Today, I’m going to place the spotlight on a very common and well-regarded Irish surname: Dillon. While technically a Norman name, Dillon was introduced to Ireland so early and has mixed so well with the general population that it is now indistinguishable from native Irish surnames. If your last name is Dillon, chances are high that you’ve got some Irish somewhere in your background.
The first person called Dillon came to Ireland in 1185. This was Sir Henry de Leon (later Anglicized to “Dillon”), who was originally from Brittany, France, and came to Ireland to act as secretary to then-Prince John (later King John, of Robin Hood fame). The name “de Leon” itself can be traced back to the town of Lyon in France, as “de” in French names means “from.” This means that “de Leon” literally translates to “from Lyon” in French.
So how did “de Leon” transform into “Dillon” to become a very well-recognized Irish surname? Once Sir Henry de Leon arrived in Ireland, the name was there to stay. As the de Leon family multiplied and spread out over the country, it began being called by its Gaelic form, “O’ Duilleain.” As the family grew and members began appearing more and more often in church and government records, the clerks who recorded such information wrote the name down as it sounded to them, further Anglicizing the name to “Dillon.”
From the time of Sir Henry de Leon’s arrival in Ireland, the Dillon name has continued to play a prominent part in Irish history. Nobles and peasants alike have shared this venerable Irish surname, and the Viscomtes Dillon title continues to exist and be passed down from generation to generation (the current holder of that title is Henry, 22nd Viscount of Costello-Galen and Count of France). This Irish last name is plentiful throughout the country, but is found in the greatest concentrations in the counties of Meath, Roscommon, and Westmeath. In fact, the Dillon family once owned so much land in Westmeath County, that the county itself became popularly known as “Dillon’s County.” Now found throughout the world thanks to extensive emigration in the 19th century, the Dillon surname continues to garner respect and evoke feelings of Irish pride wherever it appears.