- Recorded in several spelling forms including Brian, Brien, Bryan, Briand, Brient, Bryand, Bryant, and the Gaelic O`Brien or O`Brian, this surname can be of either Breton (France), or Norse-Viking or Gaelic origins. However spelt and wherever found the meaning of the name is probably the same, and that is "hillman". This may seem an unusual meaning for what started out as a first name before becoming a surname, but most ancient names have similar simple origins. Certainly where the name is of claimed Gaelic or Celtic origin the derivation is from "bre", meaning hill. The descendants of Brian Boru, who rose to the High Kingship in 1002;are the famous clan O'Brien, and it is said that "Brian" came into use as a surname 40 years after his death. Unfortunately this is not proven. It is also claimed that the Irish name was "borrowed" by the Vikings, who introduced it to North West England before the Norman Conquest. What is certain is that the name is first recorded in England in the 1086 Domesday Book of Essex, Radulfus filius Brien, appearing there. Other early recordings include Ralph Brian in the Pipe Rolls of Yorkshire for the year1205, whilst the famous Hundred Rolls for 1273 record Wydo Bryan in Devon, and Acelot Bryon in Cambridge. Sir Francis Bryan who died in 1550 was knighted in 1522, and appointed Lord Marshall of Ireland in 1548. The first recorded spelling of the family name is believed to be that of Ralph Brien. This was dated 1160, in the "Feudal Documents" from the Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, during the reign of King Henry 11 of England. He was known as "The Builder of Churches", 1154 - 1189.
Surnames reference. 2013.