The surname of McAVAN and its variants MacGiven, Giveen and Giffen, were derived from the Gaelic MagDhuibhin or MagDhuibhfinn. They are familiar to County Donegal. This name does not appear frequently in records, but apart from a few Dublin wills, the name has been associated almost exclusively with northern Ulster (particularly Glenties in County Donegal). Thomas Givens (1864-1928) who was a prominent labour leader and President of the Australian Senate, was the son of a County Tipperary farmer. Ireland was one of the earliest countries to evolve a system of hereditary surnames. They came into being fairly generally in the 11th century, and indeed a few were formed before the year 1000. Another variant Mac Dhuibhin, which is anglicized as Mac Kevin and Mac Avin, is also found in County Donegal and adjacent County Sligo. Originally the coat of arms identified the wearer, either in battle or in tournaments. Completely covered in body and facial armour the knight could be spotted and known by the insignia painted on his shield, and embroidered on his surcoat, the draped garment which enveloped him. Between the 11th and 15th centuries it became customary for surnames to be assumed in Europe, but were not commonplace in England or Scotland before the Norman Conquest of 1066. They are to be found in the Domesday Book of 1086. Those of gentler blood assumed surnames at this time, but it was not until the reign of Edward II. (1307-1327) that second names became general practice for all people. It has long been a matter of doubt when the bearing of coats of arms first became hereditary and it was not until the Crusades that Heraldry came into general use. 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. For the majority of the English speaking peoples, the main sources of names have been the traditions of the various Germanic tribes of Northern Europe, and the names introduced by the Church, perhaps Hebrew names of the Old Testament, or Greek and Roman names of the New Testament and saints. Many names were brought over to England by the invading Anglo-Saxons, a mixed collection of people from various Germanic tribes, speaking various dialects which were called Old English.
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