The 25 most common surnames in Britain - and what they say about your family history

A team of researchers from the University of West of England are publishing the 45,000 most common last names 

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The Independent Online

The origins of more than 45,000 surnames in Britain have been revealed by a team of university researchers.

The four-year study, led by a team from the University of West of England in Bristol, has investigated the linguistic origins of every surname; from the most popular to some of the most obscure.

Here is a list of the 25 most popular surnames in Britain, and what they say about your family history.

1. Smith

Number in Great Britain: 546,960

An English and Scottish occupational name from the Middle English period (1150 – 1470) for someone who works with metal, such as a blacksmith.

2. Jones

Number in GB: 422,023

An English and Welsh variant of the Middle English personal name Jon. It only became widespread in the 18th and 19th centuries.

3. Williams

Number in GB: 294,625

A variant of William, which is a personal name from Middle English adapted from the German name Willihelm, which roughly translates as ‘desire and protection’.

4. Taylor

Number in GB: 250,780

The occupational name from Middle English for a tailor. 

5. Davies

Number in GB: 215,074

A Welsh patronymic name, which means it is originally derived from the name of a father. Morphed from ‘Dafydd’s (son)’ over time.

6. Brown 

Number in GB: 195,410

English and Scottish nickname for a person with brown hair or brown complexion.

7. Wilson

Number in GB: 186,540

An English patronymic name that means ‘son of Will’, which is itself a shortened form of William.

8. Evans

Number in GB: 171,816

A variant of Evan, which is a Welsh form of the English name John

9. Thomas

Number in GB: 159,643

An English and Welsh name from the New Testament, and made popular due to Christ’s disciple Saint Thomas.

10. Johnson

Number in GB: 151,518

English patronymic name that means ‘son of John’, which is itself derived from the Hebrew name Johanan, which means ‘Jehovah has favoured’.

11. Roberts

Number in GB: 145,968

An English variant of the Middle English personal name Robert, which was introduced by the Normans. 

12. Walker

Number in GB: 133,929

An English and Scottish occupational name for a what would now be known as a fuller; someone who beats and presses cloth to make if denser.

13. Wright

Number in GB: 130,416

An English and Scottish occupational name from Middle English for a craftsman, particularly a carpenter or a joiner.

14. Robinson

Number in GB: 128,225

English patronymic name that means ‘son of Robin’, which is itself a shortened nickname of Robert.

15. Thompson

Number in GB: 127,966

An English Middle name meaning ‘son of Tom’. Thomson – without the ‘p’ – is usually the Scottish name.

16. White

Number in GB: 123,667

A Middle English nickname referring to people with fair hair or a pale complexion.

17. Hughes

Number in GB: 120,505

An English and Welsh variant of Hugh, which was taken from the Germanic name Hugo.

18. Edwards

Number in GB: 118,840

An English variant of Edward, which was first recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086.

19. Green

Number in GB: 114,774

A Middle English name for someone who lived by the village green.

20. Lewis

Number in GB: 112,613

A English name from the Middle English period, taken from the Old French personal names Lewis, Leweis and Lowis.

21. Wood

Number in GB: 111,127

A Middle English name for someone who lived in or near a wood.

22. Harris

Number in GB: 110,306

English name from the personal name Harry, which is a common form of Henry.

23. Martin

Number in GB: 109,869

A Middle English personal name adapted from the Medieval Latin Martinus, which was made popular due to Saint Martin of Tours (316-397).

24. Jackson

Number in GB: 109,086

An English name meaning ‘son of Jack’, which is itself a shortened nickname of the John.

25. Clarke

Number in GB: 108,022

An English occupational name for a cleric or writer. The original sense was usually a cleric in a religious order.

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