What’s in a name?
The most common surnames and their meanings explained

At ukphonebook.com we see people’s names every day but until now we’ve never stopped to think about what those names mean.
In this article we explore the most popular UK names on our website and look into their origins.

Top 10 UK Surnames and what they mean*

We ran the numbers and here is the top 10 most popular surnames on ukphonebook.com.

*From all surnames of people with a UK address taken from ukphonebook.com data in April 2022.

1. Smith

Unsurprisingly Smith is number one and probably the name a lot of people would say if they were asked for the UK’s most popular name.
Smith is thought to have evolved from the Old English word ‘smitan’ which means “to strike, hammer”. Hence Smith has come from the occupation of a worker in metal, from example a medieval Blacksmith who would make many items ranging from horseshoes to swords.

Smith has it’s roots in metal work trades such as blacksmiths

Silversmith, Goldsmith and Blacksmith are all occupations from this meaning dating back to Anglo-Saxon times and are still terms used today.

2. Jones

Jones is a genitive form of John or Johns and was used as a name for a person who lived or worked ‘at John’s house’.

Jones, which represents ‘gracious’, is common in England but extremely so in Wales, partly because it was taken by people there as a non-hereditary surname from as far back as the 16th century.

3. Williams

Quite simply, Williams has evolved from the name William with a post-medieval excresent ‘s’. The origin of William is from an Old Picard and Norman French name Willihelm, made up of the elements ‘Wil’ meaning will or desire and ‘helm’ meaning helmet or protection. The name started to grow in popularity from the days of William the Conqueror.

Williams dates back to William the Conqueror

Again, like Jones, Williams is extremely popular in Wales with a list of top counties in the UK dominated by Welsh counties with high proportions of Williams, such as Glamorgan and Caernarfonshire.

4. Brown

The surname Brown is originally derived from the Old English and Old French word brun as a nickname meaning people’s hair colour, the brown coloured clothing they were wearing, or their complexions.

5. Taylor

Similar to Smith, the name Taylor has it’s origins in the name of a trade cutting cloth, a tailor in modern day terms. Taylor has evolved from the Norman French word tailleur, which originally comes from the Latin taliare meaning ‘to cut’.

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6. Davies

Davies is a variant of the name David. In fact it is thought it’s origin lies in the Hebrew name for ‘Son of David’ which is Davies. Davies is the second most popular name in Wales and is also thought to be a term for people who came from Dyfed in South West Wales.

7. Wilson

Wilson is a patronymic name found as early as the 1300s, mostly in England and Scotland. It is quite a literal derivation as the name of a person who is the ‘son of Wil or William’.

8. Evans

The surname Evans is a derivative of Evan which is the Welsh name for John and dates from the 1500s. So using the patronymic suffix of ‘s’ for a ‘son of Evan’ we arrive at Evans. Unsurprisingly with it’s roots in the Welsh language, Evans is the fifth most common surname in Wales.

9. Thomas

The name Thomas has it’s roots in Thomas as a first name, originally derived from the Hebrew word Ta’om, which means twin.
Thomas has biblical connections as one of Jesus’s disciples and it’s meaning as ‘twin’ has been suggested as having two hearts in this context, with his doubting leading to the name ‘doubting Thomas’!

Thomas is derived from the Hebrew word for twin

10. Johnson

Like Jones, ranked the second most popular UK surname in our list, Johnson is another (and the immediate) derivative of John. John passed only rarely into a surname but instead took the popular form of ‘Son of John’ known as Johnson.

Your surname not in this Top 10 list?

Check out the British Surnames website where you can search on your surname for information on it’s meaning and origins.

Other resources include: Family Search and Find My Past websites.