This article looks at how common Lyons is as a last name in Ireland and the United States from the 19th century to the present day.
You’ll learn the meaning and origins of the Lyons surname while exploring some notable and famous people that held it.
I use census records, emigration lists, and military archives to uncover fascinating patterns. If you’re studying your genealogy, check out my sources at the end of the post so you can do your own research.
How Common Is Lyons As A Surname In Ireland?
Ireland does not disclose current statistics on surnames in much detail. The most that we get is the top ten last names in birth registrations for the previous year. Lyons
However, an Irish genealogist studied the top one hundred surname numbers in Ireland between 1992 and 1997. Seán Murphy based his research on telephone books. This isn’t as accurate as a census but gives a good approximation.
Lyons was ranked 100 in the top one hundred names in this decade with a total of 9,200 entries.
This graphic shows how it ranks compared to the 1st, 33rd, 66th, and 100th entries in the survey:
Lyons In The Early 1900s
The only full censuses that are publically available in Ireland are from 1911 and 1901. Prior decades were either destroyed through government action (to reclaim storage space) or by a catastrophic fire during the Irish Civil War.
So, let’s focus on the early 1900s.
I used online archives to calculate the total numbers by surname. I consider these estimates due to some percentage of transcription errors. So, I’ve rounded the numbers to the nearest fifty.
There were 3,050 residents named Lyons on the island in 1911.
Ten years earlier, Lyons had about 7,800 residents in the 1901 census.
Population Estimates In The 1890s
A study of Irish surnames was conducted in 1890 by the head of the Civil Registrations Office. It was published as a “Special Report on Surnames In Ireland.”
The survey estimated that there were about 9,400 people named Lyons in the country.
Emigration To America After The Irish Famine
The Irish diaspora is large and widespread with a significant number of people emigrating to other parts of the globe. The destinations traditionally have been England, the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Emigrants were driven by various factors like political unrest, poverty, and food scarcity.
The largest wave of emigration to the United States occurred during the 19th century. The peak was in response to the Great Irish Famine, which took place between 1845 and 1852. A plant disease devastated the main food and income crop for much of the population.
I reviewed the Lyons name in the shipping passenger lists arriving in New York during this period. The departures were from both Ireland and England.
This picture shows how the numbers rose and fell in the years after the famine:
How Common Is Lyons As A Last Name In The U.S.?
Based on the 2010 U.S. census, the name Lyons ranks about 369 among Irish names in America with 84,516 bearers.
Although the 2010 census has exact numbers and rankings, the rank I assign here is my estimate. If you’re curious about how I got there, here’s a brief explanation…
Estimating Rank In The United States
Historically, some Irish families with Gaelic surnames took English-sounding names as translations under the influence of colonization.
As these names also have English origins, they will have been brought to the United States by both British and Irish immigrants. Because the census doesn’t ask about specific European origin (e.g. England vs Ireland), it’s impossible to identify the proportion with Irish heritage.
I reviewed the census to identify which names are predominantly Irish in origin. In order to estimate the relative rankings of “Irish” names, I’ve mostly excluded surnames that have varying origins.
Lyons In Historic Times
It’s interesting to look at how the numbers of a surname change over time in a relatively young country like the United States. These changes can reflect the broader demographic shifts within the nation. It’s not just migration from outside. It’s also birth rates, improved child mortality, and people living longer.
The historic census records have been transcribed and digitized. I used online archives to run counts of surname populations.
But the totals can’t be exactly accurate due to transcription errors. So, I’ve rounded the numbers to the nearest 50 in the graph below.
This picture shows the numbers every twenty years from 1860 to 1940:
These are the numbers in the graph:
- 1860: 11,600
- 1880: 22,550
- 1900: 31,650
- 1920: 40,350
- 1940: 49,350
Lyons In World War II
During World War Two, approximately 8.3 million men and women joined the ranks of the United States Army. Many were of Irish descent. Some had even been born in Ireland and emigrated.
There were registration records for 2,923 soldiers named Lyons who enlisted between 1938 and 1946.
There were 35 who were born in Ireland.
Lyons Surname: Meaning And Origin
The Lyons surname can have French origins, which I won’t detail here.
In Ireland, Lyons comes from the Gaelic surname Ó Laighin, which translates as “descendant of Laighean”. The personal name Laighean refers to a spear or lance.
Several different families adopted the name across Ireland.
Famous Or Historic People Named Lyons
Here are some notable people with the family name:
- John Lyons (1824 – 1867): a Carlow man who served with the British army during the Crimean War in the 1850s. He was awarded the Victorian Cross for bravery when he seized an enemy shell that had landed in the trenches and threw it back over the parapet.
- John Benignus Lyons (1922 – 2007): J.B. Lyons qualified in medicine in Dublin and worked as a cargo ship’s doctor for some years. After becoming a senior physician in Dublin hospitals, he published a leading book on neurology in the 1970s. He followed this with several medical texts as well as publishing fiction.
The Ireland 1990s estimates are from Seán J. Murphy’s research paper.
The population estimates of 1890 are based on the “Special Report on Surnames in Ireland“, published in 1909.
The population figures for the 2010 U.S. Census come from a file provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Some of the population numbers are based on my own research and calculations using online archives. I’ve rounded those numbers to the nearest 50 to account for transcription errors and other technical issues with online databases of this type.
The Irish census estimates for 1901 and 1911 are my calculations based on the Irish National Archives.
I plotted the emigration figures from 1845 to 1854 based on calculations from the archives of the New York Passenger Lists (1820-1957).