Why are some last names more common than others?


Before people had last names, they were only known by their first name or a nickname. This is because many people lived in very small tribes or communities where more than one name was not necessary. Everyone knew who belonged to which family.

But as populations grew larger, more names were necessary to identify people. To solve the confusion, people began creating last names based on a person's job, nickname, place of birth or father. This was the beginning of what made some last names more popular than other.

Today, many families still have the last names of Roberts and Wilson. Another popular last name, Jameson, comes from the original James' son; the son of James. The last name Smith could have referred to the job of a goldsmith, blacksmith, ironsmith or any other craftsman who made products from a certain material. Baker was another job-related last name given to someone who baked bread. Other popular last names described the person: Hill was probably about where the person lived while Brown could have described the person's hair color.

As more and more people began traveling and immigrating to new parts of the world, some last names were used to keep groups organized. For example, immigrants to England or the United States may have been given a last name based on the town, city or country where they were born. In later years, when last names were normal, some immigrants may have changed their last names to ones that fit with the culture. For example, the German last name Schmidt may have been changed to the popular English last name Smith.


Think of the last names of your friends and people in your class. Do any of them have names that were described above?

Further Information

Which last name is the most common in the U.S. you think?

It is Smith with about 2.4 million people carrying it.