Ryan has a long history that dates back to Old Ireland as a popular surname. The name was actually derived from another surname, O'Mulriain, after an Irish clan leader named Maelruain. With time, the name was shortened and anglicized to O'Ryan. Ryan is commonly thought to mean "little king" or "illustrious," though the name is so ancient its original meaning isn't clear.
The name is Ryan is believed to be derived from two Gaelic words, "righ" and "an." The word "righ" can be translated as "king" and "an" is a suffix meaning "little." But this is a name with a history that stretches back many centuries. It's possible that it was around long before the first written records of it and that its original meaning has been lost.
Ryan is most often pronounced "RYE-uhn" and can also be spelled Rian or Riann. It's typically given to boys, though it's becoming more popular as a girl's name, especially spelled Ryann or Ryanne.
While we're not certain when Ryan first became a given name, we do know it made its first appearance on the Social Security Administration's list of the top 1,000 boy's names in the 1940s. Since then, Ryan has kept its spot as a most popular boy's name due to its strong, simple nature.
Following the 1940s, Ryan experienced a slow but steady increase in popularity for a few decades. It was the early 1970s, however, when this name skyrocketed as a popular name thanks to the actor Ryan O'Neal. This boxer-turned-actor had his first major break after landing a role on the soap opera Peyton Place, then solidified his stardom in the movies Love Story and Paper Moon.
From 1976 to 2010, Ryan was a top 20 boys' name in the United States. Since then, it has decreased in popularity, but not by much. It was still in the top 100 names in 2020, according to data from the Social Security Administration.
Ryan's popularity as a baby name for girls is on the rise, too: It first appeared in the top 1,000 girl's names in 1974. It's fluctuated over the years since, breaking into the top 500 a few times and peaking at number 365 in 2018.
Ryan has also been popular internationally, spending several years as a top baby name in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia.
Given how this kingly name has ruled as a popular name for decades, we expect it to stick around as a top choice for decades to come.
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