baby name SullivanThe baby name Sullivan mixes upbeat Irish energy with plenty of stylish sound.

Thanks to Kelly for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.


The baby name Sullivan started out as an Irish surname.

But it comes from a given name – Suileabhain.

The first syllable means eye; the middle is dark; and the final element is a diminutive, meaning little. Put it all together, and it means “little dark eye.” Presumably, it might have been given to someone with dark eyes, just like people with brown hair ended up answering to Brown.

Others suggest that it might mean hawk-eyed instead.

In any case, the name’s Gaelic origins are clear, and it reads like an import from Ireland.


Musical theater fans might think of The Pirates of Penzance or The Mikado or any of the tremendously popular Victorian-era comic operas.

That’s thanks to dramatist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan. The duo, known as Gilbert and Sullivan, collaborated on fourteen works between 1871 and 1896.

Many are still performed – and beloved – today.

Separately, Arthur Sullivan composed church music, including the enduring hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers.” He also wrote orchestral works, ballets, and more.

That makes the baby name Sullivan just slightly musical.


And then there’s Ed Sullivan.

Long before there was MTV, musicians clamored to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. The longest running variety show in television history, it debuted in 1948 and ran through 1971. For more than one generation, it was the place to hear emerging artists.

But it wasn’t just music. It showcased all types of performers, including jazz, classical music, and comedians. And Sullivan was also notable for his openness. At a time when mainstream television routinely discriminated, Sullivan insisted on booking talent, regardless of race or religion.

While the legendary television host passed away in 1974, the concept of the show – and the title – appear in countless movies and other television shows about the era.


Still, it’s not Ed Sullivan than this generation of parents – or kids – will think of first.

That distinction likely belongs to a hairy blue monster at the heart of Pixar’s 2001 film Monsters, Inc., as well as the 2013 prequel, Monsters University. 

At the heart of both stories is a pair of best friends. Mike Wazowksi, voiced by Billy Crystal, is a one-eyed green ball with legs. James P. Sullivan, called Sulley, is big and blue.

Monsters University tells the story of how they became best friends. Monsters, Inc. is all about their work at Monstropolis’ power plant.

Chances are you know the story – monsters used to scare children; the kids’ screams powered everything in the monster world. But through a series of misadventures, Mike and Sulley discover than children’s laughter is even more potent … and everything changes.

Disney-Pixar movies can be incredibly influential, particularly when it comes to boys’ names. Just ask Arlo, Dash, and Luca, and yes, Sullivan.


In the same era that Sulley was busy being big and blue, a heroic Sully captured the public’s imagination.

Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was piloting US Airways Flight 1549 when it was forced to make an emergency water landing on the Hudson River. All 155 people aboard survived. The 2016 movie about it was titled Sully: Miracle on the Hudson.

If the nickname Sully felt lightweight thanks to the animated character, the pilot’s heroism shifted the name’s image.


The baby name Sullivan returned to the US Top 1000 popular names for boys in 2002.

Monsters, Inc. gets credit. But the Irish name had quietly been gaining in use since the 1990s.

In fact, the surname appeared in the US Top 1000 a few times during the nineteenth century.

But this is the age of Sullivan. As of 2021, the name reached at all-time high ranking of #373.

It fits with surname names for boys, as well as our ongoing love of Irish names. A handful of celebrity babies, like Patrick Dempsey’s son, born in 2007,  as well as fictional characters, like Third Watch’s John “Sully” Sullivan, boosted the name’s profile along the way.


All combined, the baby name Sullivan projects warmth and constancy. It’s the kind of name that sounds adorable and friendly on a small child; respectable and strong on an adult.

With generations of grown men answering to names like Ryan and Aiden, Sullivan feels like the logical next name in that series.

What do you think of the baby name Sullivan?

Originally published on January 3, 2011, this post was revised substantially and re-published on November 8, 2022.

baby name Sullivan baby name Sullivan

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I just recently named my son Sullivan Cole.. I’ve had mixed reactions, but for the most part it’s been very positive. We call him Sully all the time.. I think Sullivan is a truly cool name. 🙂

  2. Sullivan has recently popped on my radar and I’m liking it more and more. You may remember me as the searcher for the perfect boy’s name with a v in the middle to honor my husband Trevor and FIL Ivan. I’m finally pregnant, with a boy, and Sullivan and Evan are serious contenders. I even found an ancestor named Sullivan (gr-gr-gr-grandmother’s maiden name), so if pressed I can claim it’s a family name. Win-win.

  3. We love the name Sullivan and we just thought of it last weekend. I come from an Irish family and our favorite spot to hang out as a family is Sullivans Island,
    SC…which is where we were when it hit us. Literally hours later we heard a mother call for her son… “Sully…” My wife and I looked at each other like it was fate.
    We moved away from Charleston a few years ago and miss it dearly. We asked the woman where she came up with the name and she said she her family
    moved from Charleston years ago and named all of thier kids after Charleston in some form (Cooper, Ashley, Charles and Sullivan). We think we will use it
    for a girl or a boy (we arent finding out). Sullivan David (Sully) or Sullivan Ann (Sully or Sully Ann) as nicknames.

  4. I love Sullivan. I am having my gender determining ultrasound tomorrow. If this baby is a boy, his name will be Sullivan. I took this post as a good omen.

  5. I really like Sully and Sullivan, or Van as a nickname would be fine too (I didn’t mind it on Reba). Sullivan definitely sounds Irish, and since I have a lot of Irish background that alone adds a giant appeal. I like other Irish names, especially Aoife, Caoimhe, and Seamus, but I’m extremely hesitant to use something most of the people I know won’t be able to spell. I also don’t intend to change the spellings to fit the pronunciation – that just doesn’t work for me.

    Sullivan, however, is familiar, not overused, is definitely masculine, has a nice meaning, and is quite easy to spell. I think I’d call that a win in my book. I think the only drawback that keeps it from being a favorite on my list is the meaning of Sully: to make soiled or tarnished, defile. Not such a good meaning. :'( Other than that, I have no objections and would happily use it for a child.

    Oh, and I love Monsters Inc., it’s probably one of my favorite Pixar movies. 🙂

    1. One of my friends is named Caoimhe. She loves it but she hates spelling it! By the way does anyone find it weird that Sully has blue eyes?!?! LOL

      1. Lol, that is funny! Caoimhe is a gorgeous name, it’s really too bad that I’m so conservative about spelling.

  6. I like Sully more than Sullivan but like that both skew very masculine. I may be dating myself here, but wasn’t there a Sully on “Dr. Quiinn, Medicine Woman” back in the day? I seem to think “Mike & Sully” meant something there too. *Shrug* too lazy to go check.
    But I do like Sully, he’s a bit dashing and a little pugnacious feeling. I like that too. Sullivan doesn’t work for me, personally (Sounds like a construction firm when paired with my surname). But I would love to meet one (or more)!

  7. I like Sullivan. But Sully always reminds me of Biff and Sully, the garbagemen who carried Oscar around in his can on Sesame Street.

    1. Ha! I’d completely forgotten that. But the meaning of Sully is a strike against it, I suppose …

  8. Sullivan is one of my husband’s favorite names ever. I don’t really care for it much at all. I like it fine for someone else’s kid, but it just gets under my skin because my husband constantly suggests it.

  9. Sullivan is nice enough. It’s one I’ve never been very excited about, but as a brown-eyed girl myself, I love that it means “little dark-eyed one.”

  10. I do kind of like this one, but there are other Irish names I like better (Eamon, Seamus, Conall, Dermot). I think Van might be a usable nickname, too, if Sully doesn’t trip your trigger.