LEE - Surname Meaning and Family History

Getty / Mark Gerum

Lee is a surname with many possible meanings and origins:

  1. The surname LEA, including the common alternate spelling LEE, was originally given to a person who lived in or near a laye, from the Middle English meaning "clearing in the woods."
  2. Possibly a modern form of the ancient Irish name "O'Liathain."
  3. LEE means "plum tree" in Chinese. Lee was the royal surname during the Tang dynasty.
  4. A "place" surname taken from any of the various towns or villages named Lee or Leigh.

Lee is the 22nd most popular surname in America based on analysis of the 2000 census.

Surname Origin:  English, Irish, Chinese

Alternate Surname Spellings:  LEA, LEH, LEIGH, LAY, LEES, LEESE, LEIGHE, LEAGH, LI

Where Do People With the Lee Surname Live?

Most people with the Lee surname live in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, United Kingdom, and Ireland according to WorldNames PublicProfiler. There is an especially large number based on percentage of population in North Shore City, New Zealand. According to surname distribution data from Forebears, which also brings in data from Asian countries, the Lee surname is most prevalent in the United States (ranked 15th most common in the nation), but most dense, based on percentage of population, in Hong Kong, where it ranks as the 3rd most common last name. Lee also ranks 3rd in Malaysia and Singapore, 5th in Canada and 7th in Australia.

Famous People with the Surname LEE:

  • Robert E. Lee - Confederate general in the U.S. Civil War
  • Shelton Jackson "Spike" Lee - American film director, producer, writer, and actor
  • Bruce Lee - Chinese-American martial artist and actor
  • Joseph Lee (1849 - 1905) - African American inventor
  • Jim Lee - comic book artist and publisher

Genealogy Resources for the Surname LEE:

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?

Lee DNA Surname Project
The purpose of this Lee DNA project is to bring together those genealogists who are researching the LEE surname and its variants (LEIGH, LEA, etc.), with an emphasis on the use of DNA testing.

Lee Family Crest - It's Not What You Think
Contrary to what you may hear, there is no such thing as a Lee family crest or coat of arms for the Lee 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. 

Lee Family Genealogy Forum
Search this popular genealogy forum for the Lee surname to find others who might be researching your ancestors, or post your own Lee query.

FamilySearch - LEE Genealogy
Access over 9 million free historical records and lineage-linked family trees posted for the Lee surname and its variations on this free genealogy website hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

LEE Surname & Family Mailing Lists
RootsWeb hosts several free mailing lists for researchers of the Lee surname. In addition to joining a list, you can also browse or search the archives to explore over a decade of postings for the Lee surname.

DistantCousin.com - LEE Genealogy & Family History
Explore free databases and genealogy links for the last name Lee.

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

The Lee Genealogy and Family Tree Page
Browse genealogy records and links to genealogical and historical records for individuals with the English surname Lee from the website of Genealogy Today.


References: Surname Meanings & Origins

Cottle, Basil. "Penguin Dictionary of Surnames." Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1967.

Menk, Lars. "A Dictionary of German Jewish Surnames." Bergenfield, NJ: Avotaynu, 2005.

Beider, Alexander. "A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from Galicia." Bergenfield, NJ: Avotaynu, 2004.

Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges. "A Dictionary of Surnames." New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Hanks, Patrick. "Dictionary of American Family Names." New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Hoffman, William F. "Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings." Chicago: Polish Genealogical Society, 1993.

Rymut, Kazimierz. "Nazwiska Polakow." Wroclaw: Zaklad Narodowy im. Ossolinskich - Wydawnictwo, 1991.

Smith, Elsdon C. "American Surnames." Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997.

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