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Killian Name Meaning: Origin, Popularity & Nicknames

Learn about the name Killian, including the meaning, gender, origin, popularity, and more.

Killian Overview

  • Meaning: Killian means “bright-headed” and “little warrior.” It sometimes means “little church” and can also mean “war,” “contention,” and “strife.”
  • Gender: Killian is a boy’s name and is very rarely used for girls.
  • Origin: Killian has Irish origins and was given to those living near a church. Its fame rose in medieval times because of the Irish Saint Killian, while popular Irish actor Cillian Murphy influenced the many spellings of the name.
  • Pronunciation: Killian is pronounced “KIHL-iy-Aen” or “KIHL-Yaan” in English.
  • Popularity: Killian first appeared in the U.S. in the mid-1990s and then reappeared in 2007. It’s currently ranked in the top 300 to 400 boys’ names and recently ranked 9th in Ireland.
  • Nicknames: Ian, Ill, Ills, Kay, Kel, Kels, Kill, Killi, Kills, Kye, Lee, Leo, Lian.
  • Variations: Cilléne, Cillian, Cillín, Kiliaen, Kilian, Kiliane, Killiane, Killion, Kylian.
  • Namesakes: Killian Scott, Irish actor. Killian K. Van Rensselaer, member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

What Does Killian Mean?

Killian is an Irish name for boys based on the Gaelic “ceallach,” meaning “bright-headed” and “little warrior.” It can also mean “little church” when using the Irish root “cill,” meaning “church.” Killian also means “strife,” “contention,” and war.”

Killian is also associated with someone “small,” as a diminutive. In Scottish, it translates to “the little warlike one.”

What Is the Origin of the Name Killian?

Killian is an Anglo spelling of the Irish Cillian, meaning “bright-headed” and “strife.” It’s also associated with churches and was once used for someone working at or living near one.

As Cillian, it became common during the Middle Ages because of the 7th-century Saint Cillian, an Irish missionary living in German Bavaria. He was famous for converting many to Christianity, another reason churches are related to the name Killian. Saint Kilian is also known as the patron saint of those with rheumatism.

Cillian is used more these days in Ireland and Northern Ireland, while Killian is also gaining some traction. Killian also appears as Kilian in places like Austria and France, although it’s not as popular as Cillian or Killian. Irish actor Cillian Murphy has recently brought both spellings of Killian into the light.

How Popular Is the Name Killian?

Killian (and the traditional Cillian) is the most common in Ireland but has grown in popularity in places like Germany, France, and the U.S. In the last few years, Killian has ranked in the mid-300s for boys in the U.S. It’s extremely rare for girls and has never ranked above 6,000.

Going back in time, Killian first appeared on the U.S. name list in the mid-1990s. It was still considered uncommon and disappeared from the rankings from 1999 to 2007. Killian is used today but isn’t as popular as other Irish names in the U.S., like Liam, Aidan, or Finn.

In its native Ireland, Killian (as Cillian) first appeared in 1970 and has steadily risen in popularity. It’s ranked 9th for Irish boys overall since 2021.

How Do I Pronounce Killian?

Killian is pronounced “KIHL-iy-Aen” or “KIHL-Yaan” in English.

Is Killian a Boy or Girl Name?

Killian is traditionally an Irish boy’s name and is very rarely used for girls.

Variations of Killian

Most of the name variations for Killian are Irish-based, with a few unique exceptions.

  • Cilléne (Irish)
  • Cillian (Irish)
  • Cillín (Irish)
  • Kiliaen (Irish)
  • Kilian (French-German)
  • Kiliane (Irish)
  • Killiane (Irish)
  • Killion (Irish)
  • Kylian (French)

Nicknames for Killian

These short and sweet nicknames for Killian vary from the obvious to the unusual.

  • Ian
  • Ill
  • Ills
  • Kay
  • Kel
  • Kels
  • Kill
  • Killi
  • Kills
  • Kye
  • Lee
  • Leo
  • Lian

Similar Names to Killian

You’ll love these names if you’re a fan of Killian.

Middle Names for Killian

Complement your Killian with these boys’ names that range from the traditional to the modern.

Sibling Names for Killian

Brothers or sisters to Killian will stand out with these fun sibling names.

Famous People Named Killian

Find out about famous Killians who make their mark in sports, politics, and entertainment.

  • Killian Brady: Irish Gaelic footballer.
  • Killian Brennan: Irish footballer.
  • Killian Clarke: Irish Gaelic footballer.
  • Killian Dain: Northern Irish wrestler.
  • Killian Donnelly: Irish musical theater performer.
  • Killian Hayes: American–French basketball player.
  • Killian Peier: Swiss ski jumper.
  • Killian Tillie: French basketball player.

Killian in Popular Culture

Killian has appeared in various areas of pop culture you may not be aware of.

  • Aldrich Killian: Supervillain and antagonist of “Iron Man 3.”
  • Killian “Hook” Jones: Character in the ABC series “Once Upon A Time.”
  • Killian (spelled Kilian): Character in the book “Palmeras en la Nieve” by Luz Gabás.
  • Killian Gardiner: Character in the U.S. series “Witches of East End.”

Killian FAQs

There are more questions and answers to be had in connection with the name Killian.

Is Killian a Biblical Name?

Killian is not a biblical name like many Irish names derived from Hebrew. Though it doesn’t appear in the Bible, Killian does have religious implications. The popularity of Killian as an Irish name is mainly due to Saint Kilian, a 7th-century missionary originally from Cavan. Killian was the Apostle of Franconia in Bavaria, and his feast day is July 8.

What Does Killian Mean in German?

Since the Irish spelling of Killian is traditionally Cillian, Killian is also found in various European cultures. It proved somewhat popular in Germany, where it also means “church,” “bright-headed,” and “war.” Killian recently ranked 86th for German boys and appears as a surname in Germany. It’s also sometimes spelled Killane.

Can Killian Be a Girl’s Name?

Though traditionally an Irish boy’s name, Killian naturally sounds like it could work for girls. It’s currently beginning to cross into unisex territory and occasionally occurs for girls. Like Rowan, Finley, and Sawyer, Killian may soon surprise us by turning totally gender-neutral. It sounds similar to Gillian and Lillian, which means Killian may fit right in.

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About the Author

Maryana Vestic

Maryana Vestic is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and food photographer with a background in entertainment Business Affairs. She studied film at NYU, Irish Theatre Studies at Trinity College Dublin, and has an MFA in Creative Writing Nonfiction from The New School. She loves cooking, baking, hiking, and horror films, as well as running a local baking business in Brooklyn with her boyfriend.