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Smith is the most common family name (surname) in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, representing more than 1 out of every 100 persons in each of these countries. It is particularly prevalent among those of English descent, the name being mainly English itself, but has often been taken by non-English natives or immigrants to the above countries in order to blend into the majority culture more easily. It is also a common surname among African Americans, which can be attributed to English slave owners giving the name to black slaves during the Slave Trade. At least 3 million people in the United States share the surname Smith, and somewhat more than ½ million 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."
- 1 Derivation
- 2 Variations
- 3 Notable people sharing the surname "Smith"
- 4 See also
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The name originally derives from smitan, the Anglo-Saxon term meaning to smite or strike (as in early 17th century Biblical English: the verb "to smite" = to hit). This term led to the name of the occupation, smith or blacksmith, because such persons must continuously strike metal with a hammer in order to shape it. Metallurgy required the development of specialist skills, and was practiced throughout the world from the Bronze Age. 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 was recorded in 975. Smithers may also have derived from the Celtic word "smiterin" which meant "blown to bits". This explains the common expression "blown to smithereens".
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:
- Following the failed Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland, which began around 1715, many Scots adopted the last name Smith to disguise their connection with rebellious clans. To this day, it is not uncommon for persons in English-speaking countries to adopt the surname Smith in order to maintain a secret identity, when they wish to avoid being found by someone; 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 slaves were known by the surname of their masters, or adopted those surnames upon their emancipation.
- It is thought that many early Jewish settlers in the United Kingdom and colonies took the name Smith so as not to stand out when settling in to their new culture.
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 cataloguing 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 common and equivalent German surname "Schmidt" was often Anglicised to "Smith".
Variations of the surname, Smith, also remain very common. These include different spellings of the English term, and versions from other countries and cultures.
Some English variations took place by dint of transient writing conventions, such such as Smithe, Smyth and Smythe, or as a deliberate choice, such as Smijth. Other variants such as Smithy, Smythy, Smithies and Smythies 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).
Other variations focus on particular branches within the profession, particularly those based on the materials worked with — Blacksmith, from those who worked predominantly with iron, Whitesmith, from those who worked with tin (and the more obvious Tinsmith), Brownsmith, from those who worked with copper (and the more obvious Coppersmith), Silversmith, Goldsmith — and those based on the goods produced, such as Hammersmith, Naismith (referring to nails), Arrowsmith or Shoesmith (referring to horseshoes).
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 occurrences of the surnames Smithson and Smisson. Another variation, Smithfield, might derive from persons descended from an estate originally named for a Smith – although another source for this name is from natives of an area known for its "smooth field".
In the British Armed Forces personnel with the Smith surname are affectionately called "Smudge" by their comrades.
Variations from other countries and cultures
- Schmid, Schmidt, Schmitt, Schmitz, Schmied (German)
- Smeets or Lefèbvre/Fèbvre (French)
- Schmieder (Yiddish)
- De Smid, De Smedt, Desmedt, De Smet, Smeets, Smets (Southern Dutch)
- Smit, Smid, Smidt, Smed, De Smet (Northern Dutch)
- Smed (Swedish)
- Smid, Šmíd (Czech or Slovak)
- Smitas (Lithuanian)
- Szmidt (Polish)
- Шмидт (Shmidt) (Russian)
"Smith" in other languages
Other languages with different words for the occupation of smith also produced surnames based on that derivation.
Words derived from the Latin term for smith, Faber (also the root of the word "fabricate") such as the Italian farrier, are the root of last names common in several parts of Europe.
- Italian: Fabbri, Fabris, Ferraro, Ferrari
- French: Lefèvre, Lefeuvre, Lefébure, Favre, Faure, Favret, Favrette or Dufaure
- Spanish: Herrera, Herrero
- Portuguese: Ferreira
- Catalan: Ferrer
In Ireland and Scotland, the word for smith, gobha, is found in the surname MacGowan/McGowan. This surname is an Anglicised form of Mac Gobhann (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.
Slavic and nearby languages
- Russian: Kovalev (Ковалев)
- Bulgarian: Kovachev (Ковачев)
- Czech: Kovář
- Polish: Kowal and its place name derivative Kowalski, and patronymics Kowalik and Kowalczyk
- Languages of the former Yugoslavia: Kovač and its patronymics Kovačić, Kovačič and Kovačević
- East Slavic: Kuznetsov, Koval, Kovalenko, Kovalchuk, Kovalev
- Romanian: Covaciu
- Hungarian: Kovacs or Kovács.
- Arabic: Haddad
- Estonian: Sepp
- Finnish: Seppä, Seppälä
- Greek: Σιδεράς, translated most often as Sideras, and less commonly as Sedaris or Sideris
- Latvian: Kalejs
- Lingala: Motuli
- Punjabi: Lohar
- Syriac: Hadodo, Hadad
Although Smith is the most common surname in the English-speaking world, it is held by fewer than five-million people worldwide. It is, therefore, dwarfed by the most common surname - Li - which is held by over one hundred and eight million people. Indeed, each of the twenty most common last names in China represents more people than all of the world's Smiths.
Notable people sharing the surname "Smith"
- The variants subpage tabulating people of various spellings with columns for other facts
- Smith and Jones
- Smithson (son of Smith)
- ^ Citation: US Census Bureau, 1995.
- ^ Citation: Brooke, 2006.
- ^ Citation: Smith surname at YourNotMe.
- ^ a b Citation: Bardsley, 1901.
- ^ a b c d Citation: Anderson, 1863.
- ^ Citation: Simpson, 2007.
- ^ USCIS Home Page
- ^ Citation: Geoghegan 2006.
- ^ a b c d e Citation: Lower, 1860.
- ^ LEFEBVRE - Name Meaning & Origin at About.com
- ^ 
- ^ 
- ^ Citation: CBC News, 2007.
- All Info About Genealogy - Smith
- Anderson, William (1863) (PDF). The Scottish Nation (Volume 3: MAC to ZET). Edinburgh: A. Fullerton & Co.. p. 479. http://books.google.com/books?id=3rQEAAAAIAAJ. Retrieved 2008-03-04.
- Bardsley, Charles Wareing (1901) (PDF). English and Welsh Surnames. London: Henry Frowde. p. 699. http://books.google.com/books?id=RbkEAAAAIAAJ. 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).
- Brooke, Bob (2006-12-31). "The Mighty Smiths: Dealing With Common Surnames". Everyday Genealogy. Genealogy Today, LLC. http://www.genealogytoday.com/columns/everyday/020509.html. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
- CBC News (2007-07-26). "Common surnames". News In Depth. http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/name-change/common-surnames.html. Retrieved 2008-03-02.
- Cottle, Basil. Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1967.
- Dorward, David. Scottish Surnames. Collins Celtic (Pocket edition), 1998.
- Geoghegan, Eddie (2006-05-26). "Smith coat of arms and family history". araltas.com. http://www.araltas.com/features/smith/. 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. http://howmanyofme.com/search/. Retrieved 2008-03-01. "There are 3,053,623 people in the U.S. with the last name Smith."
- Lower, Mark Antony (1860)  (PDF (Google Books)). Patronymica Britannica: A Dictionary of Family Names of the United Kingdom. London: John Russell Smith. pp. 319–321. http://books.google.com/books?id=00cBAAAAQAAJ. Retrieved 2008-03-16.
- O'Kane, Willie (1998). "Surnames of County Monaghan". Irish Roots 26 (2nd Quarter). Retrieved on 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. http://www.northeastengland.talktalk.net/Surnames%20of%20North%20East%20England.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
- Smith, Elsdon C. American Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997.
- "Smith surname at YourNotMe" (database search result). YourNotMe.com. http://www.yournotme.com/results.asp?forename=&surname=smith. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
- US Census Bureau (9 May 1995). s:1990 Census Name Files dist.all.last (1-100). Retrieved on 25 February, 2008.
- Smith SurnameDNA Project
- 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
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