Origins of the Smith Surname

A Granny Smith apple - image on the legacies of the Smith name

(1-2 minutes read)

Do you have a Smith in your family?  Did your Scottish Smith emigrate to North Carolina, Canada or even South Africa? Here are some interesting facts about the origins and meaning of the Smith family surname.

Interesting facts

The popular and common surname Smith appears in almost every region of Scotland in the 1901 Scottish Census.  In fact, there are more Smiths in the Shetlands than anywhere else in Scotland.

I came across an interesting event that I know you will find fascinating.  In the 1700s in London, someone thought it was a good idea to organise an unusual banquet where everyone was a Smith, including the cooks, waiters and guests. The event did take place and all the money raised went to less fortunate Smiths.  James Smith, a poet from the 1700s, apparently wrote a poem about the banquet.

The name Smith is a popular surname and there are different reasons for its origins including a fantastic speculation from the Middle Ages.  Apparently blacksmiths were needed to remove and fit chastity belts because Knights wanted to keep their wives out of mischief while they were away fighting! It is more likely that the smiths were needed to make armour, swords or other weapons rather than chastity belts.

The meaning and origins of the Smith surname

In archival records, Smith is one of the few surnames that survived before 1066 when the Norman invasion took place such as Ecceard Smith who appears in the Annals of Durham in 975 AD.  The meaning of Smith surname as we know it today comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘smitan’ which means to strike or hammer.  The first smiths were not only craftsmen who worked in metal, but also carpenters, wheelwrights and mason.  This is one of the reasons why the name is so widespread.  As the trade became more specialised, prefixes were added to the original Smith name to differentiate between the trades.  Derivations include Goldsmith, Locksmith, Shoesmith, Brownsmith for someone who worked in brass, Greensmith for someone who worked with copper; Whitesmith who worked with tin, and Naysmith who made knives and nails.

Joseph Smith and others who left a legacy

The Smiths have left us many legacies.  For example, Maria Ann Smith was the original creator of the Granny Smith apple when she cross pollinated different apples. Tom Smith, a confectioner by trade, was the inventor of the traditional Christmas cracker. Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, left a legacy for many family historians around the world. Believing in the importance of family and encouraging their followers to trace their family history has been a huge asset to genealogists.  Consequently, their creation of the International Genealogical Index (IGI) has become a cornerstone of family history research.

I used the IGI index when I researched John Smith from a small village in the Borders. John Smith had emigrated to Canada before 1763 which led me to researching emigration in the 18th century. I discovered that clearances took place in the Borders before the Highland Clearances.  Peter Aitchison and Andrew Cassell wrote a book about the Lowland Clearances.  They estimated that approximately 60,000 people were forced to leave lowland Scotland between 1700 and 1780 so perhaps John Smith was among them.

Do you have a Smith in your family tree? I would be happy to look into the family for you.  Get in touch or leave a comment below.

We’re researching other Scottish family names, so please feel free to browse our Scottish surnames resource. 

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7 thoughts on “Origins of the Smith Surname”

  1. Anthony Paul Clifton-Smith

    Hi there,

    I know that somehow my family has Smith ancestry and originated from England. My aunt was said to have had a framed invitation to the queens ball from my great,great grandparents to attend. Unfortunately years ago she passed away and have lost contact with all her belongings. My Surname Clifton-Smith was a combination of Clifton and Smith many years ago.. I wish to learn more of my ancestry and origins of my family tree. I have no idea of where to start. I hope you can help me with learning more and finding out where my roots come from. Thank you

    1. That is an amazing story about the ball’s invitation. Interestingly there is a Clifton-Smith hall in the village of Clifton in England. Apparently the land had been gifted by the local parish priest called Frederick Clifton Smith. Why don’t you email me at sarah@unlockyourpast.co.uk and we can chat further?

  2. Sarah researched both my family and my late husband’s family. The information she managed to find was very interesting and detailed, something to pass on to the grandchildren.

    1. Thank you Susan. Pleased you like your family history report and family tree. It was a pleasure researching your ancestry.

  3. Hi my name is Nicole Smith. My father’s parents are from Scotland. sadly they are no longer here and I would love to find out more about my origins. look forward to hearing back .Thanks

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