Select Lyons Surname Genealogy

Lyon and Lyons are surnames that can be of English, Scottish or Irish 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.

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Select 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 American. 

The Chief Rabbi of Britain in the late 1700’s, from Poland, was known as either Hirschel Levin or Hart 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 1840's.   His son Joseph, born there, was a watercolor 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).  
Ben 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.

ScotlandSir 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.  

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

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

Glamis Castle
in Angus remained the family home and 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

A 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, with 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 Angus.

Ireland.  Lyons origins 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 Antrim, the descendants of David Lyons, a Belfast merchant in the 17th century.

Lyons family in Ireland was thought to have had French Huguenot origins or connections.  Captain William Lyons was said to have fled the Alps region of France for Ireland in the late 1500’s.

“Captain 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.”

In 1622 he was able to purchase an estate at Killeen in Offaly that became known 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 the 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 county, 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 Roxbury, Massachusetts.  The line from Deacon William Lyon made its home in Woodstock, Connecticut.  Lyons have remained on his homestead.

Thomas 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 unaltered structure in Greenwich, Connecticut.  The Lyon family lived in the house until the 20th century and it is still standing 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 from 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.

His tenure in Congress was tumultuous. He brawled with one Congressman; and was jailed on charges of violating the Sedition Act, winning re-election to Congress from inside his 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 would 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 1700’s.
Jacques Lyons from the Dutch West Indies came to New York in 1839 as a minister 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 Post.  His column, which first appeared in 1934, became a New York institution.

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 Lyon 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 medal 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 generations.

.  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. 

But 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 1930’

Select Lyons Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select 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 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)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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