Centuries ago, your last name provided a plethora of information about who you were. For example, anyone could know your occupation and family status just by knowing your surname
For centuries, this was how people identified each other around the world. Explore the origins of the top 10 last names in the United States and learn of their etymology and origins below.
The surname Smith comes from Middle English, a form of written and spoken English that was used from 1100 to 1500. The surname is derived from the word “smitan”, meaning “to smite or strike.” During this time period, Smith was an occupational name used for metal workers, because metalworking was the most common profession at the time. In the 1840s, families with the surname Smith lived primarily on the east coast, the majority inhabiting Pennsylvania and New York. The highest population of the Smith families during the 1920s spread to states like Texas, Illinois and Ohio.
The surname Johnson is of English and Scottish origin, but it also stems from biblical sources. This last name has a Hebrew origin from “Yohanan,” meaning “Jehovah has favored.” This name was also popular among Christians because of the saint known as John the Baptist.
This name is a patronymic from the first name John. A patronymic is a surname derived from the name of a father or ancestor. Families with the surname Johnson were mostly populated in Ohio and New York during the 1840s.
Williams is a common patronymic in Wales that comes from the personal name William. There are several possible origins to this name. Besides Wales, it has been traced back to English, Scottish and Irish backgrounds. The name has been believed to come from four English kings with the personal name Wilhelm. Wilhelm comes from Germanic and French origins and its prefix “wil-” meaning “strong mind” and the second part “-helm” from the word helmet. In Wales, adding an “s” to a name makes the name a patronymic, so Williams means “son of William.”
Brown is of English, Scottish and Irish origin and is a descriptive surname related to the color of the complexion, hair or garments of an individual. The etymology of the name is said to come from the Old English word “broun” or the Old French word “brun.” Variations of the name have also been found to have Old Norse origins.
The earliest record of someone with a version of this surname is from 1274 in Stafford, England from an individual named Hugh Bron. American families with the surname Brown heavily populated in the states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York in the 1840s. The Brown families spread to Texas, Illinois and Georgia in the 1920s, making them more densely populated with people with the same surname.
The last name Jones is a Welsh patronymic from the Middle English personal name Jon. Therefore, the name typically means “the son of Jon”. Because Jon is a variation of the name John, the name may have the same meaning of the Hebrew name “Yohanan.”
The surname first appeared in English records during the later half of the 13th century. In America during the 1840s, Jones popular in states like New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.
The surname Garcia is of Spanish origin and one of the most popular last names in the country. The name comes from the Old Spanish word “artz” which means “the bear”. The origin of the name has been is pre-historic, before the advent of the written word in 2000 B.C. These names were related to hunting and fishing; therefore, the hunters were identified by the game they hunted.
This is another surname that indicates the occupation of the bearer. A miller is someone who operates a mill and his surname typically referred to a corn miller. The name is of English and Scottish origin. The inception of the word began in the 7th century in England, but the meaning of the word came from the Roman word “molere”, grind.
Being a patronymic name, the common meaning of Davis is “son of David”. David is derived from the Hebrew name “Dodaveha,” meaning “Beloved of Jehovah.” Davis is a popular surname of Welsh origin. Variations of Davis became popular among the kings of Israel, after the biblical king David. The popularity spread among the Jewish and then later Christians during the Middle Ages. The British popularity of the surname came from the Patron Saint of Wales.
Rodriguez is a patronymic surname of the personal name Rodrigo. The personal name originates from the Asturias, the north-western region of Spain. The surname also has German roots, because Rodrigo is believed to have come from the Visigoth King named Rodrerich. The suffix “-ez” added to the root means “the descendant of….” Aside from Germanic and Spanish roots, the surname has roots in Portugal as well.
Martinez is the patronymic of the personal name Martin. The surname became popular during the 4th century because of Saint Martin of Tours. The name Martin comes from Latin word Martinus, after Mars, the name of the Roman god of fertility and war. The surname has origins in Spain and began during the Visigoth era (4th to 7th centuries).