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See also: sur-name


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Alternative forms


From Middle English surname, a partial calque of Old French surnum, surnoun (surname; nickname) (whence Middle English surnoun), from Late Latin supernōmen, suprānōmen (surname), from super- (over, above, beyond) and nōmen (name).



surname (plural surnames)

  1. (obsolete) Synonym of epithet, an additional name, particularly those derived from a birthplace, quality, or achievement.
  2. (obsolete) Synonym of nickname, an additional name given to a person, place, or thing, a byname.
    • 1638, Abraham Cowley, Davideis, section IV:
      I have before declared that Baal was the Sun, and Baal Peor, a sirname, from a particular place of his worship.
  3. The name a person shares with other members of that person's family, distinguished from that person's given name(s); a family name.
    James is my first name, and Smith is my surname.
    • 1605, William Camden, Remaines, I 32:
      In late yeeres Surnames have beene given for Christian names among vs, and no where else in Christendom.
    • 1876, E. A. Freeman, The History of the Norman Conquest, V xxv 563:
      The Norman Conquest...brought with it the novelty of family nomenclature, that is to say, the use of hereditary surnames.
  4. (Classical studies) The cognomen of Roman names.
  5. (Scotland, obsolete) A clan.
    • 1455 in J. D. Marwick, Charters of Edinburgh (1871), 79:
      The surnam and nerrest of blude to the said Williame.

Usage notes

The term "surname" may be used to translate terms from non-English names which carry additional shades of meaning, most notably in the case of Roman cognomens. In fact, the nomen was the surname as the word is commonly understood today but the terms were first applied when surname was still used in the sense of "additional" or "added" name: the cognomen was added to the nomen to show the branch of the family involved. (The modern translation of a similar distinction in ancient Chinese names customarily uses ancestral name and clan name instead and typically speaks of surnames only once the two merged into a single and commonly-employed family name.)

Both surname and last name are extremely common in all dialects of English, the former being somewhat more preferred in the UK and the latter in the US. However, because of the cultural and gendered associations involved with both terms, the use of family name is increasingly preferred in multicultural contexts.

Icelandic patronymics or matronymics (see Icelandic name) probably should not be regarded as true surnames.




Coordinate terms

Derived terms


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


surname (third-person singular simple present surnames, present participle surnaming, simple past and past participle surnamed)

  1. (transitive) To give a surname to.
  2. (transitive) To call by a surname.



The most common surnames in the United States, as of the 2010 census (with number of persons bearing said surname):

1. Smith; 2,442,977

2. Johnson; 1,932,812

3. Williams; 1,625,252

4. Brown; 1,437,026

5. Jones; 1,425,470

6. Garcia; 1,166,120

7. Miller; 1,161,437

8. Davis; 1,116,357

9. Rodriguez; 1,094,924

10. Martinez; 1,060,159

See also


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary. "surnoun, n."
  2. ^ "Frequently Occurring Surnames from the 2010 Census"


Middle English

Alternative forms


Partial calque of Old French surnoun, from Late Latin supernōmen, suprānōmen; equivalent to sur- +‎ name. Forms beginning with sir-, syr-, etc. represent reanalysis of the first element as sire.


  • IPA(key): /ˈsurnaːm(ə)/, /ˈsirnaːm(ə)/


surname (plural surnames)

  1. epithet, nickname
    • c. 1330, Arthour and Merlin, section 5488:
      Þe .xxxix. Osoman, cert, His surname was: hardi of hert.
      (please add an English translation of this quotation)
    • c. 1400, "St. John Baptist", 928 in W. M. Metcalfe, Legends of the saints: in the Scottish dialect of the fourteenth century (1896), II 249:
      Þe thred herrod had alsua til his suornome agrippa.
      (please add an English translation of this quotation)
  2. surname, family name
  3. alias, appellation


  • English: surname