‘Smith’ is still the most commonly used surname in most English-speaking countries around the globe, a study has found.
Lending firm NetCredit has researched the world’s most common family names by country, proving that the long-held belief about the ‘Smith’ name is true, by charting its usage in a series of maps.
The maps show that Smith is still the most frequently used surname in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The company also researched the etymology of each name and categorised them.
A surname has five possible starting points: An occupation, a personal description, the name of a place, the name of an ancestor, or to signify a link to a benefactor.
The name ‘Smith’ originates as an Anglo-Saxon term for a metal worker or blacksmith.
Pictured is a graphic showing the most commonly used surnames in each European country. While ‘Smith’ is still the most common name in the Anglosphere, European names are often based in the topography of the continent or in the name of a profession. Similarly to the UK, the most used surname in Luxembourg is ‘Schmit’. Both originate from Old English or Middle High German and mean blacksmith or metal worker
A graphic shows the use of surnames by country in North America. In America, the name Smith is so popular that every one in 121 residents has it. A four-year-study by the University of the West of England in 2016 found that over 90 per cent of the 45,602 surnames in the English dictionary are native to Britain and Ireland
A graphic shows surnames by country in Oceania. While Australia and New Zealand residents are overwhelmingly named Smith, the most popular names for citizens of the surrounding islands shows the cultural diversity of Oceania
The History of the ‘Smith’ name
- The first ‘Smith’ on record was Ecceard Smith of County Durham, North East England in 975 AD.
- During the Anglo-Saxon period, people took on names relating to their job but didn’t pass them on to their sons.
- The name is rooted in the Old English term smið, which means ‘one who works in metal’ or ‘to smite (hit)’.
- ‘Smith’ was first used for the sons of blacksmiths and metal workers but was eventually used by individuals with no link to the profession.
- People started to use the name purely for its popularity and prevalence in the English-speaking world.
- During the periods of slavery in the United States and United Kingdom, many slaves adopted the name of their masters, which is why the name ‘Smith’ is still common among some African Americans today.
Similarly, the most popular surname in Luxembourg is ‘Schmit’, which derives from a similar German root.
In the US, the name is so popular that it’s shared by one in every 121 residents.
A four-year-study by the University of the West of England in 2016 found that over 90 per cent of the 45,602 surnames in the English dictionary are native to Britain and Ireland.
The use of surnames in England started around the 14th Century but eventually became law when King Henry VIII ordered that all new births be registered in the name of the father.
Some reports put the very first use of surnames as early as 2852 BC in China.
In other parts of the world, the present day distribution of surnames is different with many more people with the same name.
In China, one in every 13 people have ‘Wang’ as their second name. In South Korea, one in five are named ‘Kim’, and in Vietnam, 25 per cent of people are named ‘Nguyen’.
Many of the surnames are linked to Chinese control of the region and the name ‘Kim’ could originate in over 600 historic clans that used the Mandarin character for ‘Kim’.
In Europe surnames tend to either come from a profession, a father’s name and even from the varied landscape of the continent.
‘Gruber’, is the most popular Austrian surname, an evolution from the Middle High German word for ‘pit’. ‘Bērziņš’, the most used Latvian family name, originates in the word for ‘birch’, which would signify someone who lived among Birch trees.
A graphic shows surnames by country. The use of surnames in England started around the 14th Century but eventually became law when King Henry VIII ordered that all new births be registered in the name of the father.
A graphic shows surnames by Asian country. In China, one in every 13 people have ‘Wang’ as their second name. In South Korea, one in five are named ‘Kim’, and in Vietnam, 25 per cent of people are named ‘Nguyen’
The Slavic ‘-ov’ means ‘the son of’ and is used similarly to the suffix ‘-en’ on the end of ‘Jensen’ or ‘Hansen’ in Scandinavia.
Due to the high prevalence of Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa, the most common last name in a number of African countries, including Chad and Egypt, is a variation of Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
The most prevalent surname in South America is ‘Gonzalez’ which derives itself from a Spanish name, originating in the German word for ‘battle’.
Due to the high prevalence of Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa, the most common last name in a number of countries, including Chad and Egypt, is a variation on Muhammad, the founder of Islam
he most seen surname in South America is ‘Gonzalez’ which originates in a Spanish name, ‘Gonzalo’ which itself comes from the German word for ‘battle’