The 85 Most Common Last Names in the World (2023)

The 85 Most Common Last Names in the World (1)

Last names, also known as surnames, can tell us a lot about our family history and cultural identity. Our surnames can help us trace our family trees, but they can also tell us about the history of how people traveled across the world, built their communities, and contributed to society.

It turns out that there’s actually a lot to know about last names...including why some last names are more popular than others. (There’s more to it than you might think!) We’ll go over:

  • The history of how last names came to be
  • Why some last names are more common than others
  • The most common last names in the U.S.
  • The most common names in the world

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started!


The 85 Most Common Last Names in the World (2)

Last names are often passed down through family lines. But that's not the case for all cultures! Read on to learn more about the history of surnames.

A Brief History of Last Names

First of all, what is a last name? That’s not as simple a question as it might seem on the surface. Not all countries have a tradition of even using surnames, and most of those who do--looking at you, Europe--only adopted them in the late Middle Ages or afterwards.

The tradition of how a surname is assigned, and how it is passed from generation to generation, is complex. Not only does it vary between cultures, how we get our surnames has also shifted over time because of social changes.

For instance, in Anglophone (English-speaking) cultures, it is traditional for a woman to change her birth surname (the so-called “maiden name”) to her husband’s last name once she marries. This tradition decreased somewhat after the suffragette and feminist movements, and continues to decline significantly.

In contrast, the Minangkabau people from West Sumatra don'thave familial last names at all. Instead, they have clan names which pass matrilineally. In other words, clan names are passed down to children from their mothers, not their fathers.

Also keep in mind that in many cultures and countries, surnames also are a relatively recent phenomenon. For example, the usage of last names as part of your legal identification in European culture only dates back to about the 15th century. Some places have adopted surnames even more recently. Turkey, for instance, only adopted the usage of surnames in 1934--by legal mandate!

Cultures that use last names usually use them to help identify a person’s ancestry, current community, or other culturally identifying characteristic. According to linguists and anthropologists, last names tend to fall broadly into about five categories:

  • Patronymics (names that signify who your father was or ancestors were)
  • Occupations (names that signify what job your ancestor had at one time)
  • Toponymics (names that signify where your ancestors once lived)
  • Names that signify personal characteristics, such as appearance or personality traits
  • Names that denote what clan, tribe, or patronage you or your ancestors belong to

A surname can also be a combination of these categories (for instance Smith refers to the occupation of blacksmithing, the patronymic lineage of being descended from blacksmiths, and notion of being from the working class).

It’s also important to know that for some people, their last names point to a legacy of colonialism and imperialism. Subjugated peoples typically had the surname tradition of their conquerors imposed upon them. African slaves, for instance, came to the Americas without surnames and were often given the surnames of their owners. These last names may be part of a person’s lineage or identity today.

The 85 Most Common Last Names in the World (3)

Why Are Certain Last Names Common?

It all comes down to imperialism and colonialism, in which some countries took over other people’s countries and lands in the name of their own government.

If you look at all the most common surname in the world, you’ll see that almost all of them are Anglophone (English-speaking), Hispanophone (Spanish-Speaking), Arabic (due to the spread of the religion of Islam) or Sinitic (from the many languages spoken in China). If you compare that to the history of imperialism and imperialist expansion, you’ll see that the most aggressive colonizers of other lands were the English, Spanish, Chinese, and Muslims.

Colonialism involves replacing a colonized territory’s culture with that of the colonizers. In many cases, that meant imposing the colonizer’s system of naming people on native and indigenous peoples living in their colonies. And sometimes, that meant literally changing people’s legal names to be more in line with the colonizer’s culture. And the more territory a country colonized, the more likely it was for their last names to spread--and become more common.

So when we look at the most common surnames in the world, we see a snapshot of world history in miniature! We see which people travelled, where they travelled to, and how they assimilated with--or subjugated--the people they met there.

The 85 Most Common Last Names in the World (4)

The most common last name in the U.S. is "Smith." If that's your surname, then you're a member of a pretty large group.

What Is the Most Common Last Name in the U.S?

You’re probably wondering, “How common is my last name?” If so, check out the chart below of the 55 most common surnames in the U.S. We’ve also included the name’s place of origin and its general meaning.

Also, note that some of these names have multiple origins, such as the Anglophone name “Martin,” which appears here conflated with the Latin “Martín” and the French “Martin.” Likewise the Anglophone name “Lee” is conflated with the Korean “Lee” and the Chinese “Lee” or “Li.”

Name

Place of Origin

Meaning

Smith

British Isles

Occupation (Blacksmith)

Johnson

British Isles

Patronymic (Son of John)

Williams

British Isles

Patronymic (Son of William)

Brown

British Isles

Characteristic (Person with brown hair or dark complexion)

Jones

British Isles

Patronymic (Son of John)

García

Iberian Peninsula

Patronymic (Son of Gerald)

Miller

British Isles

Occupation (Mill-worker)

Davis

British Isles

Patronymic (Son of David)

Rodríguez

Iberian Peninsula

Patronymic (Son of Rodrigo)

Martínez

Iberian Peninsula

Patronymic (Son of Martin)

Hernández

Iberian Peninsula

Patronymic (Son of Hernan)

López

Iberian Peninsula

Patronymic (Son of Lope)

González

Iberian Peninsula

Patronymic (Son of Gonzalo)

Wilson

British Isles

Patronymic (Son of Will)

Anderson

British Isles, Nordic Countries

Patronymic (Son of Andrew)

Thomas

British Isles

Biblical (St. Thomas the Apostle)

Taylor

British Isles

Occupation (Tailor)

Moore

British Isles

Person from the marshlands

Jackson

British Isles

Patronymic (Son of Jack)

Martin

British Isles, Iberian Peninsula

Patronymic (Son of Martin)

Lee

Korea, China, British Isles

Clan name (Korea), Royal Dynasty (China), Person from the meadowlands (British Isles)

Pérez

Iberian Peninsula

Patronymic (Son of Pedro)

Thompson

British Isles

Patronymic (Son of Thomas)

White

British Isles

Person with a fair complexion

Harris

British Isles

Patronymic (Son of Harry)

Sánchez

Iberian Peninsula

Patronymic (Son of Sancho)

Clark

British Isles

Occupation (Secretary, clerk)

Ramírez

Iberian Peninsula

Patronymic (Son of Ramiro)

Lewis

British Isles

from Latin Ludovicus, winner of an athletic game

Robinson

British Isles

Patronymic (Son of Robin/Robert)

Walker

British Isles

Occupation (Cloth-maker)

Young

British Isles

“The Younger,” (akin to Junior)

Allen

British Isles

Disputed. Maybe “Little Rock (IE from an area associated with a small hill). Maybe “fair” or “handsome.”

King

British Isles

Occupation (Ancestor was a courtier to the king or local leader, or was a leader himself)

Wright

British Isles

Occupation (Builder)

Scott

British Isles

Person from Scotland

Torres

Iberian Peninsula

Person who lives in a tower

Nguyen

Vietnam

Musical instrument

Hill

British Isles

Person from the hill country

Flores

Iberian Peninsula

Flowers

Green

British Isles

Person who lived in the town square (village green)

Adams

British Isles

Patronymic (Son of Adam)

Nelson

British Isles, Nordic Countries

Patronymic (Son of Neil)

Baker

British Isles

Occupation (Baker)

Hall

British Isles

Person who worked in the manor house (great hall)

Rivera

Iberian Peninsula

Person who lived on the riverbank

Campbell

British Isles

“Crooked Mouth” (IE someone who spoke wryly or bravely)

Mitchell

British Isles

Biblical (St. Michael)

Carter

British Isles

Occupation (Transporter of goods)

Roberts

British Isles

Patronymic (Son of Robert)

Gómez

Iberian Peninsula

Person with Visigothic or Germanic ancestors (from the Old English word “Gome,” meaning “man.”)

Phillips

British Isles

Patronymic (Son of Phillip)

Evans

British Isles

Patronymic (Son of John, from the Welsh “Ifan”)

Turner

British Isles

Occupation (Lathe-worker, woodcarver)

Parker

British Isles

Occupation (Game-keeper, maintainer of parks)

So as of 2020, Smith is still the most common surname name in the U.S. (It has held this distinction since 1850).

You’ll probably notice that most of the common last names in the U.S. are Anglophone--i.e. British in origin--and they mostly preserve the 15th/16th-century tradition of occupational or patronymic names. That’s not super surprising because the U.S. is a former British colony! As colonizers, the British brought, and spread, their surnames and naming conventions throughout the US...and those names and systems are still in use today.

Another interesting tidbit: Hispanophone names are rising on the list of most common last names in the U.S. as immigration from Hispanic countries increases. Six of the top 20 names on this list of the 55 most common last names in the U.S. have Hispanic origins. That number was zero as recently as 1990!

The 85 Most Common Last Names in the World (5)

What Is The Most Common Last Name in the World?

As of 2018, the most common last name in the world is “Wang,” which means “prince.” About 92.8 million people in China have this name...which is roughly 15 percent of China’s population!

After the Qin Dynasty fell in 206 BCE, many families adopted the last name “Wang.” This helped families disguise their true identities to avoid being assassinated by the new rulers of China...and it also helped make Wang the most common surname in the world!

The 85 Most Common Last Names in the World (6)

Most Common Surnames in the World

Now that you know what the most common surname in the world is, let’s take a closer look at some other common last names around the world.

We’ve broken these into charts based on continent: Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America, and Oceania. From there, we’ve listed the countries where that surname is most prevalent along with the surname’s meaning.

Africa’s Most Common Last Names

African surnames reflect a history of colonialism. For instance, you’ll see European surnames along the western coast, Arabic surnames in the north, and indigenous names in the less-accessible interior. The influence of Islam is notable, as all of Africa’s most common last names are Islamic in origin.

Name

Most Common Countries

Meaning

Mohamed/Mahamat

Chad, Comoros, Egypt

Islamic Prophet

Ali

Libya, Eritrea, Somalia

Islamic Caliph

Ahmed

Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan

Another name of Mohamed

Ibrahim

Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan

Biblical/Islamic Figure (Abraham)

Hassan

Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan

Islamic Caliph

Asia’s Most Common Last Names

This list of the five most common last names in Asia shows the immense population of its biggest country. In fact, this list of the 5 most popular surnames in Asia is also a list of the five most common last names in the entire world.

Devi and Singh, the most common surnames in India, are at numbers 6 and 9, respectively. The most common Japanese last names, Sato and Suzuki, are all the way down at numbers 195 and 202.

Name

Most Common Countries

Meaning

Wang

China, Taiwan, Thailand

Prince

Li

China, Taiwan, Hong Kong

Royal Dynasty

Zhang

China, Taiwan, Thailand

Clan name (descendants of Emperor Huang Di)

Chen

China, Taiwan, Singapore

Royal Dynasty

Liu

China, Taiwan, Hong Kong

Clan name (descendants of Emperor Yao)

Europe’s Most Common Last Names

This list of Europe’s most common last names will likely look familiar to you. Most of these names feature on the most common last names in U.S. lists, too.

Name

Most Common Countries

Meaning

García

Spain

Patronymic (Son of Gerald)

Martin

Spain, France, England

Patronymic (Son of Martin)

Müller

Germany, Switzerland, Austria

Occupation (miller)

Rodríguez

Spain, Argentina

Patronymic (Son of Rodrigo)

Fernández

Spain, Argentina

Patronymic (Son of Fernando)

North America’s Most Common Last Names

If you are located in the United States, it might surprise you that there are no Anglophone names in the list of 5 most common last names in North America. Smith, the most common name in every Anglophone country in the world, is way down the list at number 9.

Why? Because North America isn’t just Canada, the United States, and Mexico--it also includes all the nations and dependent territories of the Caribbean and Central America (which is a geographic region rather than a continent), the majority of which were colonized by Spain.

Name

Most Common Countries

Meaning

Hernández

Mexico, US, Guatemala

Patronymic (Son of Hernan)

García

Mexico, US, Guatemala

Patronymic (Son of Gerald)

Martínez

Mexico, US, Cuba

Patronymic (Son of Martin)

López

Mexico, Guatemala, US

Patronymic (Son of Lope)

González

Mexico, US, Cuba

Patronymic (Son of Gonzalo)

South America’s Most Common Last Names

Perhaps you are expecting to see these same Hispanophone names that are common in North America in South America, too? Nope. The most populous region of South America, Brazil, was colonized by the Portuguese. In fact, of the 430,000,000+ people in South America, almost half--about 213,000,000--live in Brazil.

This has resulted in almost all the most common last names in South America being Portuguese in origin. The most common Hispanic name in South America is Rodrigues, which is the 7th most common last name in South America.

Name

Most Common Countries

Meaning

da Silva

Brazil, Argentina

Person from the woodlands

dos Santos

Brazil, Argentina

All Saints

Pereira

Brazil, Paraguay

Person who lives near a pear orchard

Ferreira

Brazil, Paraguay

Occupation (Blacksmith, iron-worker)

Alves

Brazil, Argentina

Patronymic (Son of Alvaro)

Oceania’s Most Common Last Names

Oceania is the name for all the islands in the Pacific Ocean between Asia and North America. While it is one of the most ethnically diverse of all continents (839 languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea alone), it is also the least populous continent apart from Antarctica.

Of the 43,000,000 people living in the region, about 30,000,000 of them are in Australia and New Zealand, and most of the rest of the region was also colonized by England, causing Anglophone names to be very prevalent in the list of most common last names in Oceania.

The list looks a bit different than the list of most common last names in the United States and England, however, as most of the tribal peoples had no tradition of surnames, so they developed a tradition of patronymic names based on the first names given to their ancestors. That’s why most of the most common surnames on this list are ones we would expect to be a first name rather than a last name.

Name

Most Common Countries

Meaning

John

Papua New Guinea

Patronymic (Descendant of John)

Smith

Australia, New Zealand

Occupation (Blacksmith)

Peter

Papua New Guinea

Patronymic (Descendant of Peter)

Thomas

Papua New Guinea, Australia

Patronymic (Descendant of Thomas)

James

Papua New Guinea

Patronymic (Descendant of James)

The 85 Most Common Last Names in the World (7)

What’s Next?

Are you interested in last names because you’re a creative writer? Then you’re probably trying to pick out some uncommon last names to give your characters. This list of 78 cool last names--plus their meanings!--might help you out.

If you have a cool character in mind but don’t quite know what to do with them, why not test them out in a short story using one of these creative writing prompts?

As you’ve already guessed, surnames have a lot to do with human geography. If you find the history of people groups fascinating, then you might consider taking AP Geography in high school.

Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!

The 85 Most Common Last Names in the World (8)

Ashley Robinson

About the Author

Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.

Get Free Guides to Boost Your SAT/ACT

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Kieth Sipes

Last Updated: 12/12/2022

Views: 6106

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (67 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Kieth Sipes

Birthday: 2001-04-14

Address: Suite 492 62479 Champlin Loop, South Catrice, MS 57271

Phone: +9663362133320

Job: District Sales Analyst

Hobby: Digital arts, Dance, Ghost hunting, Worldbuilding, Kayaking, Table tennis, 3D printing

Introduction: My name is Kieth Sipes, I am a zany, rich, courageous, powerful, faithful, jolly, excited person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.