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Ryan Name Meaning: Origin, Popularity & Nicknames

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

Ryan Overview

  • Meaning: According to most historians, Ryan means “little king” in Gaelic. However, some believe it might also mean “illustrious.”
  • Gender: Ryan is usually a boy’s name. However, in the latter half of the 20th century, it gained more popularity as a girl’s name.
  • Origin: Ryan is an Irish name. There are many theories about its origin. Some say it’s derived from one or more Old Irish surnames. However, most believe it comes from the Gaelic words “righ” and “an,” which, when combined, mean “little kind.”
  • Pronunciation: Ryan is pronounced “rye-uhn.”
  • Popularity: Ryan became very popular in the 1970s and has increased ever since. Currently, it’s the 57th most popular boy’s name in the United States. It also maintains high popularity in the UK.
  • Variations: Ian, Orion, Remi, Ryder, Ryker.
  • Namesakes: Ryan Adams, American singer. Ryan Bates, American football player. Ryan Cabrera, American pop singer.

Ryan is a name with universal appeal that’s incredibly popular around the world. Its Irish roots run deep, giving it a timelessness that’s persisted over the centuries. It started out as a common name for boys, but in the last few decades, it’s become pretty popular for girls, too.

If you’re looking for name inspiration or want to know a bit more about your given name, you’re in the right place to learn all about Ryan.

What Does Ryan Mean?

By most accounts, Ryan is an Old Irish name that means “little king.” However, there are some historians who trace the name to the word “illustrious,” while others attribute it to old Irish surnames.

What Is the Origin of the Name Ryan?

There are at least four different origins for the name Ryan, all of which stem from Irish history.

The first theory is that the name Ryan comes from the Gaelic words “righ” and “an.” Roughly translated, that means “little king” or, a more modern and looser translation might be “descendant of the king.”

The second theory is that it’s a derivative of the given name Rían or the surname O’Ríain, which means “son of Rían.”

There’s also a history of the Ryan clan, which descended from Cathaoir Mór, the 2nd century King of Leinster. In this case, historians have suggested the name means “illustrious.” There isn’t much evidence to back this theory up, though.

Last, there’s a possibility that it’s a derivative of the Old Irish word for “water,” which is “rían.”

However, despite all of these theories, there are still historians who discount them all. Many think Ryan is simply too old to be tied to any specific origin.

How Popular Is the Name Ryan?

It’s most common in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In each country, it found varying positions high on the name charts.

From 1994 to 1998, it was the most popular given name in Scotland. It reached number 10 in Ireland in 2005 and was in the top five in Northern Ireland from 2000 to 2003.

However, you’ll find most people named Ryan in the United States. In fact, between 1976 and 2006, Ryan was very popular, residing in the top 20 baby boy names (1).

Currently, Ryan remains very popular, sitting in 57th place for boys. Although it’s still high on the list, it’s down more than 40 spots since 2000, when it was 13th. However, it’s remained consistently popular since the early seventies, when it jumped from 139th place to 51st.

Ryan has also increased in popularity for girls. In 1974, it was 977th in popularity. Just four years later, it was 368th. It’s seen a bit of fluctuation ever since but currently holds 450th place.

How Do I Pronounce Ryan?

Ryan is a very simple name to pronounce. The phonetic pronunciation is “rye-uhn.”

Is Ryan a Boy or Girl Name?

Historically, the name Ryan was intended for male children. However, you might be surprised to hear that it’s becoming increasingly popular for girls, too.

Much of its popularity can be traced back to famous male figures, which is why it’s managed to hold onto top spots for so long.

Variations of Ryan

Despite its popularity, you might want to find a variation of Ryan for your little one.

Fortunately, there are a lot of derivatives and similar names that you could choose from. Some are pronounced the same, but with more stylish spellings, while others have a similar ring.

Here are a few examples:

Boys Variations of Ryan

Girls Variations of Ryan

  • Raina
  • Raine
  • Reina
  • Renee
  • Rena
  • Rhiannon
  • Rianna
  • Ryna
  • Rylee

Similar Names to Ryan

If you like the name Ryan, you might also like these names:

Middle Names for Ryan

Ryan is a name that goes well with a lot of middle names. So, if you’re planning on naming your little one Ryan, you’ll have a lot to choose from. Here are a few examples.

Sibling Names for Ryan

There are a lot of popular names that would complement Ryan well.

Famous People Named Ryan

You’ll find a ton of famous faces with the name Ryan if you look hard enough. You can find actors, actresses, athletes, and TV personalities all bearing this classic name. As you can see from the following lists, anyone named Ryan is in good company.

  • Ryan Adams: American singer.
  • Ryan Bates: American football player.
  • Ryan Cabrera: American pop singer.
  • Ryan Eggold: American actor.
  • Ryan Gosling: Canadian actor.
  • Ryan Lochte: American swimmer.
  • Ryan Kelly: Northern Irish singer.
  • Ryan Nyquist: BMX rider.
  • Ryan Palmer: American golfer.
  • Ryan Phillippe: American actor.
  • Ryan Reynolds: Canadian actor.
  • Ryan Seacrest: American television host.
  • Ryan Thomas: English actor.

Ryan in Popular Culture

Since it’s such a popular name in real-life, it should be no surprise that Ryan is also a pretty common name in pop culture, too.

  • Ryan Atwood: One of the main characters on The O.C.
  • Ryan Dunne: A male love interest in Summer Catch.
  • Ryan Hardy: The main protagonist in The Following.
  • Ryan Howard: A male character on The Office.
  • Ryan Lavery: An actor from the iconic soap opera All My Children.
  • Ryan Newman: The main character in the comedy Wilfred.
  • Ryan O’Reily: A character from HBO’s Oz.
  • Ryan Spalding: A supporting character from Grey’s Anatomy.
  • Ryan Wolfe: An officer and scientist from CSI: Miami.

Ryan FAQs

What Does Ryan Mean in Islam?

Rayan is the Islam equivalent of Ryan. In fact, it’s sometimes spelled the same. It’s popular in Iranian culture and has several meanings, including “watered,” “plentiful,” and “heaven’s flower.”

Is Ryan Short for Anything?

Ryan isn’t short for anything. However, it has several variations, such as Rayan, that are slightly longer. In addition, it could also be a nickname for Orion.

Is Ryan Also a Surname?

Ryan is a popular surname. Its origins are the same as the given name, although it follows the history more closely since its ancestor was also a surname. Some historians also think the surname Ryan is an Americanized version of Rein, a German surname.

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