From its settlement in 1904, the area around McAllen was largely rural and agricultural in character, but the latter half of the 20th century saw steady growth, which accelerated during the 1980s, leading to an economic and population boom in the 1990s and 2000s. Today the McAllen–Edinburg–Mission metropolitan area is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States, The introduction of the maquiladora economy and the North American Free Trade Association led to a boom in international trade, cross-border commerce with Mexico, and health care.
McAllen is an Irish Gaelic surname, originating in Scotland from "MacAllen". Historically the name has migrated to Ireland, where the prefix of the name has been commonly transposed with "Mc". The first recorded arrivals to Ireland bearing this name came in the fifteenth century to County Donegal, with the arrival of Gallowglas military families to support the Irish nobility of the north.
McAllen is derivative of Ó h-Ailín or "Ailin", which in Irish and Scottish Gaelic, means both "little rock" and "harmony", and with the Mc prefix meaning "Son of". Variant spellings include McAlan, McAllan, etc.
The surname McAllen has hereditary connections with the popular surname Allen. The noble family of this surname, from which a branch went to Portugal, is descended of one Alanus de Buckenhall. In the United States of America the city of McAllen was named after Scottish-American businessman John B McAllen.