Why So Many Smiths?

From what I understand, the last name of Smith came from those who were blacksmiths. If so, why are there so many Smiths in the U.S.? Were they that prolific?

It was my understanding that ‘smith’ referred to any worker of materials - blacksmith, silversmith, goldsmith, wordsmith. In that light, its commonness is not suprising.

WAG ahead…
Every little village would have had a smith, and the smith was regarded as a fairly important person, not to mention pretty well off as your basic villager goes. His children would be likely, therefore to be not only more numerous but better fed and healthier, producing lots of healthy offspring yourself.

WAG ahead…
Every little village would have had a smith, and the smith was regarded as a fairly important person, not to mention pretty well off as your basic villager goes. His children would be likely, therefore to be not only more numerous but better fed and healthier, producing lots of healthy offspring themselves.

Smith is the most common surname in the UK, which goes a long way towards explaining its frequency in the US. In addition, I’ve read that a lot of people with the eqivalent name from another language (eg Schmidt, but I would think that it may also apply to Dutch and Scandinavian people) changed there name to the English language equivalent when they got to America.

I would change lucie’s WAG a little. The smith was an important person in town., so even if he didn’t have more children than anyone else, his name was more likely to be claimed by his relatives. When John Muck-carter and Mary Smith gave their baby’s name to the authorities, they might decide to give it the surname Smith to improve the babe’s social position.


…their names…

Actually, just because of random factors, some lineages may become very abundant over time, while others that were equally common at the start die out. While “Smith” may have been a fairly common trade, certainly it would not have been more common than Farmer or even Miller. I think its current frequency is much more dependent on chance than anything else.

Names equivalent to “Smith” are fairly common in all European countries. “Schmidt”, “LeFevre”, “Ferraro”, “Herrera”,“Ferreiro”, “Ferrer” and so on…
Maybe for some bearers, Smith may have also been a patronymic (the son of a Smith).

Farming was such a common occupation that it probably didn’t catch on as a name, or else 75% of all English people would be ____ Farmer.

I believe that millers were not always seen as reputable - they were said to be fond of skimming their clients grain for an extra shilling or two (The Canterbury Tales gives us a taste of common feeling towards millers). Perhaps it would have been like being named “Frederick Usedarsalesman” or “Edward Divorcelawyer”. The medieval smith for his part, was depicted as a solid, dependable fellow/

One funny thing about genealogy is that embarassing and inconvenient names tend to get done away with. 400 years ago, there were a number of Mr. Bastards, Mrs. Bottoms, and even some Mr. and Mrs. Toads out there. Enter such names in http://www.familysearch.org and you’ll see what I mean.

As time went by, most of those families switched to something less onerous. And even names that resemble more common names tend to get “absorbed” into a more common name. Today such names may be completely absent from the phone books. Perhaps a few became “Smiths” and “Jones”, in a conscious effot to stand out as little as possible. Whether that’s a factor or not, I can’t say. But with each century, the “common” names seem to become more common, and oddball names get endangered. It is a genealogical phenomenon.

I of course meant “Frederick Usedcarsalesman”. A “Frederick Usedarsesalesman” would have never passed his genes.

Hey…theres an idea, maybe guys with awful last names have extra difficulty in finding a wife willing to take on any names that are objectionable…

I’ve heard about the unpopularity of Millers as well. Apparently this didn’t apply so much in Germany, and when Muellers went to America they became Millers. It seems that this means that there are proportinally more Millers in the USA than in the UK.

But since there were so many farmers, that wasn’t always used as a surname (although there are quite a few people with that surname). It wasn’t distinctive. However, in a village, there would usually only be one guy who was the smith. You didn’t need two.

People who worked on farms got a much more diverse set of surnames.

However, some, but not all people who have the last name Mueller, pronounce it by “Miller” (like the Cubs’ third baseman). My father who grew up in an area that is predominantly German, (Clinton County, Illinois), said that was the case with all the Muellers he knew.

My great-great-grandfather was a German Mueller who changed it to Miller in the U.S.

Here in Panama, I believe the most common surname is González (8 pages in the phone book, compared to 2 for Herrera.) I’m not sure how that compares to other Spanish-speaking countries.

Hardly the Scandinavians (at least not the Swedes) as we don’t have that kind of names.

A decent number of Finns did in fact anglicize their names (though most didn’t…just truncating them was much more common). For example, the surname Hill (translated from “Maki”) is very common in areas with high Finnish populations: Michigan, Minnesota, etc.

I agree. A “used arse salesman” would have difficulty making a sale or finding a wife.

What about Schulz in Germany? There’s 130 pages of them in the Berlin phonebook. Try looking up a Schulz in Germany!

I didn’t say they didn’t anglicise their names. I just said that we don’t have names like Cooper, Thatcher, Smith, Cartwright and what have you, all based on different crafts. Swedish names are to a large part based on things in nature, eg my own surname Wikström is built from the two words (with a little fancy spelling, we don’t separate between v and w) vik (“bay” in English) and ström (“stream” or “current”).

I can imagine Swedish immigrants in USA will drop the umlauts and other diacrits (as Löfgren became Lofgren), or changed the spelling a bit (as Sandberg became Sandburg) but I no idea to what extent they totally anglified their names. The only example I can come up with is something a friend mentioned in passing last night: Seaburg (derived from Sjöberg). I can understand this transition, though, as it is almost unpronounceable to an English speaker.

BTW it’s not Maki, It’s Mäki. :slight_smile:

Sorry; didn’t bother to check

As well, most of the surnames that appear to have descended from occupations were trade-based. Since more or less everyone who wasn’t involved in a skilled trade was involved in agriculture of some sort, it probably was rarely identified as a seperate occupation. Some guys belonged to the guilds, and the everyone else grew stuff. The middle-class types who learned skilled trades, and typically inducted their offspring, would thus become attached to the name of the trade.

I don’t know anyone with the last name “farmer”, unless I’m forgetting an equivilent name that’s common.