Smith is the most common surname in the English-speaking world. There are more than two million Smiths in America alone. The name is so common that is has become famous for being ordinary.
There are also a large number of Smiths in Ireland, with Dublin and Cavan the most densely populated areas.
The name comes from the English word for blacksmith. It spread across Britain and was brought to Ireland after the Norman invasions of the 12th century onwards.
However, there is also an Irish origin to the name. The word ‘gobha’ referred to a metal worker in ancient Ireland. Many people took their names from their occupation so there would have been many men known as Gabhann.
When these men passed the family trade on to their sons, others would add the Mac prefix on to their name to differentiate them from their father.
Mac meant ‘the son of’ so Mac Gabhann was the son of Gabhann.
Mac Gabhann was anglicised into Smith
This name was commonplace in Ireland right up until the 17th century. After Oliver Cromwell’s invasion, the British authorities began to crush the Irish culture and tradition. English became the national language and records were taken of people’s names so that they could be taxed.
Many Irish people had to alter the pronunciation of their name to make it sound more English or they would struggle to find work. The written records were also taken by English officials, who would write down people’s names as they understood them.
This series resulted in the name Mac Gabhann being translated into its English equivalent Smith by many. Smyth, Smithe and Smithies were some variations. Other Mac Gabhanns chose to keep their Irish version of the name but adapt it slightly to make it sound more English. These people became known as MacGowan or McGowan.
As it was so common in Britain, the name Smith became prominent in America as soon as the first Westerners moved to settle in the new world. Thousands of Irish Smiths also travelled to America, Canada and Australia in the mid-1800s because the ‘Great Famine’ forced them to leave their homes in order to survive.
Therefore, there are a great deal of American English, American Scottish and American Irish Smiths today.
Famous Smiths from history
There have been an absolutely countless number of people named Smith who have left their mark in history.
The name appears so frequently that there have been achievers in almost every different field.
Jedediah Smith was an American explorer and trailblazer of the early 19th century.
Ian Douglas Smith was the Prime Minister of Rhodesia in the 1960s and 70s and led the country through the negotiations for their independence from the United Kingdom.
Constance Smith was an Irish actress who was a star in the 1950s.
Famous Smiths around the world
Kevin Smith is a New Jersey film director who has made a series of hit movies including Chasing Amy, Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Smith plays Silent Bob in all the films.
Will Smith is a music and Hollywood star who is recognisable around the world. His son Jaden and daughter Willow are at the early stages of their own careers in entertainment.
Music stars Method Man, Ne-yo, Busta Rhymes and LL Cool J are all Smiths.
Sheridan Smith is an English actress who has starred in comedies Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and Gavin and Stacey. She won a BAFTA for her part as Ronnie Biggs’ wife in the ITV drama Mrs Biggs.