U.S. Census Bureau: The Most Popular Surnames

Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega examines records from the U.S. Census Bureau to see what are the most popular surnames in the United States. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.

What is the one surname in your family tree that you dread researching? As family historians, we love researching unique surnames because those people are easier to find and we don’t have to worry about finding two people with the same name.

Surnames, of course, are key to genealogy research. In a newspaper column she wrote in 1985, genealogist Myra Vanderpool Gormley explained the importance of surnames.

An article about surnames, State newspaper article 30 June 1985
State (Columbia, South Carolina), 30 June 1985, page 66

Chances are you have at least one very common surname in your family tree. One of mine, and possibly one of yours, is Smith. Pair that Smith with a popular first name like Mary Ann or William and you have a difficult family history project.

While it seems obvious that Smith has long been a common surname, I wondered: with our growing diverse population, was Smith still at the top of the list? The answer, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is a resounding yes. For now, Smith remains the #1 most common surname in the United States. In fact, for the last 20 years the three most commons surnames found in the census are: Smith, Johnson, and Williams.

However, some surnames that we would expect to be fairly high on the list have fallen, due to the recent rise of surnames that reflect our diverse population. For example, in the 2000 census Garcia and Rodriguez were, for the first time, in the list of the top 10 surnames, and on the 2010 census they were joined by Hernandez, Lopez, and Gonzalez in the top 15.*

The top 15 surnames for the 1990, 2000, and 2010 census were:**

1990 2000 2010
Smith Smith Smith
Johnson Johnson Johnson
Williams Williams Williams
Jones Brown Brown
Brown Jones Jones
Davis Miller Garcia
Miller Davis Miller
Wilson Garcia Davis
Moore Rodriguez Rodriguez
Taylor Wilson Martinez
Anderson Martinez Hernandez
Thomas Anderson Lopez
Jackson Taylor Gonzalez
White Thomas Wilson
Harris Hernandez Anderson

The 2010 census recorded 6.3 million different surnames, 11 of which were reported a million times each – in contrast to 3.9 million surnames which were recorded only once.***

Curious if your surname was in the top 50 surnames for the 2010 census? That list includes:****

Name Frequency
SMITH 2,442,977
JOHNSON 1,932,812
WILLIAMS 1,625,252
BROWN 1,437,026
JONES 1,425,470
GARCIA 1,166,120
MILLER 1,161,437
DAVIS 1,116,357
RODRIGUEZ 1,094,924
MARTINEZ 1,060,159
HERNANDEZ 1,043,281
LOPEZ 874,523
GONZALEZ 841,025
WILSON 801,882
ANDERSON 784,404
THOMAS 756,142
TAYLOR 751,209
MOORE 724,374
JACKSON 708,099
MARTIN 702,625
LEE 693,023
PEREZ 681,645
THOMPSON 664,644
WHITE 660,491
HARRIS 624,252
SANCHEZ 612,752
CLARK 562,679
RAMIREZ 557,423
LEWIS 531,781
ROBINSON 529,821
WALKER 523,129
YOUNG 484,447
ALLEN 482,607
KING 465,422
WRIGHT 458,980
SCOTT 439,530
TORRES 437,813
NGUYEN 437,645
HILL 434,827
FLORES 433,969
GREEN 430,182
ADAMS 427,865
NELSON 424,958
BAKER 419,586
HALL 407,076
RIVERA 391,114
CAMPBELL 386,157
MITCHELL 384,486
CARTER 376,966
ROBERTS 376,774

As you look over this list, do you see any of your family surnames? Any surprises? What’s the one surname you have the most trouble with that seems to be universally common, or common to the area you are researching? Share it with us in the comments below.


* “Hello, my name is…,” United States Census Bureau (https://www.census.gov/library/visualizations/2016/comm/cb16-tps154_surnames_top15.html: accessed 4 April 2017).
** Ibid.
*** “Frequently Occurring Surnames in the 2010 Census,” United States Census Bureau (https://www2.census.gov/topics/genealogy/2010surnames/surnames.pdf : accessed 3 April 2017).
**** Ibid.

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2 thoughts on “U.S. Census Bureau: The Most Popular Surnames

  1. My maiden is Thomas, a tough name to track. I’ve made it from New Jersey, back to New York, Massachusetts, Maine and that’s where it ends. If my research is right, Rebecca Nurse would be my 7th great grandmother though my dad’s family. Beyond that, I am stuck.

  2. Judy,

    Thanks for reading the article.

    You do have one of those popular surnames which requires a researcher to spend extra time to sort out those with the same first name. It sounds like you’ve made some progress.

    Good luck and continued success!

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