The name Cunningham, which according to some may signify “courage in battle,” could have come from “Cunedda” who was a king of the “Gododdin,” a Celtic branch of Britons known by the Romans as the “Votadini.” When the Dalriada Scots emigrated from Ireland in about 500AD, they were confronted by the Strathclyde Britons, the Gododdin Britons and the Picts. The name Cunedda eventually led to the names and words Cyning, Kynge and finally King. The “ham” signifies “hamlet” or small town and was probably added in Norman times. Still others claim that in the Celtic language Cunedda was rendered as Cinneidigh (meaning ugly or grim-headed). The name gradually became especially associated with the district of Carrick in Ayrshire, Scotland.
The word “cunning” could mean “coney” or rabbit. This theory is popular because the coat of arms of the Earls of Glencairn reflects two coneys as the supporters. It is interesting to note that in a Gaelic on-line dictionary, the word “coney” (or rabbit) translates as “coinean” and the name Cunningham translates as “coineagan.” Another translation is “milk pail” from the Gaelic word “cuineag.” This theory seems the least plausible.
Despite these different translations, it seems safe to say that the district took its name from the original Cunedda family of Britons. In the twelfth century, Hugh de Moreville granted the manor of Cunninghame and most of the parish of Kilmaurs to his loyal warrior, Wernebald, progenitor of the Earls of Glencairn. The land which Wernebald received had been named Cunninghame for several centuries.
Clan Cunningham was a Lowland Family, as opposed to a Highland Clan. Historically, few of the worldly Lowlanders communicated with the Highlanders whom they saw as savage, dangerous and ignorant. Like the ancient Romans, Lowlanders mostly ignored their heathen neighbors to the North. Even the Scottish kings found it difficult to control the Highlanders, so they looked to Lowland families like the Cunninghams and the Earls of Glencairn, for support.
Finlaystone, the ancestral home of the Clan Cunningham, is located along the Clyde River in Renfrewshire, near Langbank. It came to the Cunninghams in 1399 when Sir William Cunningham, Lord of Kilmaurs, married Margaret, the daughter of Sir Robert Danielston of that Ilk, who presented his new son-in law with Finlaystone in Renfrewshire, Glencairn in Dumfriesshire, Danielston and Kilmarnock. William’s grandson, Alexander, became the first Earl of Glencairn in 1488.