The first time last names were used was in 2852 BC because of the Chinese census. Eventually, other countries adopted them. In some parts of the world, last names are a recent phenomenon. There were other ways to refer to people, or only members of the royalty had family names. Here are some popular last names across the World and where they came from.
Wang is the most common name across the globe. Ninety-two million people in China share it. It is an ancestral name that means “King” in Mandarin.
A lot of royal families adopted this name when the first Qin dynasty came to rule the country. They did this to protect themselves from assassination and maintain their status.
Ivanov is the most common last name in Slavic countries, including Russia. Russian last names are often usually patronymic, which means they make reference to the name of the father. For example, the name Ivan Ivanov Ivanov means Ivan, the son of Ivan from the Ivanov family. Typically, a patriarch will determine the last name for generations, and it will remain that. Exceptions are if the family dies out or there are only female descendants who choose to take their husbands’ last names after marriage.
The last name Smith, which comes from the blacksmith trade, is the most common one in practically all English-speaking countries. In the US alone, 2.3 million people are named Smith, but a minority of them actually work in metal.
This name is also prevalent in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. It first emerged in England and Scotland in medieval times. Its meaning can be traced back to before the occupation. In Old English, smitan meant “to hit or to smite.”
Kim is the most frequently occurring last name in Korea, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. A quarter of North Koreans and a fifth of South Koreans bear this last name. It’s mostly popular because it was a royal name and translates as “gold” in English. Many people in Korea didn’t have last names unless they were aristocrats or royals. When members of the working class started taking last names, many adopted this noble name. It’s also the last name of the current dictator of North Korea.
As many as 40% of Vietnamese people share this last name. One factor that contributes to its popularity is the assumption that last names showed loyalty to the ruling dynasty. The Nguyen Dynasty was the last ruling family in Vietnam.
Nguyen isn’t the only popular Vietnamese name. The Phan last name is also gaining in prominence – it’s the seventh most popular name in Vietnam. It’s also becoming more common in the US – up from no. 1193 in 2000 to 918 a decade later.
Devi is the most common last name in India. It means “goddess” in Sanskrit. The variant Dewi is the most common name in Indonesia.
In Hindu mythology, Devi was the supreme goddess who was capable of taking on the form of all the other goddesses.
This name was given to people in the milling trade. It’s the most common last name in Germany and Switzerland. Its English version is Miller, and its Ukrainian equivalent is Melnik, also the most popular name in the country.
García is the most common last name in Spain, Ecuador, Texas, and California. In Latin, garsea means “bear.”
The last name Mohamed and its different spellings are the most popular in Iran, Iraq, Chad, Egypt, Djibouti, Afghanistan, Yemen, Comoros, the Maldives, and Trinidad & Tobago.
Occupational names are far less common than patronymic names, which dominate in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Names connected to personal characteristics are also common, Brown being an example. They are not as common as occupational names, which are a European tradition, and ancestral names. They only outnumber ancestral names in Africa.