The Origin of the Name Lyon
"The Dictionary of British Surnames" by P H Renney
It would seem that there are several possible origins of the name. In his Dictionary of British Surnames, P H Renney lists some examples of two possible sources, both of which resulted from the Norman conquest.
Ricardus Leo 1176
Thomas Lioun 1287
William le Leoun 1290
William Lyon 1327
Johanna le Lyon 1332
These examples, he suggests, derive either fron Lyon, the popular pronunciation of Leo or Leon, or a nickname from the lion.
Azor de Lious 1159
Geoffrey de Liuns 1170
Renney states that early forms of the surname, which is not uncommon, invariably end in –s, and may, he suggests, derive from Lyons-la-Foret rather than the often supposed Lyons which was originally known by its Latin name Lugudunum.
In the middle ages surnames were very uncommon amongst ordinary people, who were generally known by a given name plus a descriptive.
With the beginnings of a more general education in the 18th and 19th centuries people were not very particular about the pronunciation of their surname let alone its spelling and hence we often find that, in our case, Lyon and Lyons were virtually interchangeable and sometimes even spelt Lion or Leun in church records, perhaps by a cleric fresh from Oxford and who found it difficult to understand a local country dialect.
"Dictionary of Surnames" by Hanks and Hodges
Hanks & Hodges in their Dictionary of Surnames state that Lyon is the family name of the Lords of Glamis and Earls of Kinghorne and Strathmore. While this is undoubtedly true it is improbable that the origin started with the family, as the history of the Lyons of Glamis are descended from the ancient house of de Leonne in France, which derived their origin from the noble race of the Leones of Rome. One of the French Leonnes came over to England with William the Conqueror.
His son, Roger de Leonne, accompanied King Edgar, son of Malcolm Canmore, to Scotland about 1091 and for his service against Donald Bane, the usurper, he obtained lands in Perthshire, which from him are said to have been called Glen Lyon.
This Roger de Leonne is witness to a charter of King Edgar to the monastery of Dunfermline dated in 1105. From him was lineally descended Sir John Lyon, in the reigns of Robert I. and his son David II., who had a charter, without date, supposed
to be about 1342 or 1343.
From 1996 Edition:
(1). English and French: nickname for a fierce or brave warrior, from OF, ME lion (L leo, gen. leonis).
(2). English and French: from the name Leo(n) (from L leo lion, or the cogn. Gk leon), borne by numerous early martyrs and thirteen popes. On the Continent the given name was relatively popular because of the numerous saints who bore it, and also because the lion was the symbol of the evangelist St Mark. In England, however, it was rare throughout the Middle Ages.
(3). English and French: habitation name from the town of Lyon in central France (sometimes known in mod. Eng. as Lyons), or from the smaller Lyons (-la-Foret) in Eure, Normandy. The name of the former place is recorded in the 1st cent. BC as Lugdunum, apparently from Gaul. elements meaning "raven", "crow" + "hill", "fort".
(4). Irish: Anglicized form of Gael. O Laighin; see Lane.
Vars: (of 1-3): Eng.: Lion, Leon. Fr.: Lion, Leon. (of 2only) Eng.: Lyons. Fr.: Lions, Lyonnais.
Cogns. (of 1 and 2): It.: Leoni, Leon(e), Lion(e); Liuni, Leo, Lio (S Italy). Sp.: Leon. Cat.: Lleo. Port.: Leao (The forms Lion and Leon(i) are also borne by Jews.)
Dims. (of 1 and 2): Fr.: Lyonnel, Lion(n)el; Lyonet, Lion(n)et; It.: Leonelli, Leonello, Lionelli, Lionello, Lionetti, Leonetto, Leonotti.
Parts. (from 1 and 2): Fr.: Delion. It.: De Leone, Di Lione: De Leonibus (Latinized); De Leo, Di Leo; Leoneschi.
The family name of the Lords of Glamis and Earls of Kinghorne and Strathmore is Lyon. Sir John Lyon was chamberlain of Scotland 1377-82 and was granted land at Glamis by Robert II. His descendant Patrick Lyon (1575-1615) was created Earl of Kinghorne in 1606, and the designation of the title was changed to Kinghorne and Strathmore by the 3rd Earl in 1677.
"The Penguin Dictionary of Surnames" by Basil Cottle.
(F) Surnames taking or based on, the first name of the ancestor or his father or mother (who are likewise ancestors) Since surnames arose in medieval days when scepticism and heterodoxy were confined mainly to childless clergy, and the family man was orthodox and receptive, this class might just as well be remembered as font-names too, and their Medieval christian bias is strikingly emphatic.
(L) Surnames recording localities or places where ancestors originated; Although most of these spots are villages from Unst to the Loire Valley "P" for place names would be unsatisfactory, as taking no account of the many names of mere features; the odd tree or green or mill which were not originally "names" at all.
(O) Surnames recording the occupation or status of the ancestor; "status" must be mentioned, because being a Lord (even if the name be taken literally) did not involve what we should normally call an occupation.
(N) Surnames thar are nicknames, de scriptive of the ancestor’s face, figure, temper, morals, tastes, clothes and the rest.
Lyon (F) "Lion" latin; Leon/Lyon is a fairly common (F) in the English middle ages, especially for Jews; and Leo was the name of thirteen Popes. Of course, it could be a (N) of similar meaning. Or if Atte / de forms were found, a (L) sign-name. Lyons (Son) of Lyon; or (since de Lyon forms exist) Lyon; from Lyons-la-Foret, Eure; The city we call Lyons (French Lyon) is ? "Raven / Crow Hill / Fort" of from Gaulish. 80th commonest surname in Ireland in 1890