People Named Ryan

by Bernard McCormick Thursday, January 05, 2017 No Comment(s)

There are too many people named Ryan. It may be the most common name in the world if you consider it as both a last and, increasingly common, first name. It has to be in there with Kim and Muhammad, and they don’t count because they’re not Irish.

We take more than a passing interest in the over-Ryaning of America because we have the name in our family. Great grandmother Mary Ann Ryan was from Tipperary, where everybody is named Ryan. Hers is the most distinguished line in our detailed maternal family tree, in what is otherwise a typically no-account Irish history. Her father, born around 1816 in Thurles, County Tipperary, was allegedly an engineer—pretty rare for the Irish of his time. Not a train engineer, mind, but somebody who took part in the building of a bridge in Glasgow, Scotland, and was working on a construction project in St. Louis when he died.

More importantly, Mary Ann Ryan was said to be a cousin of Archbishop Patrick John Ryan of Philadelphia (by way of Thurles, Tipperary), who is considered one of the more important figures in the early Catholic Church in the U.S. Before he (shown above) came to Philadelphia in 1884, he ministered to Confederate prisoners in St. Louis. In Philadelphia, his charm and oratory helped ease tensions between the old-line Protestant power structure and the Irish immigrants. He has a nice high school named after him. Evidence of the blood relationship is strictly family lore. The Arch was allegedly an occasional dinner guest of grandfather Edward Sweeney, Mary Ann Ryan’s son-in-law, who published Catholic books in Philadelphia at the turn of the 19th century. It would make sense that they were friendly.

Back on topic. Ryan is a common name–ranked eighth in Ireland, so you would expect the name to travel. In America, we had financier Thomas Fortune Ryan in the colonial era, Father Abram Ryan (priest-poet of the Confederacy), actors Robert Ryan and Meg Ryan, and author Cornelius Ryan (The Longest Day). Making it into at least three movies—”Von Ryan’s Express,” “Ryan’s Daughter” and “Saving Private Ryan”—didn’t hurt the name’s popularity. There was also a long-running soap opera, “Ryan’s Hope.” Often forgotten is the fact that Charles Lindbergh’s plane, which flew to glory, was built by Ryan Airlines—one of several aviation companies founded by T. Claude Ryan. Aviation is in the Ryan genes. More recently in the old country, Tony Ryan (Thurles, Tipperary, of course) built Ryanair into a major player in European commercial aviation.

Sports reek with the name. Pitcher Nolan Ryan, quarterback Matt Ryan, runner Jim Ryun (a rare variation of the name), football coaches Buddy Ryan and Rex Ryan, basketball coach Bo Ryan, and Frank Ryan in several sports. There is a Ryan Center, home of the Rhode Island University’s basketball team—named for Thomas M. Ryan, a URI alum and former CEO of CVS.

Politics of late are infested with Ryans, beginning with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who may become our first Ryan president. There is also Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, who challenged Nancy Pelosi for Democratic Minority Leader. Locally, just in Broward County there are two prominent Ryans, County Commissioner Tim Ryan and Sunrise Mayor Michael Ryan.

On their own, there are plenty of Ryans. But the real problem started when people began using it as a first name. That is a fairly recent phenomenon and has spiraled out of control. Why Ryan? None of the apostles were named Ryan. Not a single signer of the Declaration of Independence was Ryan. Wikipedia says it began in the 1970s with the actor Ryan O’Neal.

And yet, Ryan is everywhere you turn today. It has been one of the most common boys names for two decades. First name Ryans are all over sports. In recent times there have been three pro quarterbacks—Ryan Tannehill, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Leaf. And it shows up in all games. Ryan Howard, Ryan Lochte, Ryan Braun, Ryan Callahan (hockey), Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova).

Other common Irish surnames have become first names. Kelly and Neil are popular, Connor less so. But none rival Ryan. Why Irish more than other nationalities? The English version of Celtic names is short, for one thing. The old Celtic name was, among other tongue-twisting possibilities, O Riaghain. Shortened, Irish names have become very American sounding. You don’t find many people with the first name of Pelosi, Shula, Huizenga, Netanyahu or Arcidiacono.

The name is equally big in show biz. One website lists 16 Hollywood hunks named Ryan, among them Ryan Gosling and Ryan Reynolds. Ryan, with various spellings, has become a female name, not always to the delight of the namee. There are websites devoted to the name that identify it as a strong masculine name, which some women named Ryan say ruined their lives. The same website also has a number of comments that the name has become overused.

Our point exactly. But we must also point out that our clan, which came by the name the old fashioned way, subtly preserved its family legacy without contributing to the Ryan pollution. We have a grand nephew, John Ryan Grande. Isn’t that grand, as the Irish say.


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