Okay, so Smith has always been at the top of the heap. And Jones. But it’s always interesting to investigate where these names came from. According to the U.S. Census, here is our list of the top 10 surnames in the United States and a few bits of trivia about them:
1. Smith (2,376,206)
As many know, this surname started in the British Isles and derives from the Old English word for metalworker, smitan (which, by the way, comes from the Old English form of the biblical favorite ‘smite’). It was used as an occupational surname as far back as 975 AD. Since then, many have acquired the Smith surname to maintain a secret identity, to mingle with American colonists, and to avoid discrimination. Many African slaves acquired the surname through their masters. All of these factors have led to Smith being the most widely used surname in the United States.
And it doesn’t stop there. Dozens of surnames come from the same root as Smith. Schmid, Schmitz, and Schmidt are all German versions of it. Even the Italian Fabbri, Ferraro, Ferrari, and Fabris and the French Favre, Favrette, and Dufaure come from the Latin term for Smith.
Notable people with the Smith surname include: actor-producer Will Smith; the late model Ann Nicole Smith; and Mormon prophet Joseph Smith.
2. Johnson (1,857,160)
Meaning, literally, ‘son of John’, Johnson is what is referred to as a patronym. It started in England and Scotland is closely related to the surnames Jansen, Johansson, Johnston, Jones, MacShane, McKeown, and Ivanov–all of them originating from different derivations of the name John.
Among the famous people to hold the surname Johnson are: President Lyndon B. Johnson; Lakers point guard Magic Johnson; action star Dwayne Johnson; and singer-guitarist Jack Johnson.
3. Williams (1,534,042)
Although it may not look like it at first glance, Williams is a patronymic form of William. Like many a common surname, it started in medieval England. It derives from two words: ‘will’, meaning ‘desire’, and ‘helm’, meaning ‘helmet’ or ‘protection’. Don’t ask me what the two words mean together–I’m sure it’s something deep.
Famous Williamses include: tennis star sisters Venus and Serena Williams; movie composer John Williams; comedian Robin Williams; and the Hank Williamses of country music.
4. Brown (1,380,145)
It comes from England and Scotland but also has its Old English (Brun), Old Norse (Brunn), Gaelic (Donn), and Continental (Bruno) derivations. The original Browns were named thus for their tendency to wear brown attire or have brown features (eyes or hair, usually).
Notable Browns include: George H. Brown, the inventor of the color TV; Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown; and Godfather of Soul James Brown.
5. Jones (1,362,755)
This surname actually comes from the term ‘son of John’, like Johnson. This makes it especially common. In fact, Jones is the second most common name in the UK. Famous Joneses include: R&B pioneer Quincy Jones; signer Tom Jones; Looney Tunes creator Chuck Jones; and talk show host Star Jones.
6. Miller (1,127,803)
Like Smith, Miller derives from the occupational title for people who worked at mills. Coming primarily from England and Scotland, the name is now represented by these famous people (and more): jazz musician Glenn Miller; comic legend Frank Miller; NBA star Reggie Miller; and journalist Judith Miller.
7. Davis (1,072,335)
It is a patronymic that comes from ‘son of David’. You might be able to guess that it shares this derivation with Davies, Davison, and Davidson. The name is common in England and Wales. Actresses Bette and Geena Davis, trumpeter extraordinaire Miles Davis, and singer-dancer Sammy Davis, Jr., all share this surname.
8. Garcia (858,289)
It is one of several non-Anglo-Saxon surnames that are gaining ground in the U.S. No one is sure exactly where the name came from, but they know it is patronymic and that it probably comes from Iberian or Basque origins. Famous Garcias include Grateful Dead rocker Jerry Garcia and actor Andy Garcia.
9. Rodriguez (804,240)
Rodriguez means ‘son of Rodrigo,’ Rodrigo meaning ‘famous power’. The surname likely started in the 9th century, which is widely believed to be the century when patronymic names began. Notable Rodriguezes include: director Robert Rodriguez; baseball star Alex Rodriguez; and tough girl-actress Michelle Rodriguez.
10. Wilson (783,051)
Meaning ‘son of Wil’, this surname became popular in the 1000s and 1100s after the emergence of William the Conqueror as King of England. US President Woodrow Wilson, playwright August Wilson, and Thomas E. Wilson, of Wilson Sporting Goods, all share this surname.