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What are the most common surnames in the United States?

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Although the US as an immigrant nation offers an almost infinite range of names and surnames, there are a few that are particularly common. Below are the top 3 most popular surnames in the United States, with all the relevant information and explanations. It should be noted that the frequency always refers to the relative frequency measured against the local population, not the total frequency with the greatest number of namesake in a region.

1. Smith

Frequency and distribution

Just as the name “Schmidt” is very widespread in the German-speaking area, it is similar with its English counterpart. “Smith” is the most common surname in the United States, with approximately 2.7 million carriers. Due to this high number, it can be found all over the country, but in some states it is represented significantly more often in terms of its frequency per inhabitant than in others. Regionally, the name is most likely to be seen in the southern states. More specifically, the greatest density is found in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas.

Origin

Like “Schmidt”, “Smith” is derived from the blacksmith as a job title. The widespread use of this name can be explained by the fact that blacksmithing has been a well-known craft in Europe for centuries. Practically every village had its own blacksmith shop. When the settlers then emigrated to America, mainly from England, the name came to the New World. The trend was reinforced by the fact that, among other things, slaves took over the name of their master or German immigrants with the name “Schmidt” switched to “Smith” in order to adapt to the predominantly English-speaking culture.

2. Johnson

Frequency and distribution

With almost 2.2 million namesake, the Johnsons follow the Smiths at a distance. Similar to the latter, the name “Johnson” is particularly well represented in the southern states, but here the distribution in the northern states of the Midwest is similarly high. Per capita, “Johnson” is the most common in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Mississippi.

Origin

In contrast to “Smith”, “Johnson” is not a job title, but a name that has biblical origins. Taken literally, “Johnson” means “son of John”, whereby “John” generally represents the anglicised form of “Johannes” and is often found as a given name.

The fact that the name was able to spread so widely can best be explained by the fact that the USA is a country that has been firmly interwoven with Christianity since the colonial days. Here, too, the English and especially the Scottish immigrants did the rest, especially those who belonged to Puritanism. Furthermore, the name could also have been carried on by Scandinavian immigrants, since in these countries “Johannson” in different spellings, but with the same meaning, is also a name that is often encountered.

3. Williams

Frequency and distribution

“Williams” ranks third on the list of the most widely used American surnames. With around 1.9 million wearers, it is the first to fall below the two million mark, but it is still comparatively close to “Johnson”. Again, this name is particularly common in the south of the country, but also in the eastern areas of the United States. The states of Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana are furthest ahead in terms of the per capita distribution.

Origin

In contrast to the previous surnames, the origin of “Williams” is not entirely clear. It is speculated that the name could come from French, where it means “son of Guillaume”, with “William” being the English variant of “Guillaume”.

In addition, another possibility is the combination of the components “Will” and “Helm”, which are also known in German, whereby both in combination from older languages ​​could mean something like “resolved to protect”.

Since this name was also widespread in Europe, in the Anglo-Saxon region especially in England and Wales, the most obvious explanation for its occurrence in North America is a large number of immigrants with corresponding family names. That would also make the statistically particularly high frequency in the east of the country understandable, since immigrants from Europe naturally arrived here first.