20 Common Australian Surnames and Their Meanings

Learn the history of Australia's most popular last names

Smith, Jones, Williams... Are you one of the millions who have one of these top common last names from Australia? You'll notice that many of the most popular surnames in the Land Down Under have British roots. That's not surprising since so many of the country's original colonists were transported convicts from the United Kingdom, the majority hailing from England, Wales, and Scotland. A 2018 report released by Australia's White Pages directory lists the following 20 surnames as the most commonly occurring last names in Australia.

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Flag of Australia
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Smith is an occupational surname for a man who works with metal (smith or blacksmith), one of the earliest jobs for which specialist skills were required. It is a craft that was practiced in all countries, making the surname and its derivations the most common of all surnames around the world.

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A child leaning on man

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Jones is a patronymic name (a name passed down from the paternal line) with origins in England and Wales. It's meaning is "Jehovah has favored," and not surprisingly, it was a popular surname among European Christians.

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Knight's helmet

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Williams is a patronymic surname, meaning "son of William." While Welsh is the most commonly accepted, the name has several derivations. The name "William," is a combination of Old French and Germanic elements: wil, meaning "desire" and helm, meaning "helmet or protection."

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The roots of the surname Brown can be traced from Middle English to Old English and finally back to the French word for brown: brun. The name literally means someone who is "brown-haired" or "brown-skinned."

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Wilson, a from the nickname Will for William, is an English or Scottish surname meaning "son of Will."

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Taylor is an English occupational name for a tailor, from Old French tailleur for "tailor" which comes from the Latin taliare, meaning "to cut." The biblical translation of the name is "clothed with salvation" and means eternal beauty.

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father and son
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Johnson is an English patronymic surname meaning "son of John." The name John (meaning "gift of God") is derived from the Latin Johannes, which in turn, is derived from the Hebrew Yohanan, meaning "Jehovah has favored."

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The popular Australian surname Lee means "clearing in the woods."
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Lee is a surname with many possible meanings and origins:

  • It can be a derivation of the surname Lea, meaning a person who lived in or near a laye, from the Middle English meaning "clearing in the woods."
  • It is also possibly a modern form of the ancient Irish name "O'Liathain."
  • In Chinese, Lee translates to "plum tree," and was the royal surname during the Tang Dynasty.
  • Lee can also be a place name taken from numerous towns and villages called Lee or Leigh.
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Martin is a patronymic surname is taken from the ancient Latin given name Martinus, derived from Mars, the Roman god of fertility and war. It has roots in EnglandFranceScotlandIreland, and Germany.

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The surname White has EnglishScottishIrish origins, and can have several meanings:

  • White can be a descriptive name or nickname for a person with very light hair or complexion, from the Middle English whit, meaning "white."
  • White may be a regional name derived from the Isle of Wight on the coast of Hampshire, England.
  • White can also be a derivation of Wight, from the Anglo-Saxon wiht, meaning "valiant."
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Anderson is a popular Australian last name that means "son of Andrew."
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Anderson is generally a patronymic surname meaning "son of Andrew." The name has roots in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and England.

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The last name Thompson comes from a word meaning "twin."
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Thompson is a patronymic surname of English or Scottish origin. It means son of Thom, Thomp, Thompkin, or other diminutive forms of the name Thomas (from the Aramaic for "twin"). The preferred Scottish usage of the name is Thomson, in which the "p" is dropped.

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Thomas, meaning "twin," is a common surname in Australia.
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The name Thomas is of English and Welsh origin. It is a patronymic surname derived from a popular medieval first name, Thomass, and like the surname Thompson, comes from the Aramaic term for "twin."

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Walker is an occupational surname for a "fuller."
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Walker is an occupational surname with roots in England and Scotland. It's derived from the Middle English walkcere, "a fuller of cloth" (someone who walked on damp raw cloth in order to thicken it) and the Old English wealcan, meaning "to walk or tread."

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Nguyen is the most common surname in Vietnam, but is actually of Chinese origin and means "a musical instrument that is plucked."

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The Irish surname Ryan means "little king."
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Ryan is an Irish Gaelic surname with several possible meanings, none of which are definitive. The most popular is "little king," from the old Gaelic word righ, meaning king. Another school of thought is that the name is related to the Old Irish word rían, meaning "water" or "ocean." Irish genealogists cite the name as an anglicized form of the old Gaelic O'Maoilriaghain/O'Maoilriain, meaning "descendant of a devotee of St. Riaghan." Another interpretation is Ó Riain, meaning "descendant of Rian."

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The most likely origin of the surname Robinson is "son of Robin," although it may also derive from the Polish word rabin, meaning rabbi. It is cited as having both English and Jewish origins.

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The surname Kelly means "warrior" or "war."
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Kelly is an Irish surname of Gaelic origin. Its most commonly accepted meaning is "descendant of war," and comes from the ancient Irish name "O'Ceallaigh." The prefix "O" indicates "a male descendant of," making the surname patronymic. Another meaning for the name is "bright-headed."

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The King surname may have originated as a nickname for someone who behaved like royalty.
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The surname King is derived from the Old English cyning, originally meaning "tribal leader." It was a nickname commonly bestowed on a man who carried himself like royalty, or who played the part of the king in a medieval pageant.

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The Harris surname derives from a given name meaning "ruler of the home."
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Campbell is a Scottish and Irish surname that means "crooked or wry mouth." It is name is derived from the Scots Gaelic Caimbeul for cam meaning "crooked or distorted" and beul for "mouth."

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Powell, Kimberly. "20 Common Australian Surnames and Their Meanings." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/common-australian-surnames-and-their-meanings-1421657. Powell, Kimberly. (2021, February 16). 20 Common Australian Surnames and Their Meanings. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/common-australian-surnames-and-their-meanings-1421657 Powell, Kimberly. "20 Common Australian Surnames and Their Meanings." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/common-australian-surnames-and-their-meanings-1421657 (accessed March 28, 2023).