Ryan (surname)

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Ryan (Irish: Ó Riain) is a common surname of Irish origin, as well as being a common given name in the English-speaking world.

Origins and meaning[edit]

Ryan coat of arms at Valley Inn pub, Glenstal, Co. Limerick

There are several different origins for the surname. In some cases it may be a shortened form of O'Ryan, which is an Anglicized adaptation of the Gaelic surname Ó Riain, meaning "descendant of Rian".[1] It can also be a shortened form of Mulryan or O'Mulryan, which are derived from the Gaelic Ó Maoilriain, meaning "descendant of the follower of Rian".[1][2]

The meaning of the Old Irish name Rian is unknown.[3] Some sources have suggested that it is related to the Old Irish word rían, meaning "water" or "ocean".[4][5] Others have suggested that it is related to the Old Irish word , meaning "king".[6][7] Both of these etymologies have been discounted by scholars, however.[3] According to John Ryan, Professor of Early and Medieval History at University College Dublin, "What the Rian in the surnames Ó Riain and Ó Maolriain is has never been satisfactorily explained. Rian, like Niall, seems to be so ancient that its meaning was lost before records began."[3]

Popular modern sources typically suggest that Ryan means "little king"[8][9] or "illustrious".[2][10]

There are also cases in which Ryan is an Americanized form of the German surname Rein.[1]

List of persons with the surname Ryan[edit]





  • T. Claude Ryan (1898–1982), American aviator and aeronautic engineer
  • T. J. Ryan (Thomas Joseph Ryan, 1876–1921), Australian politician, premier of Queensland

Fictional characters[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Hanks, Patrick (2003). Dictionary of American Family Names. Vol. 3. Oxford University Press. p. 242. ISBN 0195081374.
  2. ^ a b Grehan, Ida (1997). The Dictionary of Irish Family Names. Lanham, Maryland: Roberts Rinehart Publishers. p. 299. ISBN 1568332246.
  3. ^ a b c MacLysaght, Edward (1964). A Guide to Irish Surnames. Helicon. p. 15.
  4. ^ "Ryan". The Internet Surname Database. Archived from the original on 20 August 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  5. ^ "rían". eDIL - Irish Language Dictionary. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  6. ^ O'Boyle, Fragrance (2008). Irish Baby Names. United Kingdom: IBN Publishing. p. 125. ISBN 978-0955805707.
  7. ^ "rí". eDIL - Irish Language Dictionary. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  8. ^ Smith, Elsdon C. (1969). American Surnames. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company. p. 88. ISBN 0806311509.
  9. ^ Rosenkrantz, Linda; Satran, Pamela Redmond (2002). Baby Names Now: From Classic to Cool—The Very Last Word on First Names. New York: St. Martin's Paperbacks. p. 419. ISBN 0312983689.
  10. ^ Grehan, Ida (1997). A little book of Irish family names. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. p. 56. ISBN 0811812863.


  • Laffan, Thomas (1911). Tipperary Families : Being The Hearth Money Records for 1665–1667. James Duffy & Co.

External links[edit]