Everything you need to know about the Irish surname Smith.

Irish derivation:

Mac an Ghabhain. 

Name meaning:

Son of the smith.

Find out more: What's your Irish clan?

Counties:

Associated with the name: Cavan, Donegal, Down.

Coat of arms motto:

"Tenebras expellit et hostes", meaning “He drives out the darkness and foes”.

Interesting facts:

Smith is the fifth most common surname in Ireland. It is also very common in Britain and Scotland. Smith was one of the top twenty most common surnames in Ireland in the nineteenth century.

Famous Smiths:

  • Dr. Edward Smyth (1662-1720) was a fellow of Trinity College Dublin and Dean of St. Patrick’s, Chaplain to William III of Orange and Bishop of Down and Connor in 1699.
  • Charles Smith (1715-1756) pioneered Irish topography and is the author of county histories of Waterford, Cork, and Kerry.
  • James Smith (1720-1806) emigrated to Pennsylvania when he was young and practiced law in New York. He was a political leader in the American Revolution, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and member of the Continental Congress.
  • Michelle Smith (1969-) is an Olympic swimmer. She won four gold medals at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and was the first Irish athlete to win a gold medal at the Olympics.
  • John Smithwick (c.1660- c.1820) founded the Smithwick brewery. The red ale is still popular today.

General information:

Smith is an occupational name and refers to anyone who works with metal, not just blacksmiths. The Gaelic name Mac an Ghabhain translates to “son of the smith.” The name was changed to Smith to appear more English.

Variant spellings include Smithe, Smyth, Smythe, Smithick, and Smythwick. The Smiths in Co. Cavan, where the name first appears in Ireland, were almost all originally MacGowan. Other variants include McGowen and McGowin.

Smith was already a common name by the 1500s in Britain and many who emigrated to Ireland brought the name with them. Many Scottish who later emigrated to Ireland also brought this surname with them. Many Irish Smiths today may be descended from British or Scottish Smith, although many Irish Smiths are not.

In the 1600s the British sought to Anglicize Ireland and many surnames in the Irish language were Anglicized. Many MacGhabhains in County Cavan changed their surname to Smith whereas many MacGhabhains outside the county changed the spelling to their surname to McGowen or MacGowen. In 1890, more than half of the Smiths of Ireland were in Ulster and more than a quarter were in Leinster.  The surname was especially common in Antrim, Cavan, and Dublin. 

Read more: Some of the most popular Irish surnames in the US, explained

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* Originally published in 2012, updated in July 2020.

Are you a member of the Smith clan? Let us know in the comments, below!

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