The Irish surname Phelan is of patronymic origin, being the anglicized form of the Gaelic Ó Fialáin meaning “descendant of Fialán,” a personal name representing a diminutive of Fial, meaning “generous, modest, or honorable.” Phelans are one of the principal septs of the south east, eighty per cent of which belonged to Counties Waterford, Kilkenny and adjacent areas. An early recorded reference to the name was John Phelan, who witnessed the christening of his daughter Catherine, in 1711, at St. Nicholas church, Dublin. Early references in the new world include the western pioneer James Phelan (1824-1892), who was born in county Laois in Ireland, and his son James Duval Phelan (1861-1830), who was a Senator and also Mayor of San Francisco.
The name Phelan is well established in the United States today with over 10,000 occurrences of the surname in the 2010 US census.
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