A close-up of a blacksmith at work. Smith became a popular last name for those with this occupation.
|Meaning||derived from smitan, meaning "to smite"|
|Region of origin||England|
Smith is a surname originating in England. It is the most prevalent surname in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, and the fifth most common surname in the Republic of Ireland. The surname Smith is particularly prevalent among those of English, Scottish and Irish descent, but is also a common surname among African Americans, which can be attributed either to black slaves being given the surname during slavery and never changing the name upon the end of the era of slavery and after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation or to descendants of interracial marriages.[dubious ] 2,442,977 Americans shared the surname Smith during the 2010 census, and more than 500,000 people share it in the United Kingdom. At the turn of the 20th century, the surname was sufficiently prevalent in England to have prompted the statement: "Common to every village in England, north, south, east and west"; and sufficiently common on the (European) continent (in various forms) to be "common in most countries of Europe".
Etymology and history
The name refers to a smith, originally deriving from smið or smiþ, the Old English term meaning one who works in metal related to the word smitan, the Old English form of smite, which also meant strike (as in early 17th century Biblical English: the verb "to smite" = to hit). The Old English word smiþ comes from the Proto-Germanic word smiþaz. Smithy comes from the Old English word smiðē from the Proto-Germanic smiðjon. The use of Smith as an occupational surname dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, when inherited surnames were still unknown: Ecceard Smith of County Durham, North East England, was recorded in 975.
Although the name is derived from a common occupation, many later Smiths had no connection to that occupation, but adopted or were given the surname precisely because of its commonness. For example:
- It is common for people in English-speaking countries to adopt the surname Smith in order to maintain a secret identity, when they wish to avoid being found. Smith is an extremely common name among English Gypsies; see also John Smith.
- During the colonization of North America, some Native Americans took the name for use in dealing with colonists.
- During the period of slavery in the United States, many other slaves were known by the surname of their masters, or adopted those surnames upon their emancipation.
- During the world wars, many German Americans anglicised the common and equivalent German surname Schmidt or Schmitz to Smith to avoid discrimination.
A popular misconception holds that at the beginning of the 20th century, when many new immigrants were entering the U.S., civil servants at Ellis Island responsible for cataloging the entry of such persons sometimes arbitrarily assigned new surnames if the immigrants' original surname was particularly lengthy, or difficult for the processor to spell or pronounce. While such claims are likely vastly exaggerated, many immigrants did choose to begin their American lives with more "American" names, particularly with Anglicised versions of their birth names; the German Schmidt was often Anglicized to Smith not only during the world wars, but also commonly in times of peace, and the equivalent Polish Kowalski was Anglicized to Smith as well.
As of 2014, 64.3% of all known bearers of the surname Smith were residents of the United States (frequency 1:121), 13.7% of England (1:88), 4.2% of Canada (1:191), 4.0% of Australia (1:130), 3.9% of South Africa (1:295), 1.4% of Scotland (1:84) and 1.0% of Jamaica (1:62). Speculation has it that U.S. prevalence is due to the descendants of Joseph Smith and his family from around 1820.
In Scotland, the frequency of the surname was higher than average (1:84) in the following council areas:
In England, the frequency of the surname was higher than average (1:88) in the following counties:
- 1. Lincolnshire (1:61)
- 2. Worcestershire (1:64)
- 3. Warwickshire (1:67)
- 4. Nottinghamshire (1:67)
- 5. Derbyshire (1:67)
- 6. Norfolk (1:68)
- 7. Suffolk (1:69)
- 8. Rutland (1:69)
- 9. East Riding of Yorkshire (1:69)
- 10. Essex (1:70)
- 11. Leicestershire (1:70)
- 12. Staffordshire (1:71)
- 13. Northamptonshire (1:72)
- 14. Herefordshire (1:74)
- 15. Gloucestershire (1:75)
- 16. North Yorkshire (1:77)
- 17. Isle of Wight (1:78)
- 18. Kent (1:78)
- 19. South Yorkshire (1:78)
- 20. Cambridgeshire (1:80)
- 21. Northumberland (1:81)
- 22. Hampshire (1:82)
- 23. Durham (1:82)
- 24. West Midlands (1:83)
- 25. Tyne and Wear (1:83)
- 26. West Yorkshire (1:83)
- 27. Oxfordshire (1:85)
- 28. Merseyside (1:85)
- 29. Lancashire (1:87)
- 30. Wiltshire (1:88)
- 1. Mississippi (1:61)
- 2. Alabama (1:69)
- 3. Arkansas (1:74)
- 4. Tennessee (1:80)
- 5. South Carolina (1:80)
- 6. North Carolina (1:83)
- 7. Kentucky (1:83)
- 8. Oklahoma (1:84)
- 9. West Virginia (1:87)
- 10. Georgia (1:88)
- 11. Louisiana (1:91)
- 12. Indiana (1:97)
- 13. Ohio (1:102)
- 14. Maryland (1:104)
- 15. Virginia (1:105)
- 16. Kansas (1:106)
- 17. Missouri (1:106)
- 18. Idaho (1:106)
- 19. Utah (1:108)
- 20. Michigan (1:111)
- 21. Delaware (1:113)
- 22. Maine (1:114)
- 23. Wyoming (1:118)
- 24. Oregon (1:118)
Variations of the surname Smith also remain very common. These include different spellings of the English term, and versions in other languages.
There is some disagreement about the origins of the numerous variations of the name Smith. The addition of an e at the end of the name is sometimes considered an affectation, but may have arisen either as an attempt to spell smithy or as the Middle English adjectival form of smith, which would have been used in surnames based on location rather than occupation (in other words, for someone living near or at the smithy). Likewise, the replacement of the i with a y in Smyth or Smythe is also often considered an affectation but may have originally occurred because of the difficulty of reading blackletter text, where Smith might look like Snuth or Simth. However, Charles Bardsley wrote in 1901, "The y in Smyth is the almost invariable spelling in early rolls, so that it cannot exactly be styled a modern affectation." Some variants (such as Smijth) were adopted by individuals for personal reasons, while others may have arisen independently or as offshoots from the Smith root. Names such as Smither and Smithers may in some cases be variants of Smith but in others independent surnames based on a meaning of light and active attributed to smyther. Additional derivatives include Smithman, Smithson and Smithfield (see below). Athersmith may derive from at the Smith.
Other variations focus on specialisms within the profession; for example Blacksmith, from those who worked predominantly with iron, Whitesmith, from those who worked with tin (and the more obvious Tinsmith), Brownsmith and Redsmith, from those who worked with copper (Coppersmith and Greensmith; copper is green when oxidised), Silversmith and Goldsmith – and those based on the goods produced, such as Hammersmith, Bladesmith, Naismith (nail-smith), Arrowsmith which in turn was shortened to Arsmith, or Shoesmith (referring to horseshoes). Sixsmith is variant spelling of a sickle- or scythe-smith. Wildsmith in turn is a corruption of wheelsmith
The patronymic practice of attaching son to the end of a name to indicate that the bearer is the child of the original holder has also led to the surnames Smithson and Smisson. Historically, "Smitty" has been a common nickname given to someone with the surname, Smith; in some instances, this usage has passed into "Smitty" being used as a surname itself.
Other languages with different words for the occupation of "smith" or "blacksmith" also produced surnames based on that root.
Other Germanic languages
- German: Schmid, Schmidt, Schmitt, Schmitz, Schmith, Schmied, Schmick
- Yiddish: Schmidt (שמידט), Schmitt (שמיט), Schmitz (שמיץ)
- Southern Dutch: De Smid, De Smedt, Desmedt, De Smet, Desmet, Smeets, Smets
- Northern Dutch and Afrikaans: Smit, Smits, Smid, Smidt, Smed, De Smet
- Danish, Norwegian and Swedish: Smed
Words derived from the Latin term for smith (literally "one who works with iron"), such as the Italian words fabbro and ferraio, are the root of last names common in several parts of Europe.
- Italian: Fabbri, Fabbro, Fabris, Ferrara, Ferraro, Ferrari, Ferrera, Ferrero
- French: Lefebvre, Lefèvre, Lefeuvre, Lefébure, Favre, Faber, Fabre, Fabré, Faure, Fauré, Favret, Favrette, or Dufaure, Feaver (anglicisation)
- Spanish: Herrero, Herrera, Ferrero
- Romanian: Feraru, Fieraru
- Portuguese: Ferreiro, Ferreira
- Catalan: Ferrer, Ferré, Farré, Fabre, Fabra
- Latin: Faber
In Ireland and Scotland, the word for smith, gobha, is found in the surname "MacGouren"/MacGouran/MacGowan/McGowan. This surname is an Anglicised form of Mac a' Ghobhainn (Scottish Gaelic), Mac Gabhann (Irish), meaning "son of the smith". In England the surname Goff, which is common in East Anglia, is derived from the Breton and Cornish goff a cognate of the Gaelic gobha. This particular surname was brought to England by migrant Bretons, following the Norman Conquest of England.
- Belarusian: Kavalou (Кавалёў), Koval (Коваль), Kavalonak (Кавалёнак), Kavaluk (Кавалюк), Kavalevič (Кавалевіч)
- Bosnian: Kovač, Kovačić, Kovačević
- Bulgarian: Kovachev (Ковачев)
- Croatian: Kovač, Kovačić, Kovačević, Kovačev, Kovačec, Kovaček
- Czech: Kovář
- Macedonian: Kovačevski (Ковачевски), Kovačev (Ковачев)
- Polish: Kowal and its place name derivative Kowalski, and patronymics Kowalik, Kowalczyk and Kowalewski
- Russian: Kovalyov (Ковалёв), Kuznetsov (Кузнецов)
- Serbian: Kovačević (Ковачевић), Kovač (Ковач), Kovačev (Ковачев)
- Slovak: Kováč and derived Kováčik, Kovačovič
- Slovenian: Kovač, Kovačič
- Ukrainian: Kovalenko (Коваленко), Kovalchuk (Ковальчук), Koval (Коваль)
- Albanian: Nallbani
- Estonian: Sepp
- Finnish: Seppä, Seppälä, Seppänen
- Greek: Sideras (Σιδεράς)
- Hungarian: Kovács
- Latvian: Kalējs
- Lithuanian: Kalvaitis, Kavaliauskas
- Arabic: Haddad (حداد)
- Azerbaijani: Dəmirçi
- Aramaic: Haddad
- Armenian: Darbinyan, Tarpinyan (Դարբինյան, Տարպինյան)
- Balinese: Pande
- Bengali: Karmakar (কর্মকার)
- Georgian: Mchedlidze, Mchedlishvili (მჭედლიძე, მჭედლიშვილი)
- Hindi: Lohar (लोहार)
- Japanese: Kajiya (鍛冶屋)
- Kazakh: Tömirshi
- Lingala: Motuli
- Median: Esmi
- Nepali: Kami (कामी)
- Persian: Zargar (زرگر)
- Punjabi: Lohar (ਲੋਹਾਰ/لوہار)
- Syriac: Hadodo (ܚܕܕܐ), Hadad, Haddad
- Tatar: Tümerche
- Turkish: Demirci
- Uyghur: Tömürchi
- List of most common surnames in Europe
- Smith Family (disambiguation)
- Smythe (disambiguation)
- Smith (taxonomic authority)
- Smith and Jones (disambiguation)
- Smithson (son of Smith)
- Admiral Smith (disambiguation)
- Doctor Smith (disambiguation)
- General Smith (disambiguation)
- Governor Smith (disambiguation)
- Judge Smith (disambiguation)
- Justice Smith (disambiguation)
- Mayor Smith (disambiguation)
- President Smith (disambiguation)
- Reverend Smith (disambiguation)
- Sgt. Smith (disambiguation)
- Services, Good Stuff IT. "Smith surname meaning, origin, etymology and distribution in Great Britain". Britishsurnames.co.uk. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
- "1990 Census Name Files". 30 March 2005. Archived from the original on 30 March 2005. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
- "SMITH - Surname Meaning and Origin". Genealogy.about.com. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
- "UK surnames ranking". Surname Map of UK.
- "Genealogy - Frequently Occurring Surnames From Census 2000". 19 November 2007. Archived from the original on 19 November 2007. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
- Citation: Brooke, 2006.
- Franklin Carter Smith, Emily Anne Croom, A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your African-American Ancestors (2009), p. 109-110.
- United States Census Bureau. "". 27 December 2016. Accessed 3 November 2019.
- "Surname Profiler". Ucl.ac.uk. 18 January 2006. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
- Bardsley. English and Welsh Surnames. 1901.
- Citation: Anderson, 1863.
- Citation: Simpson, 2007.
- USCIS Home Page Archived 22 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine
- Smith surname distribution
- Cottle, Basil. Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1967.
- Citation: Lower, 1860.
- "Surname Database: Athersmith Last Name Origin". The Internet Surname Database. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
- "Surname Database: Arsmith Last Name Origin". The Internet Surname Database. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
- "Surname Database: Sixsmith Last Name Origin". The Internet Surname Database. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
- "Surname Database: Wildsmith Last Name Origin". The Internet Surname Database. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
- Elsdon Coles Smith, The Book of Smith (1979), p. 195, ISBN 0399503935.
- "Mcgowan Name Meaning & Mcgowan Family History at Ancestry.com". Ancestry.com. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
- "Goff Name Meaning & Goff Family History at Ancestry.com". Ancestry.com. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
- Anderson, William (1863). The Scottish Nation (Volume 3: MAC to ZET) (PDF). Edinburgh: A. Fullerton & Co. p. 479. Retrieved 4 March 2008.
- Bardsley, Charles Wareing (1901). English and Welsh Surnames (PDF). London: Henry Frowde. p. 699. ISBN 0-8063-0022-1. Retrieved 3 March 2008. The section heading referenced here reads "Smith, Smyth, Smythe", suggesting these to be the most common variants at the time (1901).
- "Surname Map for Smith in Britain, Ireland and Mann" (map). CelticFamilyMaps.com. Retrieved 1 March 2010.
- Brooke, Bob (31 December 2006). "The Mighty Smiths: Dealing With Common Surnames". Everyday Genealogy. Genealogy Today, LLC. Retrieved 1 March 2008.
- CBC News (26 July 2007). "Common surnames". News In Depth. Retrieved 2 March 2008.
- Cottle, Basil (1967). Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books.
- Dorward, David (1998). Scottish Surnames. Collins Celtic (Pocket edition).
- Geoghegan, Eddie (26 May 2006). "Smith coat of arms and family history". Araltas.com. Retrieved 15 March 2008.
At the outset it is important to mention that the spelling of the name as Smith, Smyth, Smithe, Smythe, etc. is of little historical significance. The use of "i" and "y" and the presence or absence of the terminal "e" merely reflect the writing styles of the day.
- "How Many of Me?" (database search result). HowManyofMe.com. Retrieved 1 March 2008.
There are 3,053,623 people in the U.S. with the last name Smith.
- Lower, Mark Antony (1860) . Patronymica Britannica: A Dictionary of Family Names of the United Kingdom (PDF (Internet Archive)). London: John Russell Smith. pp. 319–321. ISBN 0-7884-0456-3. Retrieved 16 March 2008.
- O'Kane, Willie (1998). "Surnames of County Monaghan". Irish Roots. 26 (2nd quarter). Retrieved 2 March 2008.
...certain members of the MacGabhann and O Gabhan septs, usually Anglicised as McGowan, took the name Smith on the basis of the name Mac Gobha, 'son of the smith'.
The URL here is to a reprint on the Irish Ancestors website. Tables of contents for back issues of Irish Roots Magazine are found at https://web.archive.org/web/20091217104309/http://irishroots.ie/Back%20Issues%20List.htm and there are two listings for the title here, one in 'Issue No. 26 (1998 Second quarter)', the other in 'Issue No. 48 (2003 Fourth quarter)'. It is not clear whether the latter is a simple reprint of the former or an update. The reprinted article notes 'From Irish Roots, (No. 28)'.
- Simpson, David (30 January 2007). "Surnames of North East England". The North East England History Pages. Retrieved 1 March 2008.
- Smith, Elsdon C. (1997). American Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company.
- "Smith surname at YourNotMe". YourNotMe.com. Archived from the original (database search result) on 11 November 2006. Retrieved 1 March 2008.
- US Census Bureau (9 May 1995). s:1990 Census Name Files dist.all.last (1-100). Retrieved on 25 February 2008.
- Origin and history of the name of Smith, with biographies of all the most noted persons of that name, Chicago, Ill., American Publishers' Association, 1902. via Internet Archive