sulliven, Sullivant, Sullivind, Osulliven, O'Sullivan, Osullivand, Osullivane, Osulivind and many more.
The large-scale Anglicization of Irish names began in the early 17th-century as British colonists translated Irish names, standardized spellings, and removed traditional prefixes like O and Mc. In many cases the altered names became viturally unrecognizable. The movement back to the older versions of the names was begun by the Gaelic League in 1893; while its efforts repaired some names, common mistakes such as the addition of O to names that formerly used Mc were also made.
Extensive research was conducted into the origins of the Sullivan family name. Examination of such documents as baptismal records, parish records, ancient land grants, the Four Masters, and books by O'Hart, McLysaght, and O'Brien revealed that the earliest evidence of the Sullivan family was found in the territory of Cahir in county Tipperary. The O'Sullivans first became prominent following the Strongbow invasion when they became very powerful and numerous in the extreme southwest of Munster. The family claims descent from Eoghan Mor, father of Oilioll Olum, and they ranked with the O'Callaghans, MacCarthys, and O'Keeffes as among the most important septs of the Munster Eoghanacht. They eventually subdivided, and the most important branches were O'Sullivan Mor, located at Dunkerron on the shore of Kenmare Bay, and O'Sullivan Beare, in the modern baronies of Beare and Bantry. Members of the family achieved note as poets, historians, Jacobites, and Wild Geese who joined the Irish Brigades of continental Europe.
Sullivan is by far the most common name in Munster, and is predominantly found in the counties of Cork and Kerry, with a smaller but still significant population in county Limerick. The great number of people bearing the name Sullivan in these regions suffices to make it the third most common surname in all of Ireland.
Under the rule of England, land ownership in Ireland changed dramatically, and many native Irish families found themselves renting out land to farm from absentee owners.
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