The 10 Most Popular Surnames in the U.S.

According to data gathered from the 2010 Census, a post from the U.S. Census Bureau last December shares the top 10 most common surnames in the U.S. by race and Hispanic origin. This post also included a link comparing the most popular surnames of 2010 against the 2000 and 1990 censuses. Although the top 3 names haven’t changed in the last 30 years, the others start trading places a bit. Read on as we explore the top 10 most popular surnames in the U.S. and their meaning.

  1. Smith
Smith is an Anglo-Saxon name originally given to metalworkers. This comes from a time when names were attributed to a person based on their profession, before it was commonplace to pass down one’s own family name. It is likely derived from the Old English word “smid” meaning “one who works in metal.” Though this profession was quite widespread throughout Europe, there exists some debate as to why this is the most popular name when the profession Farmer was likely more common. While it is unlikely there will ever be sufficient conclusive evidence, it certainly is food for thought. 

  1. Johnson
The second most popular last name in the U.S. finds its origins in ancient Norman. Sources agree that the name was popularized after the 1066 Norman Conquest. One such source says that the residents of a town called Johnstown, near the border of Britain and Scotland, began taking up the name, while spending much of their time defending their livelihood. As a result, the name became synonymous with a nomadic, warring tribe. The name Johnson is also a patronym of John, signifying one, quite literally, as the “son of John.” 

  1. Williams
Like Johnson, Williams too is a patronym, meaning son of Williame (which is the Northern French origin of the personal name William). Following the Norman Conquest William became one of the foremost popular personal names in Europe. The Old French name has the Germanic roots of “wil” meaning desire and “helm” meaning “helmet or protection.” 

  1. Brown
The Brown family name is widely considered to be on Norman origins. It is derived based on physical traits of an early family member, namely one who had brown hair or eyes or habitually wore brown clothing. It is also possible that a given instance of the name is derived from a short form of an Old English personal name such as Brunwine or Brungar. Thought it is the 4th most common surname in the U.S., it is the 2nd most common in Scotland. 

  1. Jones
The Jones surname is almost definitely a product of the United Kingdom, more specifically of Welsh and English extraction. The earliest known record, dating back to the 13th century, is from England. This name has always been common in Britain, rivaling William at the beginning of the 14th century. It is unclear whether the surname Jones is derived from the male or female personal name, John and Johanna, respectively. 

  1. Garcia
Looking beyond Norman and British influence, the Garcia surname finds its roots in Spain. Though still patronymic like the others we’ve discussed, it is most thought to derive from a now unknown medieval given name. An older form of this name comes from the Basque, Garsea, likely predating the Latin era. The surname Garcia first surfaced in Navarre, where it is shown in early records.

  1. Miller
The Miller surname is most commonly considered to be of Scottish & English derivation. It was a name first used by people living on the Scottish/English borderlands in the county of Dumfries. It is also a name which is assigned based on one’s occupation as a miller, or someone who works with a mill. 

  1. Davis
Davis is a Welsh patronymic surname of the given name David, which is a Hebrew name meaning “beloved.” David became a popular given name throughout Europe because of its biblical ancestry. By that we are referring to the Patron Saint of Wales whose name is David. The rise in popularity of David caused it to become a patronymic name for the Brythonic people of Wales. 

  1. Rodriguez
Another name of Spanish descent, Rodriguez is a prestigious one, as Spain is has been a prominent figure in world affairs for hundreds of years. Like so many of the names we’ve discussed here, this too is a patronymic name, with roots tracing back to the Visigoths, the Germanic tribe who ruled Spain between the mid-5th and early 8th centuries. Rodriguez is derived from the personal name “Hrodric” (“hrod” meaning “renown,” and “ric” meaning “power”). The “ez” is a patronymic suffix, which all combined refers to “a famous ruler.”

  1. Martinez
The tenth and final name we will address today is yet another Spanish patronymic surname. It combines the personal name Martin, with the patronymic suffix ‘ez.’ Martin is derived from the Latin Martinus, whose root is Mars, the Roman god of fertility and war. The name became popular throughout Europe, after it was borne by the 4th century saint Martin of Tours.

Do you know the history behind your family name? Comment below!