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:**

199020002010
SmithSmithSmith
JohnsonJohnsonJohnson
WilliamsWilliamsWilliams
JonesBrownBrown
BrownJonesJones
DavisMillerGarcia
MillerDavisMiller
WilsonGarciaDavis
MooreRodriguezRodriguez
TaylorWilsonMartinez
AndersonMartinezHernandez
ThomasAndersonLopez
JacksonTaylorGonzalez
WhiteThomasWilson
HarrisHernandezAnderson

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:****

NameFrequency
SMITH2,442,977
JOHNSON1,932,812
WILLIAMS1,625,252
BROWN1,437,026
JONES1,425,470
GARCIA1,166,120
MILLER1,161,437
DAVIS1,116,357
RODRIGUEZ1,094,924
MARTINEZ1,060,159
HERNANDEZ1,043,281
LOPEZ874,523
GONZALEZ841,025
WILSON801,882
ANDERSON784,404
THOMAS756,142
TAYLOR751,209
MOORE724,374
JACKSON708,099
MARTIN702,625
LEE693,023
PEREZ681,645
THOMPSON664,644
WHITE660,491
HARRIS624,252
SANCHEZ612,752
CLARK562,679
RAMIREZ557,423
LEWIS531,781
ROBINSON529,821
WALKER523,129
YOUNG484,447
ALLEN482,607
KING465,422
WRIGHT458,980
SCOTT439,530
TORRES437,813
NGUYEN437,645
HILL434,827
FLORES433,969
GREEN430,182
ADAMS427,865
NELSON424,958
BAKER419,586
HALL407,076
RIVERA391,114
CAMPBELL386,157
MITCHELL384,486
CARTER376,966
ROBERTS376,774

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!
    Gena

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