An ancient name, meaning “young wolf ” is primarily found the Counties of Waterford, Kilkenny, Wexford, Carlow, and southeast Tipperary. The name stands 79th in the list of most common names in Ireland. They’re many recorded spellings of the name including Wheelan, Welan, Phelan, and others. According to the Legendary History of Ireland, about 300 A.D. the Déisi dynasty was established in what is now County Waterford. The first Faelán referred to is Faelán mac Cormac, who is recorded in the Annals of Inishfallen as having succeeded his father as King of the Déisi in 986 A.D. His grandson Motla úa Faeláin was king of the Déisi until his death on the battle of Clontarf in 1014, and whose head is recorded in the Annals of Ulster as having been interred with Brian Boru in Armagh. After the Anglo-Norman invasion in 1170, the political nature of the Déisi dynasty declined.
The first recorded spelling is that of John Phelan in the year 1437, where he is listed in the records of Kilkenny as the Bishop of Ossory.