This surname denotes descent from either one or two O'Cearnaigh septs, one located in County Mayo in Connacht, and the other in County Clare, whence its members moved to Tipperary. O'Catharnaigh is the other sept, located at Kilcoursey, County Offaly, the descendants of whom took the name FOX. These varying origins account for the wide distribution of the name today. The name in Gaelic is O'CATHARNAIGH, meaning war-like. The tradition of surnames in Ireland developed spontaneously, as the population increased and the former practice, first of single names and then of ephemeral patronymics or agnomina of the nickname type proved insufficiently definitive. At first the surname was formed by prefixing 'Mac' to the father's Christian name or 'O 'to that of a grandfather or earlier ancestor. Early records of the name mention Richard Carney, 1547, Ireland. Elizabeth Carney was documented in the year 1746. 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. The origin of badges and emblems, are traced to the earliest times, although, Heraldry, in fact, cannot be traced later than the 12th century, or at furthest the 11th century. At first armorial bearings were probably like surnames and assumed by each warrior at his free will and pleasure, his object being to distinguish himself from others. It has long been a matter of doubt when bearing Coats of Arms first became hereditary. It is known that in the reign of Henry V (1413-1422), a proclamation was issued, prohibiting the use of heraldic ensigns to all who could not show an original and valid right, except those 'who had borne arms at Agincourt'. The College of Arms (founded in 1483) is the Royal corporation of heralds who record proved pedigrees and grant armorial bearings.
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