BELL - Surname Meaning and Family History

Meaning and Origin of the Last Name Bell

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The Bell surname may derive from the French "bel," meaning fair, beautiful, or handsome. Since the derivation is descriptive, common ancestry cannot be assumed for all those bearing the surname. The name was sometimes taken from the sign of an inn or shop. The sign of a bell was frequently used. For example, "John at the Bell" became "John Bell." There is no particular country or province of origin, though the name was fairly prevalent in medieval Scotland and England.

Bell is the 67th most popular surname in the United States and the 36th most common surname in Scotland. Mitchell is also popular in England, coming in as the 58th most common surname.

Surname Origin: Scottish, English


Where Is the Bell Surname Most Common?

According to surname distribution from Forebears, Bell is a fairly common surname in a number of English-speaking countries, including the United States (ranked 64th), England (60th), Australia (46th), Scotland (43rd), New Zealand (46th) and Canada (77th). Within the British Isles, according to WorldNames PublicProfiler, the Bell last name is most common in the northern areas, including Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the North of England.

Famous People with the Last Name Bell

  • Alexander Graham Bell: Scottish-born American inventor; known for his patent for the telephone
  • Gertrude Bell: British writer, archaeologist, and political officer best known for helping to establish modern Iraq after World War I.
  • Cool Papa Bell: Hall of Fame baseball pitcher who played in the Negro National League
  • John Bell: U.S. Senator from Tennessee who ran for U.S. President on the Constitutional Union ticket in 1860
  • Glen Bell: American entrepreneur who founded Taco Bell

Genealogy Resources for the Surname Bell

100 Most Common U.S. Surnames & Their Meanings

Smith, Johnson, Williams, Jones, Brown... Are you one of the millions of Americans sporting one of these top 100 common last names from the 2000 census?

Bell Family Crest - It's Not What You Think

Contrary to what you may hear, there is no such thing as a Bell family crest or coat of arms for the Bell surname. Coats of arms are granted to individuals, not families, and may rightfully be used only by the uninterrupted male line descendants of the person to whom the coat of arms was originally granted.

The Bell Surname DNA Project

Individuals with the Bell surname are invited to participate in this group DNA project in an attempt to learn more about Bell family origins around the world. The website includes information on the project, research done to date, and instructions on how to participate.

Bell Family Genealogy Forum

This free message board is focused on the descendants of Bell ancestors around the world.

FamilySearch - Bell Genealogy

Explore over 4 million results from digitized historical records and lineage-linked family trees related to the Bell surname on this free website hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

GeneaNet - Bell Records

GeneaNet includes archival records, family trees, and other resources for individuals with the Bell surname, with a concentration on records and families from France and other European countries.

The Bell Genealogy and Family Tree Page

Browse genealogy records and links to genealogical and historical records for individuals with the Bell surname from the website of Genealogy Today.


  • Cottle, Basil. Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1967.
  • Dorward, David. Scottish Surnames. Collins Celtic (Pocket edition), 1998.
  • Fucilla, Joseph. Our Italian Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 2003.
  • Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Hanks, Patrick. Dictionary of American Family Names. Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Reaney, P.H. A Dictionary of English Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Smith, Elsdon C. American Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997.
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Your Citation
Powell, Kimberly. "BELL - Surname Meaning and Family History." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Powell, Kimberly. (2020, August 27). BELL - Surname Meaning and Family History. Retrieved from Powell, Kimberly. "BELL - Surname Meaning and Family History." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).