Smith (surname)

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Blacksmith at work02.jpg
A close-up of a blacksmith at work. Smith became a popular last name for those with this occupation.
Pronunciation /ˈsmɪθ/
Region of origin England
Word/Name Old English
Meaning derived from smitan, meaning "to smite"
Other names
Variant(s) numerous
Footnotes: [1][2]

Smith is a surname[3] originating in England. It is the most prevalent surname in the United Kingdom,[1] Australia, New Zealand and the United States,[4] 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,[5] but is also a common surname among African Americans, which can be attributed 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.[6][dubious ] 2,376,206 Americans shared the surname Smith during the 2000 census,[7] and more than 500,000 people share it in the United Kingdom.[8] 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";[9] and sufficiently common on the (European) continent (in various forms) to be "common in most countries of Europe".[10]

Etymology and history[edit]

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.[11]

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:

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 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.[citation needed] While such claims are likely vastly exaggerated,[12] 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.

English variations[edit]

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,[13] which would have been used in surnames based on location rather than occupation (in other words, for someone living near or at the smithy).[14] 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.[13] 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."[9] 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.[14] Additional derivatives include Smithman, Smithson and Smithfield (see below).[14] Athersmith may derive from at the Smith.[15]

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,[16] or Shoesmith (referring to horseshoes).[14] Sixsmith is variant spelling of a sickle- or scythe-smith.[17] Wildsmith in turn is a corruption of wheelsmith[18]

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.

Other languages[edit]

Other languages with different words for the occupation of "smith" or "blacksmith" also produced surnames based on that root.

Other Germanic languages[edit]

Romance languages[edit]

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.[citation needed]

Celtic languages[edit]

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".[19] 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.[20]

Slavic languages[edit]



Notable people sharing the surname "Smith"[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b British surnames
  2. ^ 1990 Census Name Files
  3. ^ SMITH - Name Meaning & Origin
  4. ^ 2000 Census: Frequently Occurring Surnames
  5. ^ Citation: Brooke, 2006.
  6. ^ Franklin Carter Smith, Emily Anne Croom, A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your African-American Ancestors (2009), p. 109-110.
  7. ^ United States Census Bureau. "Genealogy Data: Frequently Occurring Surnames from Census 2000". 27 Sept 2011. Accessed 29 Mar 2012.
  8. ^ UCL News: Surname Profiler
  9. ^ a b Bardsley. English and Welsh Surnames. 1901.
  10. ^ a b c Citation: Anderson, 1863.
  11. ^ Citation: Simpson, 2007.
  12. ^ USCIS Home Page Archived 22 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ a b Cottle, Basil. Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1967.
  14. ^ a b c d Citation: Lower, 1860.
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ [1]
  20. ^ [2]


External links[edit]