Lyons Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Lyons Meaning

Lyon and Lyons are surnames that can be of English, Scottish, Irish or even Jewish origin. The Scottish spelling is mainly Lyon; the English spelling may be either Lyon or Lyons; while the Irish version has generally been Lyons.

The Scottish and English names may have had French origins – either from the place-name Lyons-la-Foret in Normandy, or from the Latin leo meaning “lion,” or from a Norman de Leon or de Leonne family.

The Irish Lyons name on the other hand was an anglicization of either the O’ Liathain or the O’ Laighin Gaelic name. Lyons was also adopted as a surname by some Jewish immigrants.

Lyons is the more common surname spelling. Lyons outnumber Lyon by more than two to one today.

Lyons Resources on

Lyons Ancestry

England. There were early Lyon lines in Norfolk and Northamptonshire, both Norman in origin:

  • Sir John de Leonne was born in Norfolk
    in 1225. Richard Lyon, a descendant,
    could have been the Richard Lyon beheaded by Wat Tyler’s men during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Later Lyons made
    their home in Ruislip, Middlesex. Sir
    John Lyon, a grocer, was Lord Mayor of
    London in 1534 and John Lyon founded the Harrow School in 1572.
  • while Sir John de Lyons was
    said of have inherited the Warkworth estates in Northamptonshire through
    marriage around 1160. A later Sir John
    fought at the battles of Crecy and Poitiers in the 14th century. His cousin Richard was arrested in 1376 for
    embezzling the king’s revenue.

Lancashire. The largest number have been and are in Lancashire, however.

Thomas Lyon came to Warrington from Scotland in the 1650’s, the youngest son of George Lyon of Balmuchtie in Angus. His family farmed in the area, later became extensive landowners, and involved themselves in sugar refining in the 1780’s. Their home at Appleton Hall, just across
the border in Cheshire, was built in 1820.

A Lyon family held land at Rainford from Lord Derby from the 1570’s and were
clay potters there
in the following century. This family also
appeared in neighboring Whiston and Melling. Whether
the highwayman George Lyon of Upholland
who was hanged in 1815 was related to them is not known. That
the Lyons spelling is almost as common as
the Lyon spelling in Lancashire today may reflect Irish immigration

Other Lyons. There
were other Lyons in England who were Jewish and who were

Chief Rabbi of Britain
in the late 1700’s, from Poland, was known as either Hirschel Levin or
Lyon. Later Jewish Lyons in England were:

  • Nathaniel Lyons, an immigrant peddler of watches and cheap
    jewellery, who had arrived in London sometime in the
    son Joseph, born there, was a
    artist of some repute before he joined forces with three Jewish
    entrepreneurs to
    found the catering firm of J. Lyons and Co. It grew
    to be the largest chain of tea shops in Britain during the inter-war
    period. The
    Strand Lyons
    Corner House
    was a London institution from 1909 until its
    closure in 1977.
  • while
    Samuel Lyons had come from Poland to Leeds in Yorkshire in the
    1890’s. There he set up a clothing business. His sons
    Jack and Bernard developed their father’s business into a large
    retailing company
    known as UDS (United Drapery Stores).

Lyon was a Hollywood actor who
brought his family to England in the 1940’s.
The Lyon family featured in the popular BBC radio show Life with the Lyons in the 1950’s

Scotland. Sir
John Lyon
the forebear of the Lyon
clan, rose to national prominence as an advisor to the king in the
1370’s. For his services he was granted
the thanage
of Glamis in Angus. Later Lyons maintained these royal ties and Sir John’s grandson
Patrick was made Lord Glamis in 1445.

ninth Lord Glamis was created the Earl of Kinghorne in 1606 and his
survived, but barely, as Covenanters and as Jacobite supporters during
next turbulent period in Scottish history.


Jacobite rising of 1745 the Duke of Cumberland
at Glamis on his march to the Battle of Culloden
, but it
is said that he was not very welcome.”

Glamis Castle
Angus remained the
family home
Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who was later to marry King George VI, spent much
of her childhood
there. The long history of the Lyon family
was covered in Michael Hewitt’s 2014 book A
Most Remarkable Family: The History of the Lyon Family

subsidiary line, the Lyons of Auldbar, who were descended from Sir
Thomas Lyon
of Auldbar, became wealthy West India merchants in the early 1800’s,
thirteen estates in Jamaica. Andrew Ross
covered a further line in his 1901 book The
Lyons of Cossins and Wester Ogil.

This family’s holdings also included the Balmuchtie estate in

Ireland. Lyons

were either from the
O’Laighin name in eastern
Galway where
the family’s territory was centered around Kilconnell; or from the O’Liathain
name that was originally from Limerick but then was more
commonly found in northeast Cork. The
village of Castlelyons (
Caislean O’Liaghin)
in the barony of Barrymore bore
evidence to their presence there. In 1890
the main Lyons numbers were in Cork, Mayo and Galway.
Many Lyons emigrated in the 19th century.

Some Lyons in Ireland were Scots, such as those that at Old Park in
descendants of David Lyons, a Belfast merchant in the 17th century.

Lyons family in Ireland was thought to have had French Huguenot origins
connections. Captain William Lyons was
said to have fled the Alps region of France for Ireland in the late

William Lyons, a supporter of Henry of Navarre and the Huguenot cause,
fled to
England after the St. Bartholomew Massacre in 1572.
Entering the army of Queen Elizabeth he
commanded a company of cavalry under the Earl of Essex in the Irish
wars of 1599.”

1622 he was able to purchase an estate at Killeen in Offaly that became
as River Lyons. A branch of the family bought the Ledestown
estate in Westmeath
and in the early 1700’s were planters in Antigua. Later
Lyons of this line, based in Hampshire,
had distinguished careers in the Royal Navy (two becoming Admirals of
Fleet), in the Indian army, and in the diplomatic service

The early
Lyon arrivals in New England were William who came on the Hopewell,
aged 14, in 1635 and three Lyon brothers – Thomas, Henry,
and Richard – who came in the 1640’s and made their home in Fairfield
Connecticut. They all started out from
London, although they were all thought to have had Scottish ancestry. Their lineage was covered in A.B. Lyons’ 1907
book The Lyon Memorial.

New England. William Lyon settled in
Massachusetts. The line from Deacon
William Lyon made its home in Woodstock, Connecticut.
Lyons have remained on his homestead.

Lyon was one of the earliest settlers of Fairfield county.
The family was Quaker for several
generations. In the 1690’s his son
Thomas built the Thomas Lyon house, considered today to be the oldest
structure in Greenwich, Connecticut. The
Lyon family lived in the house until the 20th century and it is still
today. Thomas’s bother Henry moved to
Newark, New Jersey; the other brother Richard remained in Fairfield
county and
was probably the wealthiest of the three brothers when he died in 1678.

Irish Arrivals. There were three
notable Irish Lyons that
came in the 18th century.

Firstly, Peter
Lyons came to Virginia from county Cork in the 1750’s, having graduated
Trinity College in Dublin. He practiced
law in Virginia, prospered, and was a good friend to George Washington. His son James had a large and successful
medical practice in Richmond, beginning in 1809.

Matthew Lyon from Wicklow meanwhile had a more
frenetic time in America. He came to
Connecticut in 1764 and later had homes in Vermont and Kentucky.
Lyon represented Vermont in Congress from
1797 to 1801 and Kentucky from 1803 to 1811.

tenure in Congress was
tumultuous. He brawled with one Congressman; and was jailed on charges
violating the Sedition Act, winning re-election to Congress from inside
jail cell.”

His son Chittenden was also
a Congressman in Kentucky and Lyon county was named after him. His grandson Hilan was a Confederate officer
during the Civil War.

William Lyon came to Pennsylvania from
Fermanagh as a surveyor in 1748. He
helped lay out the town of Carlisle three years later.
He and others of the Lyon family made their
home in Milford township.

More Lyons
arrived in the 1850’s at the time of the potato famine.
The greatest number came from Cork. Other
Lyons arrived from Kerry, Limerick,
Mayo and Sligo. Some arrivals like Thomas Lyons from
county Mayo

fall foul of the law. Meanwhile George Lyons from
Donegal had made it as far west as San Diego in 1847. He had been
a carpenter on a whaling ship on the West Coast and subsequently kept a
store in the Old Town, from 1851 to 1858.

Jewish Lyons. As in England,
there have been Jewish
Lyons. Abraham
de Lyon was a Sephardic Jew from Portugal who came to Savannah, Georgia
in 1733;
and a number of Jewish Lyons were recorded in Philadelphia during the

Jacques Lyons from the Dutch West Indies came to New York in 1839 as a
for the
Spanish and Portuguese congregations there.
He was one of the founders of what became known as Mount Sinai
Hospital. Leonard Lyons, born Leonard
Sucher, was a long-time Broadway columnist on the New York
. His column,
which first appeared in 1934, became a New York institution.

Canada. An
early Lyon in Canada was Benjamin Lyon, Jewish, who had arrived in New
York in 1756
and four years later was a fur trader operating out of Montreal. His mixed race son John worked for a time for
the Hudson Bay Company.

George Lyon from Inverurie in Aberdeenshire fought in the
War of
1812 and stayed on, having been given a land grant in Richmond near
Ottawa. Two of his sons, George and
Robert, became
mayors of Ottawa. However, his younger
brother Robert
died in
1833 in
a shooting duel, the last one of its kind in Canada.
George’s grandson
George, born in 1858, became a champion golfer and won the Olympic gold
for golf in 1904.

Irish Lyons. Also
living near Ottawa was Henry Lyons from Wicklow in Ireland and his
family who
made their home in Westmeath township in the 1860’s.
Meanwhile a Lyons family has been living at
Caledon near Toronto ever since 1835 when they arrived from Ireland. There is the Haines-Lyons House in the town
and the Lyons have been farming at Lyonsdale outside of town for seven

Michael and Bridget Lyons were Irish immigrants from Galway who
had come
to Tasmania in 1843 and made their home in Stanley.
One of their sons, John, emigrated to New
Zealand and settled in Auckland.

their eldest son Michael, born in 1845, remained in Stanley and lived
in a
small cottage that is now known as Lyons Cottage. He
prospered for a while and then lost all of
the family’s money in 1887 speculating on the Melbourne Cup. He suffered a breakdown and became unable to
care for his wife and eight children.
Among those children was Joseph, later to be known as “Honest
Joe,” who
rose in Labor party politics to be Australia’s Prime Minister in the


Lyons Miscellany

Lyon and Lyons Today

Numbers (000’s) Lyon Lyons
UK    10    18
America    11    32
Elsewhere     7    29
Total    28    79

Sir John Lyon, Forebear of the Lyon Clan.  The Sir John Lyon who died in 1382 had risen rapidly to prominence in Scottish life from rather
obscure origins.   He was known as the White Lyon by his
contemporaries due to his complexion.

had first entered into the
light of historical record in 1368 when he received a grant of lands in
lordship of the Garioch from David II.
Two years later he was serving as King David’s secretary and
keeper of the privy seal. Quite clearly,
he was a highly literate and well-educated man.

He remained influential in royal circles after the
king’s death in 1371.
The new King Robert II granted him the
royal thanage of Glamis in Angus and he later married Johanna,
daughter of the king.  However, his rise in
royal circles brought him
enemies and he was
assassinated by a political rival in 1382.

Where had Sir John come from?

writing early
in the 16th century deliberately emphasized his supposed lowly origins
claimed that he had originally been called John Myll and that he had
the surname Lyon from Robert II as a reward for his
service to that monarch.

Sir Ian Moncreiffe
that Lyon was a family of Celtic
and that they were descended from a
younger son of clan Lamont.  But the clan itself believes that the Lyons,
the Hamiltons, were Norman in origin and, as de Leonnes, had come
north, possibly
from Norfolk, at an earlier time
at the invitation of the Scottish monarch.

The Monster of Glamis.  The most famous legend connected with the castle is that of the Monster of Glamis, a
hideously deformed child born to the family.

accounts came from singer and
composer Virginia Gabriel who stayed at the castle in 1870.  In the story, the monster was kept
in the castle all his life and his suite of rooms bricked up after his
death.  Another
monster is supposed to have dwelt in Loch Calder near the castle.

alternative version of the legend is that
to every generation of the family a vampire child is born and is walled
up in
that room.  There is an old story that
guests staying at Glamis once hung towels from the windows of every
room in a
bid to find the bricked-up suite of the monster. When they looked at it
outside, several windows were apparently towel-less.

legend of the monster may have been
inspired by the true story of the Ogilvies.  Somewhere
in the 16-foot-thick walls is the
famous room of skulls where the Ogilvie family, who sought protection
their enemies the Lindsays, were walled up to die of starvation.

The Lyons Origin in Ireland.  The Irish scholar Edward MacLysaght gave the following account of the Lyons
name origin in Ireland in his 1957 book Irish Families.

four surnames Lyons, O’Lyne, Lehane and Lane are the
anglicized forms of two distinct Gaelic surnames. Lehane
is peculiar to county Cork while Lyne
today is found chiefly in county Kerry, though formerly well known in
Galway where Lyons has superseded it.

is the most numerous of these
names.  210 births were recorded by
Matheson as being registered in a year, of which 85 were in the
area and 71 in Galway.  Lyons, it should be added, is quite
distinct from the
Scottish name Lyon.  It will thus be seen that much confusion
arises in
connection with these names.

two Gaelic surnames referred to above are O’ Liathain
and O’LaighinO’Liathain,
said to be originally of the Ui Fidhgheinte of the modern Limerick,
settled in the barony of Barrymore, county Cork, but are more closely
associated with the country north of Youghal, called Ui Lithain by the
Masters wherein lies the village of Castle Lyons. The same Gaelic name,
anglicized Lehane, is found in the Courtmacsherry area.

O’Laighin belongs to Galway.They were centred around
but though dwelling in the Hy Many country they were, according to
Ogygia, not of it, but of Firbolg

The Lyons family at Croome Hall in Limerick did come from earlier O’Liathains.  James O’Lyne died there in
1740.  But his sons and grandsons all adopted the Lyons spelling.

Robert Lyon and the Shooting Duel.  In June
1833 Robert Lyon and a fellow law student John Wilson engaged in a duel on the
Tay Canal outside Perth in Ontario.  The
duel was apparently initiated by the 20-year-old Lyon over the love of
a local
schoolteacher Elizabeth Hughes.  Both men
missed on their first shot.  Lyon’s
second, Henri Lelievre, fled the country as he had encouraged a second
and Lyon was shot and died.

Wilson did later marry Elizabeth Hughes and
they had three children together.  Lyon’s
tombstone in the Anglican cemetery
in Perth read as follows:

Dedicated to the memory of Robert Lyon, student-at-law.
He fell in
mortal combat on 13 June 1833 in the 20th year of his age.
Requieseat in Pace.”

has been remembered.  In 1996 Susan Cole wrote A
Matter of Honour,
account of the duel.  A
year later two students of Sheridan College oversaw
the production of an independent film by
the same name, telling the story.

$300 for the Capture of Thomas Lyons.  Thomas Lyons murdered Patrick McDonough in Lexington, Missouri on the 4th
of June, 1858 and then escaped from jail on the 1st of November that year.

said Lyons was the
son of Edward Lyons of Kiladoon parish in county Mayo. The deceased man
was the
son of Martin McDonough of Dadrain of the same county and parish.

sheriff of
Harrisonville in Cass county offered a reward of three hundred dollars
for the
arrest of the said Lyons.  The
description of him was as follows:

5 feet 8 inches, light brown hair, dark eyes, thin visaged, with long
quick spoken, and knock kneed.”

person who will arrest and deliver him to the proper authority will
receive a
$100 additional reward from Thomas O’Maley of Belmont county, Ohio. 

The Lyons Corner Houses.  The Corner Houses, which first appeared in London n 1909 and remained until 1977, were
noted for their art deco style. They were situated on or near the
corners of Coventry
Street, Strand and Tottenham Court Road, while the Maison Lyonses were
Marble Arch and in Shaftesbury Avenue.

were all large buildings on four or five floors, the ground floor of
which was
a food hall with counters for delicatessen, sweets and chocolates,
fruit, flowers and other products.  In
addition, they possessed hairdressing salons, telephone booths, theatre
agencies and at one period a twice-a-day food delivery service.  On the other floors were several restaurants,
each with a different theme and all with their own musicians.

a time the Corner Houses were open 24
hours a day.  At their peak each branch
employed around 400 staff. They featured
window displays designed by Kay Lipton and, in the post-war period, the
Houses were generally smarter and grander than the local tea shops.

Lyons began losing money as tastes
changed in the 1960’s and in 1978 the company was sold to Allied


Lyons Names

  • Sir John Lyon was the Chamberlain of Scotland in the 1370’s.
  • Sir Joseph Lyons was a
    founder of the J. Lyons and Co, the company which grew to be the largest chain of tea shops in Britain during the inter-war period.
  • Joseph Lyons, the grandson of Irish immigrants, was Prime Minister of Australia from 1932 to 1939.
  • Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon from the Scottish Lyon family
    married into the Royal Family and was the much-loved Queen Mother until her death in 2002 at the age of 101.

Select Lyons Numbers Today

  • 28,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 43,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 36,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Lyons and Like Surnames.

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.

Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.





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