If you have the surname Pelan, you may have wondered at some point as to where it came from, or what it means. You will also have noticed it is rare - you may never ordinarily meet, communicate with or even know about another Pelan outside your own family. Of course, this depends where you are, for there are three regions from which Pelans appear to originate:
Ireland - Mainly Ulster; notably around Lambeg, Lisburn & Belfast
France - Largely Brittany around Finistère - where Pélan is also seen.
"Eastern" Europe (e.g. Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria) - where Pelán is also seen.
There are historical records of Pelans in Sweden and Finland but there are so few I would consider that these people are migrants from one of the above regions or that their names are corruptions of other surnames, like Palén. There is also the possibility that the family name of one region has been transferred to another via migration at any point over many hundreds of years. It is also possible that the surnames have arisen entirely independently and are similar purely through chance homophonic convergence. DNA testing can provide insight into this which is why it is such an essential element of this research.
My research started off with an attempt to discover where the Pelans in Ireland came from. It became clear from the registration data of the 19th century and some other documents that the further one went back in time, the more concentrated the family became around Lisburn and Lambeg. I also looked at migration records and found people in 19th century Canada called Palen but whose ancestry pointed towards Lambeg - these had to be Pelans in disguise. The DNA study then had some clear facts to establish and, after much recruiting, indeed it did - the Palens were clearly Pelans, but an unexpected twist pointed towards the surname Paling / Payling as found in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire in England. Going back through the Ulster records, it became more conclusive that indeed there had been Palings in Ulster but the name had changed - indeed it had never been spelt consistently. It is thus highly likely that Pelans in Ulster are descended from an English migrant(s) that settled in Lambeg in the early 17th century at a time of great inward migration from England and Wales. What cannot be eliminated is the possibility that there was a Pelan-like surname already in the region when the settler(s) arrived. Furthermore, genetic studies have shown that some descendants from Lambeg are called Pelling.
The Pelan name in France seems to come from Brittany (Bretagne) and is likely to be a variant of Pellan. There are quite a few entries for Pelan in the French telephone directory concentrated in Brittany.
I am very keen for Frenchmen with the surname Pelan or Pellan to participate in the genetic genealogy project.
Czech - Pelán / Pelan
I will use the term "Czech" as a shorthand to describe those Pelans from a region which includes, but is not limited to, the Czech Republic, Solvakia, Slovenia and Austria. Indeed, the spread of the Pelan surname in Eastern Europe seems to cover much of what was the Austro-Hungarian empire.
The Dictionary of American Family Names has an entry for Pelan which gives two Czech definitions:
from a derivative of the Old Czech personal name Pelhřim.
nickname from pela ‘cheerful’, ‘happy-go-lucky fellow’ .
Many surname etymologies are difficult to prove (and indeed there are two different ones presented here) but this entry does show (presumably) plausible derivations and which are notably independent of any French or Irish origins. Chance convergence has thus given rise to an identical surname.
A Mr. Petr Pelán has kindly contacted me. He suggests that that the Czech surname is found largely in Moravia and he also pointed out the Czech "Home Office" statistics, which says there are about one thousand people called Pelán and one hundred called Pelan.