The surname of MACKNAY is derived from the Gaelic Mac Niadh, a name meaning 'the champion'. Macnia, King of Ard of the Ui Echadh, a district in the baronies of Upper and Lower Iveagh, County Down, died in the year 702. The name was taken to Scotland by early settlers. The first people in Scotland to acquire fixed surnames were the nobles and great landowners, who called themselves, or were called by others, after the lands they possessed. Surnames originating in this way are known as territorial. Formerly lords of baronies and regalities and farmers were inclined to magnify their importance and to sign letters and documents with the names of their baronies and farms instead of their Christian names and surnames. The abuse of this style of speech and writing was carried so far that an Act was passed in the Scots parliament in 1672 forbidding the practice and declaring that it was allowed only to noblemen and bishops to subscribe by their titles.
Early records of the name in Scotland mention Maknee who was recorded in 1594 in Burte and Macnia Comarb, of Buite, recorded in the year 1600. Donald McNie was documented in the year 1613. During the Middle Ages, when people were unable to read or write, signs were needed for all visual identification. For several centuries city streets in Britain were filled with signs of all kinds, public houses, tradesmen and even private householders found them necessary. This was an age when there were no numbered houses, and an address was a descriptive phrase that made use of a convenient landmark. At this time, coats of arms came into being, for the practical reason that men went into battle heavily armed and were difficult to recognise. It became the custom for them to adorn their helmets with distinctive crests, and to paint their shields with animals and the like. Coats of arms accompanied the development of surnames, becoming hereditary in the same way.
The name has many variant spellings which include MacNee, MacNay and MacNea.
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