Irish name of the week: Brian

From meaning and variant spellings to fun facts and history, here’s a look at the Irish name Brian.

The Irish name Brian is very popular in English-speaking countries. It is most commonly used as a first name, but the use of Brian as a surname does also exist and appears to be more common in America. However, the use of the name Brian as a surname also exists in Ireland, but it is more commonly used in the form of “Bryan” or in the form of “O’Brien,” meaning son of Brien.

According to, Brian is ranked 97th on the baby names popularity charts and is currently ranked the 235th most common baby name in America.


This is one of those fortunate Irish names that doesn’t often get mispronounced. As most people know, the correct pronunciation of “Brian” in English is “BRY-en”. Many people often find it easier to pronounce it correctly when it is spelt as “Bryan”.

Common ways people mispronounce the name are “Brain”, “Bree-an”, “Bran” and “Breen”. But again, that doesn’t happen too often.

Spelling and variants

The name Brian has many variant spellings

Brian in the Irish language is stilled spelled Brian. The most notable variants of the name are Bryan, Briant, Brien, Bran, Bryant, Brion, and Bryon.

Brajan is the Polish version of the name, and Brayan is the Spanish version.

The feminine forms of the name include Bryanne, Bria, Bryanna, Brianne, Brianna, Briana, Breanne, Breanna, Breann, and Breana.


The Irish name Brian has come to mean 'noble' and 'king' after Brian Boru
Brian Boru banner (Credit: Wikimedia / Blight55)

It is most commonly believed that the Irish name Brian comes from an old Celtic word, and it is intended to mean “high” or “noble”.

According to, people think that the characteristics of the name Brian are: classic, mature, common, natural, wholesome, strong, strange, simple, and nerdy.

As a direct result of the legendary Irish king Brian Boru, the name is a lot more associated with ferocity, strength, and bravery than it otherwise might have been.


Brian Bory is depicted in a sculpture outside Dublin Castle
Brian Boru sculpture outside Dublin Castle (Credit: Marshall Henrie)

The Irish name Brian is believed to have originated from the Celtic word “bre,” which directly translates into “hill”. From this, the name went on to mean either “high” or “noble”. The rise and popularity of the name Brian in Ireland is because of the previously mentioned Brian Boru, who was the High King of Ireland in the 10th century.

Although the name was used in Ireland before the rule of Brian Boru, he was so successful and so legendary that after his reign ended in 1014, the name began to rise greatly in popularity. In the middle ages, the name Brian was also popular in East Anglia. The name was brought into Scotland by Scandinavian settlers from Ireland and introduced to England by Bretons following the Norman Conquest.

Initially, the name was only used by professional families with Irish origin, but by the year 1934, the name had risen to be tremendously popular and became the fourth most popular name in England and Wales.

The name Brian also made its way over to America and became very popular. For many years in the mid-1900s, the name fluctuated between being the eighth and tenth most popular name in America. Since the early 1990s, the name Brian has also made its way to South America where it has seen a surge in popularity particularly in Uruguay and Argentina.

Famous people with the Irish name Brian

Brian May of the rock band Queen is among many famous people with the Irish name Brian
Brian May of the rock band Queen

As Brian is a very common name, there are quite a few notable individuals or characters with the name. Here is a selection of famous people and characters named Brian:

  • Brian Boru, the former king of Ireland
  • Brian Cowen, the former Irish Taoiseach from County Offaly
  • Brian Griffin, the father character on Family Guy
  • Brian Cohen, the main character in the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian
  • Brian O’Conner, one of the lead characters in The Fast and the Furious film series famously played by Paul Walker
  • Brian Cranston, the actor who plays Walter White in the hugely successful TV show Breaking Bad
  • Bryan Adams, the famous Canadian singer and musician known for songs such as “Heaven” and “Summer of ‘69”
  • Brian May, the English musician and singer most famous for being the lead guitar player in the rock band Queen
  • Brian Cox, the Scottish actor most famously known for his acting and portrayal of William Shakespeare’s King Lear
  • Brian Clough, the British football manager most notable for his time spent at Nottingham Forest
  • Brian Dennehy, the Golden Globe–winning American actor
  • Brian Stepanek, the American actor most known for his role in the kids’ TV show The Suite Life of Zack and Cody
  • Brian O’Driscoll – the former Irish rugby

There you have it—all you need to know about the Irish name Brian. How many Brians do you know?

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