Lyons – Irish or Norman origins

History of the Irish name Lyons. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Lyons is a popular Irish surname and has a number of different origins in Ireland, England Scotland and France.

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Lyon is a common variation, as are Lane, Leon, Lion and Lyne. The name is also the origin of the first name Leo.

In Ireland the name originated in Co Galway. It comes from the ancient Irish name O’Laighin.

The ‘O’ prefix means ‘grandson of’ or ‘descendent of’. Laighin was an old Gaelic word for ‘Grey’. Another theory is that the word Laighin meant ‘spear’ or ‘javelin’.

Families in Ireland used to take their name from the leader of the clan so it is likely that the Lyons are descended from a grey leader, or from a warrior leader who used a spear.

Another origin in Co Cork

It is also possible that they came from the Uí Liatháin, which was an ancient kingdom in southern Munster. The leaders were descended from Eochu Liathán, which means ‘Eochu the grey’.

They ruled over territory in Co Cork and their seat was in the village of Castlelyons.

In France the name is likely to have come from the old French lion, which was a word for a brave warrior. Another theory is that it was a surname based on a place for someone from the town of Lyons- la-Forêt in Normandy.

The Normans brought the surname to England when they invaded in 1066. Over a century later, the Norman version of the name travelled to Ireland during the invasions of 1169 and 1171.

The name develops and spreads

In the 17th century, the name O’Laighin started to become Lyons or the other variations we know today. Oliver Cromwell’s forces had taken over Ireland and the country was now under British rule.

It became very difficult for people with Irish sounding names to find work. Therefore the majority of families anglicised their names.

They would lose the Gaelic prefixes such as ‘O’ and also spell their name in an English friendly way.

In the mid-19th century, Ireland suffered the great famine when continuous potato crops failed. Millions of people had to leave the country to escape starvation and disease.

Many people with the surname Lyons were among those who left and they headed to places like Australia, Britain, Canada and the USA.

Notable Lyons

Joseph Lyons
Joseph Lyons

Joseph Lyons was an Australian politician. He was the 10th Prime Minister of Australia and the only one to come from Tasmania.

He was the first Prime Minister of Australia to die in Office. The suburb of Lyons in Canberra is named after him.

Sir William Lyons was born in Blackpool, England in 1901. He was co-founder of the Swallow Sidecar Company which later became Jaguar Cars ltd.

He is fondly remembered as ‘Mr Jaguar’ after the iconic cars.

Jani Lane was an American musician and songwriter. He was lead singer of the metal band Warrant, who sold millions of albums during the 1990s.

David Lyons is an Australian actor. He has appeared in TV shows such as ER, Revolution and Sea Patrol. He has also appeared in movies such as Safe Haven, Eat Pray Love and Cactus.

Video histories of popular Irish names

Irish names and their meanings

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