Everything you need to know about the Irish surname Ryan - meaning, origins, interesting facts, and famous people with the last name Ryan.

Irish derivation:

Ó Riain

Name meaning:

"Descendant of Rían (little red one/little king disputed)" 

Counties associated with the name:

Carlow, Tipperary, and Limerick

Coat of arms motto:

"I would rather die than be disgraced"

Ryan name history:

Ryan is the English-language name derived from the old Irish name Rian. The name derives from the Irish name O’Riain, which in turn derived from the name O’Mulriain.

Popular sources suggest the name means little king or illustrious. 

According to John Ryan, Professor of Early and Medieval History at University College Dublin, "Rian, like Niall, seems to be so ancient that its meaning was lost before records began."

Many Ryans from the West of Ireland can trace their roots back to a 9th-century chieftain called Maelruain. His descendants took the name O’Maelruain.

Over time the name became Anglicised, first to O’Mulryan and later simply Ryan. These Ryans lived in the counties of Clare and Limerick.

The popularity of "Ryan" as a name for newborn children in Ireland was ranked at No. 10 in 2005 and No. 14 in 2006.

Interesting facts: 

  • Ryan is just as popular a first name as it is a surname.
  • The other major Ryan root is that deriving from Rian, the mid-10th century King of the territory Ui Cinsealaigh in South Leinster.

Some famous Ryans:

  • Francis T. Ryan (1862 - 1927, American Medal of Honor recipient)
  • Harold M. Ryan (1911-2007, US Representative from Michigan)
  • Gerry Ryan (1956-2010, Irish radio personality)
  • Meg Ryan (1961, American actress)
  • Rex Ryan (1962, NY Jets head coach)
  • TJ Ryan (1876-1921, Premier of Queensland)
  • Paul Ryan (1970, former Speaker of the House, Congressman from Wisconsin)

What this short documentary on the name Ryan here: 

* Originally published in 2014, updated in September 2023.