You either know someone named Smith or even have at least one ancestor with the surname ‘Smith’. It is one of the most common names in the English-speaking world. If you wanted to know the most common surname anywhere in the world, it would be ‘Lee’ or ‘Li’, especially in the Asian continent.
Even other European nations have a surname which is similar in meaning to Smith. In Germany there is ‘Schmidt’ which is the same as Smith.
For the name ‘Smith’ it began during the time of William the Conqueror and the Normans invaders in 1066 in England. Prior to 1066, people did not have surnames in England. With the Normans as rulers it came about their practice of a person having a family name. Some people based the selection of such a name on their location, such as Hampshire, Essex, etc. More common was to relate the selection to the person’s occupation. A common variety of occupation by the 1100s and 1200s was that of a smith – someone who was a blacksmith, ironsmith, goldsmith, coppersmith, tinsmith or shoesmith. It came from Smite, which means to “strike with a hammer.” All such occupations were very important in a village or town and held in high esteem.
Even when the first settlers came in the early 1600s to the New World (North America), there were Smiths. There was Capt. John Smith, a leader of the 1620 Pilgrims, who named the new land Plymouth. Other Smith families came later in the 1620s, 1630s and 1640s to the Plymouth Colony and later to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Eventually such a common name, even slave owners to give a name to their slaves, picked the surname of Smith. About 20% of all African-Americans today have the Smith name. In the US population overall there are about 2.5 million Smiths – so you well could have some in your family tree.
In the past well-known Smiths included: Adam Smith of the 1700s – a political scientist; Al Smith – a state governor, Capt. Edward Smith – of the Titanic; Kate Smith – a singer, and Joseph Smith – a church leader. Celebrities today include: actor Will Smith, actress Jaclyn Smith; newsman Harry Smith; actress Maggie Smith; Rosalynn Smith – wife of Jimmy Carter; football player Emmitt Smith and baseball professional Ozzie Smith.
Photos: Capt. John Smith, Smith Brothers and Joseph Smith.
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