English: O'Riordan's family arms Français : Ar...He’s an Irish appellation with a poetic meaning.

Thanks to Angela for suggesting Riordan as our Baby Name of the Day.

There’s something dashing about Riordan.  I kept thinking that Becky’s beau in Vanity Fair was named Riordan – but what do you know, he’s Rawdon.  Despite a lack of leading men, I think he has a handsome sound.

And he does have a great meaning.  In Irish Gaelic, ríogh means king, and bard is a familiar word for poet.  The -an ending is the diminutive form – the one we hear in Aidan and Ronan.  So you could translate Riordan to “little royal poet” or something along those lines.

He’s sometimes spelled Reardan, and that’s a more phonetically helpful version.  Too bad, because if he were ROAR dan, he’d be the perfect formal name for Rory.  The disconnect between his spelling and pronunciation could be one of his biggest drawbacks.

But he has a history of use as a given name, and he’s definitely an Irish surname, in various forms.  The coat of arms to the right is attributed to the O’Riordans.  Famous bearers of the name include:

  • Creator of the Percy Jackson series, writer Rick Riordan.
  • Influential San Fransisco Archbishop Patrick William Riordan, remembered for his open air mass following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
  • Arizona brothers Timothy and Michael Riordan built a successful business in Flagstaff selling lumber, and then built an enduring Arts and Crafts style mansion.  It’s part of a state park today.
  • Remember The Cranberries?  Dolores O’Riordan was their lead singer.
  • Athletes, politicians, a noted mathematician, and many others have answered to the surname.

In the 1960s and 70s, Irish television debuted a soap opera called The Riordans.  The family, headed by Tom and Mary, would have all of the typical dramas for a television series over the better part of two decades.  The show is also notable for launching the career of successful actor Gabriel Byrne and inspiring long-running UK soap Emmerdale.

You may very well meet a Riordan in the US, but it will almost certainly be his or her last name.  As a given name, it has never appeared in the US Top 1000.  Even in our age of Aiden, with a marked affection for Irish names, just 13 boys received the name in 2012.

So is he wearable in 2013?

When I went looking for Riordan on message boards, I found a widespread concern with his sound.  Is REER den too rich with teasing potential?

Could he be pronounced differently?  One parent toyed with the idea of pronouncing the name ROAR den or even ree OR den.  It opens up potential nicknames, like Rory and Rio.   The only trouble is that while Riordan is very rare as a given name, he’s familiar as a surname – meaning that you might not be able to re-pronounce this one.

Still, parents have been looking for new Irish possibilities ever since Ryan hit the US Top 100, and the Ro- sound is having a good run.  Roman, Rowan, Ronan, Rory, and Royce all rank in the US Top 500, with Rohan, Ronin, and Rowen not far behind.

If you’re after an authentically Irish choice with a pleasing meaning, Riordan has potential.

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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. would really like to see a lot more of me around. Having an original name that I’ll probably never hear is alright though I guess.

  2. my family called our name as rye-0r -dan ;but in 1830 when william brenner riordan came to homestead in ontario canada from cork ireland it was O’RIORDAN but because the irish were not very welcomed the ‘O’was dropped.he was my grandfathers’grandfather..we still have the family farm.

  3. I have grown up with Riordan as a surname and have had a little teasing in elementary and middle school but nothing i couldnt correct with a back hand to my bully. Riordan is a strong name that one should stand for when another mispronounces the name. I however wouldnt choose it as a given name or ”first name”. I believe it should be left to those like myself who are a Riordan. I will say it is more original and meaningful than naming your daughter mercedes or your son blanket.. so im not totally against it.

  4. I have a son called Riordan. He is 11 and has never been teased for his name. He does have his name mispronounced at times but I love it (clearly – I am his mother!)

  5. There is a boy (9) in the class next door to mine called Rio. Whilst sifting through the school data today, I noticed he’s official Riordan. For what it’s worth, I’ve always heard it pronounced REE-uh-dan (the ‘uh’ in the middle is a very subtle schwa that you would get in “hear” or “fierce”).

  6. I like this one a lot! Agree that pronunciation is a bit of a stumbling block, but not impossible.

  7. Funny, the Riordan family I know pronounces it like Royden… so even though I now know that’s wrong, I keep reading it like that. I’m always surprised when a common Irish surname hasn’t taken off, but I guess I just proved to myself that it’s pronunciation issues are what’s holding it back.

    (I still like “my” pronunciation better, but it’s a very nice name.)

    1. Oh, I like Royden for Riordan … yes, the more I read, the more I think pronunciation is the barrier here. Because it has SUCH potential.

  8. In San Francisco and maybe other parts of the Bay Area, it would be associated with Archbishop Riordan High School, an all-boys Catholic high school that has quite the reputation among teenaged girls.

  9. I wouldn’t worry about the “rear-den” teasing. However, the one student I had named Riordan’s nickname was Weird-an, so take that as you will.