What does your surname mean?

Want to know more about who you are? Your surname is your link to your family history. Whether you’re a Smith, a Jones or a Nguyen, why not find out what your surname means and where it comes from?

The 10 most common surnames in Australia share some commonalities with the most common surnames in other English speaking countries. This list from the World Names Public Profiler is compiled from telephone directories and electoral registers, and for the first time, contains an Asian name.

Is your surname in the list of the top 10 common surnames in Australia?

(*FPM: Frequency per million)

Smith (FPM: 12,254)

Historically, this was an occupational name to describe a person with the specialised skills to work as a smith or blacksmith. It was derived from the Anglo-Saxon word, smitan, meaning to ‘to smite or strike’, and is English in origin.

Jones (FPM: 6132)

Jones is patronymic (meaning it has paternal origins) and means ‘Jehovah has favoured’. It is a popular European Christian surname, since it linked to the given name John, which was bestowed on St. John the Baptist. Johnson is the common English Christian alternative. This name is English and Welsh in origin.

Williams (FPM: 5904)

This common name of Welsh origin has a few possible meanings. The first is that it may be a descendent of the name Guillemin, a pet form of Guillaume, which is the French form of William. Second, Williams may come from the Belgic word, guild-helm, meaning ‘harnessed with a gilded helmet’ or Wilhelm. The third is that it may be derived from the given name William, which is an Old French name with Germanic elements: wil = ‘desire’ and helm = ‘helmet, protection’.

Brown (FPM: 5880)

Some surnames, such as Brown, served as descriptors of a person’s complexion, hair colour or clothes. Brown is English, Scottish and Welsh in origin and derives from the Middle English br(o)un and the Old French brun, meaning ‘brown’.

Wilson (FPM: 5037)

With English and Scottish origins, Wilson is another patronymic name, meaning ‘son of Will’ and was a popular surname during medieval times. The given name Will may have come from any serval names containing the Germanic wil, meaning ‘desire’. 

Taylor (FPM: 4867)

An occupational name for the popular medieval occupation of a tailor, Taylor is an English name that is derived from the Old French word, tailleur, which in turn comes from the Latin, tailiare, meaning ‘to cut’.

Nguyen (FPM: 3798)

Of Chinese origin, it is estimated that about 40 per cent of Vietnamese people have the surname Nguyen. This name is derived from the Chinese word, ruan, meaning ‘a plucked string instrument’ and was the family name of a major Vietnamese royal dynasty.

Johnson (FPM: 3571)

This is an English patronymic name meaning ‘son of John (gift of God)’. It is derived from the given name John and the Latin Johannes, which is in turn derived from the Hebrew, Yohanan, meaning ‘Jehovah has favoured’. This name is English and Scottish in origin.

Martin (FPM: 3314)

Martin is a patronymic name taken from the ancient Latin given name Martinus, derived from the Roman god of fertility and war, Mars. It is English, French, Scottish, Irish and German in origin.

White (FPM: 3304)

This surname has a couple of possible meanings. First, it may be a descriptive name given to a person with very light hair or complexion and could be derived from the Middle English whit, meaning ‘white’. Second, the name could have originated from the Isle of Wight, on the coast of Hampshire, England. Additionally, some Whites were originally Wights, from the Anglo-Saxon wiht, meaning ‘valiant’.

Want to know more? Why not use the World Names Public Profiler name search tool to find out where else in the world your surname is commonly found?

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Written by ameliath

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