How Common Is My Last Name?

Are you wondering how common is your last name? You probably have an idea based on people you met at school or work.

At one time in my career, my desk was next to an O’Brien on one side and an O’Brien on the other. We were not related, so you can guess that my surname is common in Ireland.

I also know for sure that my last name ranked #258 in the United States with nearly 167 thousand people bearing it in 2020. How can I know that?

This article shows you how to check exactly how common your surname is. And we’ll explain why some names are more common than others.

How To Check How Common Your last Name Is

The answer in America is found in the most recently available U.S. census. You could count how many people share your surname.

But wouldn’t it be easier to use a tool that accepts your name (or any name) and spits out the answer?

We’ve got you! Follow the link to our simple surname ranking tool that does exactly that.

Common variants and spellings

The tool works with the exact spelling of a surname. But if you’re name is “Reid”, you may want to see the numbers of “Read” or “Reed”.

It’s probably easier to use our alphabet lists of last names. Run your eye down any list and you’ll see how each name ranks. We have a list for each starting letter…you can use these links:


Other countries

Other countries have their own versions of the census. The government websites often have a way to search for a specific name and see how it ranks.

Alternatively, you can try this website (not ours).

Is Your Surname One Of The Most Common Names?

Do you have one of the top ten surnames in the United States? Check this list:

Want to see more than ten names? Certainly.

These columns show the names ranked from 1 down to 40.

1 to 1011 to 2021 to 3031 to 40

Still don’t see your surname? Well, we can’t show every name, but we do have the information in our database.

Use our surname ranking tool which gives you your rank. For example, my surname is ranked 258th out of 160,975 positions. That’s pretty common!

Common Last Names Are Often Associated With Trades

You won’t be surprised to learn that Miller is more common than Postlethwaite in any English -speaking country.

But why?

We picked Miller as the example because it’s the same reason why Smith is at the top of the list.

“Miller” is the name of a trade. It was the man who milled corn or other grains.

If you lived in a small village, you would take your corn from the Miller family. A trade was often handed down from son to son, and the name would stay in the area.

But why would one name spread and flourish widely while others did not?

Well, a man with a trade was more likely to live longer and have more sons than many others. If one son took over the mill near the village, the others may set off to ply their trade elsewhere with their mother’s blessing and their father’s gift of money.

Even if a son of a son of a son became a labourer, he was likely to keep a name that confers status.

Why is Smith so popular?

It’s a common misconception that the original Smith was a blacksmith who worked with iron and fire.

But a “Smith” could refer to many different trades that “smite” other forms of metal. For example, someone who worked with tin is a tinsmith.

A Miller could supply several villages, but one village might need several Smiths. This is a possible reason why there is now over twice the number of people named Smith in America than Miller.

Not just trades

Many last names came from trades but not all of them. So, why have other names become so common?

Let’s look at two other factors: immigration and culture.

Immigration And Growth Of Surnames

The top five names in American have kept their rankings between 2000 and 2010. Smith, Johnson, Williams, Brown, and Jones held their positions.

These are traditionally names of European heritage.

Now take a look at this table of the next ten names in America in 2000 and 2010.


Notice that Garcia has jumped from 8th to 6th place and pushed Miller down a place.

Martinez wasn’t in the top ten in 2000 but it’s rise has pushed Wilson out of the 2010 list.

These shifts could be due to both immigration and culture. Let’s look at immigration first.

European immigration into the United States now lags behind other regions.

We can see that Hispanic names are rising in the charts. That could be due to people immigrating from Latin American countries with those names.

The three most common surnames in Mexico are Hernandez, Garcia, and Martinez. All three are on the rise.

However, culture may also be a significant factor. Read on.

Culture Leading To Growth In Names

Some cultures and communities tend to have larger families than others.

This was historically true of Irish and other traditionally Catholic communities. The fertility rate in Ireland has fallen drastically in the last forty years. But let’s look at rates back in 1970.

Back then, women averaged 3.87 births in Ireland while the U.S. rate was 2.48. That would suggest that the Irish in America back in the 1970s would tend to have more children than some other communities.

Combined with inward immigration from Ireland, we can see why Irish names grew through the 19th and 20th centuries.

Growth in Hispanic names

But more recently, we see growth in Hispanic names.

Interestingly, the Hispanic birth rates have dropped significantly in recent years. This is a similar trend as in Ireland.

However, in previous decades the fertility rates were above other groups. This will be a factor in the growth of Hispanic surnames.

What About Rare Names?

We have a separate article on how to check how rare your last name is.

Some names have only a few hundred bearers in the entire United States. Check out our list of the rarest last names in America.

Other names are so few that they may disappear completely in the next decades. Check out our article on surnames that are almost extinct in America.

Margaret created a family tree on a genealogy website in 2012. She purchased her first DNA kit in 2017. She created this website to share insights and how-to guides on DNA, genealogy, and family research.

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