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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 and the United States, the second most common surname in Canada, 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 to black slaves being forced to adopt the name during slavery and never changing the name upon the end of the era of slavery and after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. 2,376,206 Americans shared the surname Smith during the 2000 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 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 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.
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 has nothing to do with six smiths but it is variant spelling of a sickle or scythe smith. Wildsmith in turn is a corruption of wheelsmith
Other languages with different words for the occupation of "smith" or "blacksmith" also produced surnames based on that root.
- German: Schmid, Schmidt, Schmitt, Schmitz, Schmith, Schmied
- Southern Dutch: De Smid, De Smedt, Desmedt, De Smet, Desmet, Smeets, Smets
- Northern Dutch and Afrikaans: Smit, Smits, Smid, Smidt, Smed, De Smet
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 Bretons, following the Norman Conquest of England.
- Russian: Kovalyov (Ковалёв), Kuznetsov (Кузнецов)
- Bosnian: Kovač, Kovačić, Kovačević
- Bulgarian: Kovachev (Ковачев)
- Croatian: Kovač, Kovačić, Kovačević, Kovačev, Kovačec, Kovaček
- Czech: Kovář
- Macedonian: Kovačevski (Ковачевски), Kovačev (Ковачев)
- Slovak: Kováč and derived Kováčik, Kovačovič
- Polish: Kowal and its place name derivative Kowalski, and patronymics Kowalik, Kowalczyk and Kowalewski
- Serbian: Kovačević/Ковачевић, Kovač/Ковач, Kovačev/Ковачев
- Slovenian: Kovač, Kovačič
- Ukrainian: Kovalenko (Коваленко), Kovalchuk (Ковальчук), Koval (Коваль)
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- Arabic: Haddad (حداد)
- Albanian: Nallbani
- Azerbaijani: Dəmirçi
- Aramaic: Haddad
- Armenian: Darbinyan, Tarpinyan (Դարբինյան, Տարպինյան)
- Balinese: Pande
- Bengali: Karmakar (কর্মকার)
- Estonian: Sepp
- Finnish: Seppä, Seppälä, Seppänen
- Georgian: Mchedlidze, Mchedlishvili (მჭედლიძე, მჭედლიშვილი)
- Japanese: Kajiya (鍛冶屋)
- Greek: Siderás (Σιδεράς), Sidéris (Σιδέρης)
- Lingala: Motuli
- Persian: Zargar (زرگر)
- Punjabi: Lohar
- Syriac: Hadodo, Hadad, Haddad
- Turkish: Demirci
Notable people sharing the surname "Smith"
- Smythe (disambiguation)
- Smith (taxonomic authority)
- Smith and Jones (disambiguation)
- Smithson (son of Smith)
- Mayor Smith (disambiguation)
- General Smith (disambiguation)
- Governor Smith (disambiguation)
- President Smith (disambiguation)
- Judge Smith (disambiguation)
- British surnames
- 1990 Census Name Files[permanent dead link]
- SMITH - Name Meaning & Origin
- 2000 Census: Frequently Occurring Surnames[permanent dead link]
- 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. "Genealogy Data: Frequently Occurring Surnames from Census 2000". 27 Sept 2011. Accessed 29 Mar 2012.
- UCL News: Surname Profiler
- Bardsley. English and Welsh Surnames. 1901.
- Citation: Anderson, 1863.
- Citation: Simpson, 2007.
- USCIS Home Page
- Cottle, Basil. Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1967.
- Citation: Lower, 1860.
- Anderson, William (1863). The Scottish Nation (Volume 3: MAC to ZET) (PDF). Edinburgh: A. Fullerton & Co. p. 479. Retrieved 2008-03-04.
- Bardsley, Charles Wareing (1901). English and Welsh Surnames (PDF). London: Henry Frowde. p. 699. ISBN 0-8063-0022-1. Retrieved 2008-03-03. 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 2010-03-01.
- Brooke, Bob (2006-12-31). "The Mighty Smiths: Dealing With Common Surnames". Everyday Genealogy. Genealogy Today, LLC. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
- CBC News (2007-07-26). "Common surnames". News In Depth. Retrieved 2008-03-02.
- Cottle, Basil (1967). Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books.
- Dorward, David (1998). Scottish Surnames. Collins Celtic (Pocket edition).
- Geoghegan, Eddie (2006-05-26). "Smith coat of arms and family history". araltas.com. Retrieved 2008-03-15.
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 2008-03-01.
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 (Google Books)). London: John Russell Smith. pp. 319–321. ISBN 0-7884-0456-3. Retrieved 2008-03-16.
- O'Kane, Willie (1998). "Surnames of County Monaghan". Irish Roots. 26 (2nd quarter). Retrieved 2008-03-02.
...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 http://www.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 (2007-01-30). "Surnames of North East England". The North East England History Pages. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
- Smith, Elsdon C. (1997). American Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company.
- "Smith surname at YourNotMe" (database search result). YourNotMe.com. Retrieved 2008-03-01.[dead link]
- 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