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You may already know what the last name “Smith” means but what about, say, “Garcia” or “Miller?”

In the 1990 and 2000 Census results, Smith was the most popular last name in the United States. Maybe your last name is Smith, or Garcia or Miller: do you know the meaning and the history of this part of you that you write and say daily?

Surname means “the name that a person has in common with other family members, as distinguished from a Christian name or given name; family name.” Sur is a French root meaning “above.”

The surname Smith is derived from smithing or blacksmithing, “a person who forges objects of iron.” The ancestor root of Smith means simply “cut or strike.”

One reason that the name is so common is because blacksmithing was a specialized craft practiced in many places.

Well-known Smiths include the tragic tabloid figure Anna  Nicole Smith and Maria Ann Smith, who the Granny Smith apple is named after.

Unlike Smith, Garcia is new to the top ten. From the 1990 census to the 2000 census, Garcia jumped from eighteenth to eighth.

The origin of Garcia is up for debate. Garcia could have originally been a patronymic name, “a name derived from the name of the father and describing that descent.” It may have also been a medieval name meaning “like a fox,” or it could have referred to someone who was from Garcia, Spain.

Famous bearers of the surname include Andy Garcia, the actor, and Jerry Garcia, a band member of the Grateful Dead.

Miller is another surname tied to an occupation. Miller originally referred to someone who owned or worked in a grain mill. The Old English word was mylnweard, literally “mill-keeper.” There are several cognate surnames for Miller, such as the French Moulin and the Italian Molinaro.

Famous Millers include Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Arthur Miller and basketball player Reggie Miller.

What surnames would you like us to define and delve into? Let us know. The names with the most requests will receive a profile in the near future.

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