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.
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:**
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:****
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).
*** “Frequently Occurring Surnames in the 2010 Census,” United States Census Bureau (https://www2.census.gov/topics/genealogy/2010surnames/surnames.pdf : accessed 3 April 2017).