What’s in a Name: Last Names and What They Mean


Have you ever taken some time and thought about your last name? Maybe you don’t care much about it, or you haven’t considered it. Your last name tells you about where you come from, though, or your ethnic origins.

Let’s talk about some of the most popular last names you might encounter in the US. Some last names endure lasting popularity in America, and perhaps you have one of them.


You might have the last name Johnson. Some people also have this last name, but they spell it a little differently. You may use the spelling Jonson instead.

Johnson means the son of John. When you consider how many people have the first name John, it makes sense that this last name would appear and remain popular.

You might have the last name Jonson or Johnson, and you’ll probably meet people during your life who have that same name. You might be relations, but just as likely, you won’t share a blood or marital connection.

The Johnson last name has an Anglo-Norman origin. It’s the second most common name in the United States at the moment and the 154th most popular name worldwide. You find many Johnsons in Scotland as well as here in the US.


Nearly everyone knows a person with the Smith last name. It remains an enduring favorite in America and elsewhere.

The smith profession accounts for the Smith last name. Smiths were everywhere in bygone times, since people rode horses for centuries, and they needed smiths to create horseshoes for their steeds to wear. You could find smithies everywhere you went, and you might stop at one of them if your horse threw a shoe and needed a new one.

The last name Smith seems concise and to the point. Like Johnson, you might meet many Smiths during your life. Some might be relations, but it is just as likely they don’t know each other or share a common ancestry.


Jones is another very popular last name in the US and abroad. Although you might not realize it, this one comes from the first name John as well.

Jones means son of John, just like Johnson does. It comes from an English and Welsh origin, and you would meet many individuals with the Jones last name if you visited Wales. Wales still has about 5.75% of individuals with this last name.

It is also England’s second most popular name, with about 0.75% popularity among citizens there. In the bible, you will also find the name Jones. There, it means Jehovah has favored.


Jackson is another popular American last name. It won’t surprise you that Jackson means son of Jack. Since the Jack first name also remains popular, it figures that Jack’s son became a last name.

If you go to historical records, you’ll first find Jacksons in the 15th century. More than 5 million Jacksons live in the US at the moment. Some might have blood or marital relations, but most of them don’t.

You might also think about Jackson, Mississippi, a city bearing that same name. Some famous Jacksons include the artist Jackson Pollock and former president Andrew Jackson.


You might also run into someone with the last name Brown as you make your way through life. Brown commonly describes someone’s hair, skin tone, or eye color. You can describe many individuals by their brown hair or eyes, or their ruddy or brown complexion.

Some individuals with the Brown last name might have earned it because of the drab or brown clothing they wore. In olden times, dying one’s apparel took money that many peasants or the working class didn’t have. Some families had entire wardrobes with a basic brown color.

Other Common Last Names

You might also think about some additional common American last names, like Thomas, Moore, Lewis, and Thompson. Rodriguez is also a very popular American last name now, though it does not have Anglo-Norman or Anglo-Saxon origins.

If you have a common last name, you might enjoy looking up your family history to see whether you have any famous relatives. If you have a more unusual last name, you may like your individuality.

Either way, your last name reveals your family’s history, and it’s valuable for that reason. If you have an interest, you might take some time and look into your family name. You may like finding out its meaning and how you got it.

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