This unusual surname is of Irish origin, and is an Anglicized form of either of two Old Gaelic sept names: "O'Faolain" and "O'Fialain". The Gaelic prefix "O" indicates "grandson" or "male descendant of", plus the personal bynames "Faolan" and "Fialan", representing respectively a diminutive of "faol", wolf, and "fial", noble, hospitable. Traditionally, Irish family names are taken from the heads of tribes, revered elders, or ome illustrious warrior, and are usually prefixed by "Mac" denoting "son of" or "O" (as above).The former sept, O'Faolain, belonged to the south-east of Ireland, and their chief was Prince of the Decies (a district in County Waterford), prior to the Anglo-Norman Invasion of 1169 - 1170. Branches of this sept moved north to the Leinster Counties of Offaly, Westmeath and Longford, where the name is variously Anglicized Phylan, Phelan, Philan, Felan, Fyland and Fylan. Phylan and Phelan are the more usual Anglicizations of "O'Fialain", a distinct bardic family of Ulster, but due to phonetic influences, Fylan most likely also came to be included in this list. On January 8th 1710, Mary, daughter of John Phelan, was christened at St. Nicholas Within, Dublin, and on August 10th 1768, Ann Felan and William Ross were married at Rathkeale, County Limerick. The birth of John, son of James Fylan and Mary Quinn, was recorded at Street, Longford, on May 1st 1864. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of John Phelan, Bishop of Ossory, which was dated circa 1685, in "Ecclesiastical Records of County Kilkenny", during the reign of King James 11 of England, known as "The Last Catholic King", 1685 - 1688. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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