Q:

How can you find out if your last name is English in origin?

A:

Quick Answer

Several surname databases, such as BehindTheName.com and SurnameDB.com, provide information regarding the origin of a last name. BehindTheName.com also has a searchable list of 1,400 surnames that are English in origin.

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Full Answer

These databases have a search box in which the user can enter the surname in question. Each surname's page contains information on which languages use the surname, the etymology of the surname and famous namesakes.

The most common last name in the United States is Smith. BehindTheName's page for Smith explains that the surname actually means "metalworker" and derives from the Old English word "smith," meaning "to smite" or "to hit." Clicking on the Namesakes tab directs the user to a list of famous people, such as actor Will Smith and filmmaker Kevin Smith, who have used the last name. This database is best used by those who seek a concise and easily understandable etymology.

The second-most common last name in the United States is Johnson. SurnameDB's page for Johnson explains that it is Anglo-Scottish in origin. The page says that Johnson was formed from the name John, which derives from the Hebrew name "Yochanan," meaning "God has favored me." This database is best used by those who prefer to delve into the history of the surname.

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