Can You Match Each Surname to Its Country of Origin?


By: John Miller

5 Min Quiz

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

“You know nothing, Jon Snow.” And when it comes to the medieval adventurer, that may be true. But what we do know about our hero's surname, Snow, is that it’s not very popular – it barely cracks the top 4,000 when compared to the other last names on Earth. We also know that Snow has its origins in Old English language…and thus, it originated on the European continent.

Do you have any idea where your own surname originates? Or are you still convinced that “Smith” probably pinpoints your ancestors somewhere in the area of Moscow?

Last names offer incredible clues and insights into everyone who has one. It says something about where your ancestors lived and maybe even what they did to make a living. Even the particular spelling of a surname changes, depending on the movements of peoples around the world.

Digging into the origins of last names doesn’t just reveal a geological place, it unearths a whole subculture that’s affected by economics, politics, and even war. As a result, many families changed their last names (or altered the spelling) to make themselves more acceptable in new societies.

So whether you’re a Smith or Sitnikov, your name tells a story. Take our quiz and see if you can match these surnames to the places they came from!


In the Western world, Smith is easily the most common name, derived from old Anglo-Saxon areas. It probably has warlike origins in the phrase, "to smite." So if Smiths seem relatively harmless, consider yourself warned.



You probably guessed that Dubois hails from long-ago France. It's a word that references a home near a stand of woods, meaning these people originally lived near forested areas. Hippies!



In Wales, you can't keep up with the Joneses, because there are too many of them. If you go further back in time, you'll see that the name springs from ancient English origins. It became a widespread name in Wales after a 1066 invasion.



This surname originates in the area of Spain, and it's sometimes spelled Garza, Garci, or Garces. It's an ancient name that probably refers to a people who were renowned for their hunting abilities.



Ivanov is a classic Russian surname. It's meaning is simple -- it is "son of Putin." Just kidding, it means "son of Ivan."



Chang, of course, is a common Chinese surname that means "flourishing" or "prospering," an appropriate word for a country that essentially owns the United States.



This is a Spanish name that gained favor in the 1600s, spreading throughout the region. It means "son of Hernando."



You can probably tell that Connor comes from the area of ancient Ireland, and it was frequently spelled O'Connor. As it's spread throughout the world, Connor's been spelled a multitude of ways, from Connell to Couroy and a whole lot more.



Muller is a common German word that means "miller," or someone who grinds things (like grains) for a living. It's currently very popular in both Germany and the United States.



Martin is another version of names like Marti and Martini, which come from ancient Rome. These days, it's one of the most common last names in France.



In Japan, there are many, many people with the surname Sato. In ancient times, the Sato were people who came from the northern Fujiwara clan.



This is yet another name that has ancient Anglo-Saxon and Germanic origins. And it may have literally referenced a person's appearance -- perhaps they had brown hair or were involved in a trade that traditionally featured brown clothing. Or, you know, maybe they simply never showered.



In the Koreas, there's no surname that's more common than Kim. In Korea, the name is depicted using a Chinese character that means "metal" or "gold."



You'll find many people with the last name of Shevchenko living in the area of Ukraine. It's an occupational name that refers to shoemaking.



Zhang is one of the most common names on planet Earth, thanks to the huge population of Chinese people who have this surname. Zhang is a word that goes back thousands of years and refers to longbows.



Nguyen is an English spelling of one of the most common Vietnamese surnames. Thanks to massive population movements, this surname is actually now most common in the United States.



Oza hails from the country of India. It most likely originates from a word that means "teacher."



Murphy is the classic Irish name, and it's been spread around in the world, particularly in the United States. It means "sea warrior," or "chicken of the sea," but we probably made up the second one.



Smirnov is the single most common name in all of Russia. It means things like "gentle" and "quiet," but Vladimir Putin would tell you that it means "blood-hungry maniacs chomping Americans for dinner."



Suzuki is an incredibly common name in Japan, and from a historical perspective, it has nothing to do with motorcycles and cheap cars. In English, it essentially means "bud tree" or "bell wood."



Fernández is another common name of Spanish origin, one which simply means "son of Fernando." It's very common throughout all of the Americas.



Chandler originated from medieval English areas and has absolutely nothing to do with "Friends." The name ultimately harkens back to the French word "chandelier," and implies that this family worked with lighting, perhaps candles. Or maybe they were just pyromaniacs, who knows?



You're going to Wang Chung whether you like it or not, because Wangs are number one! This is the most common surname in the entire world... and it comes from China. If you don't have a Wang as a neighbor yet, don't worry - you will, and you'll like it.



Rossi came from the area of Italy. It literally means "red." There's also a Finnish surname of Rossi, but it is entirely unrelated to the Italian version.



Gruber comes from the ancient areas of Germany -- it's now the most common surname in Austria. It means "someone who lives near a pit," so hey, pit dwellers, enjoy your ten seconds of fame!



Tan has nothing to do with your sunbathing activities. Instead, this is a very common surname in China and surrounding areas. The name actually originates in Turkey, though, where it means "dawn."



Pretorius is a common surname in South Africa. The Afrikaans name means "leader."



Hailing from India, Singh is one of the top-ten most common names on Earth. It comes from a Sanskrit word that means "lion."



Nielsen is a distinctly Danish name that means "son of Niels." Niels was a famous pastry maker who attempted to assassinate Hiter with exploding doughnuts, and we probably made that part up.



In Turkey, Yılmaz is by far the most common surname. It means "unyielding."


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