Last name: Riley

This famous surname can be either English or Irish. It is found in both countries in several and overlapping spellings including Riley, Ryley, Reily, Reely and Reilly, as well as the pure Gaelic McReilly, O'Reilly and O'Ralilly. It has two possible and quite distinct origins. In England the surname is usually locational, from the village of Riley Green near Blackburn or possibly Riley Hill, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire. Various publications also mention a place called Riley in Devonshire, but if such a place ever existed, that no longer seems to be the case. The meaning of the name is probably "Rye Farm" from the Olde English pre 7th century "rygh - leah", but other translations are possible such as Reed Farm. In Ireland the surname can be a planter surname from the same English source, but is more usually from the pre 10th century Gaelic O'Raghailligh, meaning the descendant of Raghallach, the latter being an early personal name. In the 16th century the Gaelic prefix was largely lost, but in some cases has been restored. The surname in its various forms is one of the most popular in Ireland, particularly in County Cavan and neighbouring counties, where they were known as the chiefs of Breffny. Five O'Reilly's have held the primacy of Ireland as the archbishops of Armagh, notably Hugh O'Reilly and Edmund O'Reilly (1609 - 1669). Early examples of the surname recording include Henry de Ryley in the Subsidy Tax Rolls for Derbyshire in 1327, Hugh O'Reilly (1580 - 1653), whilst on December 21st 1575, Alice Riley was christened at St. Giles Cripplegate, in the city of London. The first recorded spelling of the family name is believed to be that of John de Ryeley. This was dated 1284, in the Court Rolls of the manor of Wakefield, Yorkshire, during the reign of King Edward 1st, 1272 - 1307. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

© Copyright: Name Origin Research 1980 - 2015

Want to dig deeper into your family history? Take a look at our page on building a Family Tree. Or get scientific and enter the exciting world of Ancestral DNA!

Surname Scroll

Enjoy this name printed onto our colourful scroll, printed in Olde English script. An ideal gift. View Details.
PayPal Acceptance Mark
Surname Scroll

jake riley
I'm a Riley from east Texas. Proudly

Stephen Riley
I am a Riley In Berkshire Uk. My Dad (Peter) Grew up in South London. Having seen a family tree full of Patrick Riley's it is safe to say we came over during the great spud famine. (And I am lucky we did) Hello to all the other Riley's of the word

I'm a Riley from east Texas. :D hi Riley Folk!

Devon Riley
Riley from Indiana here.

My last name is McNamee, and I'm fourth generation of my family in the U.S. (I think!). But we know that prior to the American Civil War, my great-great-great (give or take a few greats) grandfather was Hugh Riley, in Ireland. We're pretty sure he was from Cork, but he immigrated to America and changed our name to McNamee. I love being a McNamee, but if anyone has any insight on Rileys in Cork, I'd love to hear about it!

Riley from Philadelphia PA.

Louise Riley
Hi Rileys! A Riley here from Glasgow, Scotland. I've enjoyed reading all your stories. Good luck with the family tracing.


Greetings to all the other Riley's out there, just wondering how you can determine if your last name is irish or english in origin? I'm wondering if my last name is just an anglicized form of the classic name or if it's just English. Thanks!


Hi all you Riley's, I'm a New Mexico Riley. I am very Proud of my Irish Roots on both sides of the house !


I am also a New Mexico Riley! I don't know much about my roots but I'm pretty sure it's Irish!

pam riley

hi ya Riley's..........i'm from kent ...but was born in Bermondsey London still searching for our origins......complicated eh?....

Rebecca Manna

This is so interesting! My Great-great Grandfather was Hugh Riley From County Caven. When I google the name, there seems to be quite a few Hughs! It is very interesting to read all of your storys, and see where you are all from!


There's probably no evidence of a 'Riley in Devonshire' because Devonshire doesn't exist and never has. It's the county of Devon. Derbyshire was occasionally spellt incorrectly hence we have a Duke of Devonshire, who is actually the Duke of Derbyshire but there never has been a Devonshire...


From Ohio. My father tells of a story that his father told him. Two brothers came from Ireland to escape murder charges. They dropped the O from O'Riley and we became Riley has anyone else heard this story? Please email me at if so.

ruan riley

carn,t find john riley born 1817 died around 1865 staffs uk

James Corday Riley
I'm a Riley from east Texas in the town of Athens. My father was a Riley and my mother was also a Riley 'no relation'.

Ashley Riley
Im a Riley from Freeport, BAHAMAS. I think my roots are Irish