A surname is usually a person’s family name or the last name of a person. Because the majority of Americans have European ancestry, most of the popular surnames used in the United States have origins traced in Europe with African Americans using the surnames they acquired during the slavery era.
The 25 Most Popular Last Names in the United States
According to census records going back to the turn of the 20th century, “Smith” is the most popular name in the US. The 2000 census puts the number of people having “Smith” as their surname at 2,376,206. The name’s origin is traced to England where it is also the most common surname and is derived from an Old English term “smib” which means “one who works in metal.” The name is predominantly used by Americans of Scottish, Irish, and English descent but it is also common among African-Americans who were forced to adopt the name during the slavery era.
Johnson is the second-most popular surname in the US since 1900. The name is a combination of the word “son” and the name “John” and can mean “Son of John.” The name’s origin is traced to Scandinavia as well as England and is most prevalent in Americans of Scandinavian and English heritage. The name also exists in several variations including “Jonson,” “Jonson” and “Johansson.” Several famous people have “Johnson” as their surname including the 17th US President, Andrew Johnson and famous actor, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Williams is a surname commonly used by Americans and is the third-most popular surname in the US since 1900. The name “Williams” is a variation of the name William and can mean “descendant of William.” The origin of the name is traced to Wales and England where it is also quite popular, being the third-most popular surname in Wales. The earliest documented use of the name was in its variation “Williams” in Staffordshire in 1307.
The fourth most common surname in the United States is Jones. The name “Jones” is a variation of “Johnson” and means “descendant or offspring of John” The name’s origin is traced to the United Kingdom in medieval Wales, Scotland, and England. The first record of the existence of the name was in 1273 in a person named “Matilda Jones.” The name is predominantly used by Americans of Caucasian heritage with the 2000 census establishing that 57.7% of the white race used “Jones” as a surname. The 2000 census also showed that the name is popular in African-Americans with 37.7% of Black Americans using “Jones” as the surname. Many influential people have used the surname “Jones” including the 1991-1995 Governor of Kentucky, Brereton Jones.
Another popular surname in the United States is Brown. The name’s origin is traced to England where it was used as a descriptive term for people with brown features (complexion, hair color or color of clothing). The name is the fifth most popular surname in the United States since the turn of the 20th century. Several influential Americans bear Brown as their surname including the current Oregon Governor, Kate Brown as well as the only African-American Mayor of San Francisco, Willie Brown.
The United States had a very dark period in its history when slavery was occurring and the extermination of Native Americans was encouraged. This period saw the two oppressed races being forced to drop their ancestral names and adopt European surnames.