Roots: Cummins (Cummings, Commons, Comyns, Hurley)

By Brendan Cummings, Contributor
February / March 2004

The original Irish name is ÓCoimín and its variations are numerous in every part of Ireland. The name lends itself to many interpretations. Some say it comes from the Irish word cam, meaning crooked, while others incorrectly believed the name derived from the word camán, which means a hurling stick. This interpretation gave rise to the anglicized name Hurley. Other anglicized versions of the name include Cummings, Commons, Comyns, Kimmons, Commane and even MacSkimmins. The Cumminses came from the Celtic region of France and although many migrated to Ireland, some went to England, where the anglicized variations of the name became popular.

In one form or another the name appears in the roll of distinguished Irishmen from a very early date. In the sixth century before the introduction of surnames, St. Common came from Ulster and founded a monastery in Roscommon and a number of others in the west of Ireland. The Cumminses were also involved in other aspects of the Church. They were administrators of the Church of St. Cuimón Fada of Kilcummin near the Bay of Killala in modern day County Kerry. Today, the Cummins version of the name is most widespread in Counties Tipperary and Cork.

One branch of the family name has an illustrious yet tragic history. The Comyns were driven out from County Clare and escaped to France, where they were accepted into the French nobility. But later their luck turned and many were guillotined during the purging of the aristocracy in the French Revolution. Another branch, the Cummins, was more fortunate. After fighting in the Spanish Netherlands they were absorbed into the nobility of Spain.

The American poet and painter e.e. cummings (Edward Estlin Cummings) (1894-1962) is arguably the most famous person to bear the family name. His most enduring contribution to the world of literature was the typographic innovations found in his poems, including a lack of punctuation and the absence of capital letters. His idiosyncratic form of poetic expression took the literary world by storm and he often tackled the topics of war and sex in his writings, which were considered controversial for his time. When he died, he was the second most widely read poet in the U.S. after Robert Frost.

In the entertainment field, Alan Cumming (b. 1965) is an accomplished Scottish actor both on stage and in film. His turns as the emcee in Broadway’s Cabaret and the conniving Sean Walsh in the film version of Maeve Binchy’s popular novel Circle of Friends received rave reviews. Recently, he starred in the children’s movie Spy Kids 3-D and the sci-fi film X2: X-Men United.

Another famous actor with the family name was Robert Cummings (1908-1990). He was an American actor most well known for winning an Emmy for his role in the live television performance of Twelve Angry Men and hosting a TV show, The Bob Cummings Show, which had a successful run during the mid-1950s.

Coincidentally, Robert Cummings is also the birth name of Rob Zombie (b. 1966), the lead singer of the metal band White Zombie. The band was a staple of the early 1990s music scene but later broke up.

Two Irishmen with the name renowned for their live performances were Dubliner Danny Cummins, who was for many years one of Ireland’s most popular performers in pantomime, and Cormac ÓCuimin, one of the many famous blind bards and shanachies of the eighteenth century.

Cummings is a popular name in the world of sports too. Pat Cummings (b. 1956) played in the NBA for 12 seasons including a time with the New York Knicks during the 1980s.

The moniker has also been attached to the art world. Pat Cummings is a talented children’s book illustrator based in Brooklyn, NY. Her books include Angel Baby and Clean Your Room, Harvey Moon!

The name and its variations are also prevalent as place names, with Cumming, Iowa, Cummings, Illinois and Cummings Canyon, Colorado among the many places that this Irish name has reached. ♦

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