View category for people with the Smith surname
Origin: England
Meaning: smith
Variant(s): Smythe
Wikipedia: Search Wikipedia

Smith is the most common family name (surname) in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States,[1] representing more than 1 out of every 100 persons in each of these countries. It is particularly prevalent among those of English descent,[2] the name being mainly English itself, but has often been taken by non-English natives or immigrants to the above countries in order to blend into the majority culture more easily. It is also a common surname among African Americans, which can be attributed to English slave owners giving the name to black slaves during the Slave Trade. At least 3 million people in the United States share the surname Smith, and somewhat more than ½ million share it in the United Kingdom.[3] 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";[4] and sufficiently common on the (European) continent (in various forms) to be "...common in most countries of Europe."[5]


The name originally derives from smitan, the Anglo-Saxon term meaning to smite or strike (as in early 17th century Biblical English: the verb "to smite" = to hit). This term led to the name of the occupation, smith or blacksmith, because such persons must continuously strike metal with a hammer in order to shape it. Metallurgy required the development of specialist skills, and was practiced throughout the world from the Bronze Age. 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 was recorded in 975.[6] Smithers may also have derived from the Celtic word "smiterin" which meant "blown to bits". This explains the common expression "blown to smithereens".

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:

  • Following the failed Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland, which began around 1715, many Scots adopted the last name Smith to disguise their connection with rebellious clans. To this day, it is not uncommon for persons in English-speaking countries to adopt the surname Smith in order to maintain a secret identity, when they wish to avoid being found by someone; see also John Smith.
  • During the colonisation 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 slaves were known by the surname of their masters, or adopted those surnames upon their emancipation.
  • It is thought that many early Jewish settlers in the United Kingdom and colonies took the name Smith so as not to stand out when settling in to their new culture.
Ellis island 1902

Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island; some chose more "American" surnames, like "Smith", on arrival.

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 cataloguing 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,[7] many immigrants did choose to begin their American lives with more "American" names, particularly with Anglicised versions of their birth names; the common and equivalent German surname "Schmidt" was often Anglicised to "Smith".


Variations of the surname, Smith, also remain very common. These include different spellings of the English term, and versions from other countries and cultures.

English variations[]

Some English variations took place by dint of transient writing conventions, such such as Smithe, Smyth and Smythe[4][8][9], or as a deliberate choice, such as Smijth. Other variants such as Smithy, Smythy, Smithies and Smythies may have arisen independently or as offshoots from the 'Smith' root.[9] 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.[9] Additional derivatives include Smithman, Smithson and Smithfield (see below).[9]

Other variations focus on particular branches within the profession, particularly those based on the materials worked with — Blacksmith, from those who worked predominantly with iron, Whitesmith, from those who worked with tin (and the more obvious Tinsmith), Brownsmith, from those who worked with copper (and the more obvious Coppersmith), Silversmith, Goldsmith — and those based on the goods produced, such as Hammersmith, Naismith (referring to nails), Arrowsmith or Shoesmith (referring to horseshoes).[9]

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 occurrences of the surnames Smithson and Smisson. Another variation, Smithfield, might derive from persons descended from an estate originally named for a Smith – although another source for this name is from natives of an area known for its "smooth field".

In the British Armed Forces personnel with the Smith surname are affectionately called "Smudge" by their comrades.

Variations from other countries and cultures[]

"Smith" in other languages[]

Other languages with different words for the occupation of smith also produced surnames based on that derivation.

Romance languages[]

Words derived from the Latin term for smith, Faber (also the root of the word "fabricate") such as the Italian farrier, are the root of last names common in several parts of Europe.

Celtic languages[]

In Ireland and Scotland, the word for smith, gobha, is found in the surname MacGowan/McGowan. This surname is an Anglicised form of Mac Gobhann (Scottish Gaelic), Mac Gabhann (Irish), meaning "son of the smith".[11] 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 Bretons, following the Norman Conquest of England.[12]

Slavic and nearby languages[]

The Slavic languages and the Romanian and Hungarian they influenced contain a family of surnames that similarly derive from a common root referring to the metalworking occupation.

  • Russian: Kovalev (Ковалев)
  • Bulgarian: Kovachev (Ковачев)
  • Czech: Kovář
  • Polish: Kowal and its place name derivative Kowalski, and patronymics Kowalik and Kowalczyk
  • Languages of the former Yugoslavia: Kovač and its patronymics Kovačić, Kovačič and Kovačević
  • East Slavic: Kuznetsov, Koval, Kovalenko, Kovalchuk, Kovalev
  • Romanian: Covaciu
  • Hungarian: Kovacs or Kovács.

Other languages[]

  • Arabic: Haddad
  • Estonian: Sepp
  • Finnish: Seppä, Seppälä
  • Greek: Σιδεράς, translated most often as Sideras, and less commonly as Sedaris or Sideris
  • Latvian: Kalejs
  • Lingala: Motuli
  • Punjabi: Lohar
  • Syriac: Hadodo, Hadad[5]

Comparative note[]

Although Smith is the most common surname in the English-speaking world, it is held by fewer than five-million people worldwide. It is, therefore, dwarfed by the most common surname - Li - which is held by over one hundred and eight million people. Indeed, each of the twenty most common last names in China represents more people than all of the world's Smiths.

Smith was the most common surname in Canada until 2006 - when it was overtaken in that country by Li.[13]

Notable people sharing the surname "Smith"[]

See also[]

  • The variants subpage tabulating people of various spellings with columns for other facts
  • Smith and Jones
  • Smithson (son of Smith)


  1. ^ Citation: US Census Bureau, 1995.
  2. ^ Citation: Brooke, 2006.
  3. ^ Citation: Smith surname at YourNotMe.
  4. ^ a b Citation: Bardsley, 1901.
  5. ^ a b c d Citation: Anderson, 1863.
  6. ^ Citation: Simpson, 2007.
  7. ^ USCIS Home Page
  8. ^ Citation: Geoghegan 2006.
  9. ^ a b c d e Citation: Lower, 1860.
  10. ^ LEFEBVRE - Name Meaning & Origin at
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ [2]
  13. ^ Citation: CBC News, 2007.


External links[]

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Smith (surname). The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.