Smiths, Millers, Priests: European Occupational Surnames

Here is the map of the most frequent occupational surnames in European countries and the corresponding trades.


Country Surname Transliteration
Belarus Кавалёў Kavalyow
Bulgaria Попов Popov
Greece Παπαδόπουλος Papadopoulos
Macedonia Поповски Popovski
Russia Кузнецов Kuznetsov
Serbia Поповић Popovic
Ukraine Мельник Melnyk

I made it with Cartopy, Shapely, and Natural Earth data. The surnames are taken mainly from the appropriate Wikipedia page. Redditors provided data for Sweden, Norway, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey, and Catalonia (Ferrer = Smith), as well as corrected my mistakes in Ukraine and Austria. I sincerely appreciate their help. Click on the links to see relevant comments.

This is a quick hack, not serious research. The map takes into account countries rather than ethnic or cultural areas (update of October 1, 2015: now the maps of Spain and Serbia include the most frequent Catalan and Kosovar occupational surnames, respectively). The approach is simplistic: I always picked the most frequent occupational surname even though Wikipedia aptly notices that in the Netherlands the set of {Smit, Smits, Smid, de Smit, Smet, Smith} outnumbers both {Visser, Visscher, Vissers, de Visser} and {Bakker, Bekker, de Bakker, Backer}. Similarly, redditors commented that {Schmidt, Schmitt, Schmitz, Schmid} outnumber {Meier, Meyer, Maier, Mayer} and {Müller} in Germany, {Maier, Mair, Mayer} outnumber {Huber} in Austria, {Seppälä, Seppänen} outnumber {Kinnunen} in Finland, and {Herrero, Herrera, Ferrer} outnumber {Molina} in Spain. I learned that occupational surnames are alien to Nordic countries so Möller and Møller are relatively rare imports in Sweden and Norway, that Molina and Ferreira are “second-order occupational surnames” as they derive from places rather than from professions, and that surnames in Turkey are so recent invention that Avcı probably was not a real occupation.

In case this is not obvious, the disappearance of the smallest countries on the map is not my fault.

The code is available on Bitbucket. Please leave a comment if you know how to fill the blank spots or have other ideas for improvement.

Smiths, Millers, Priests: European Occupational Surnames

22 thoughts on “Smiths, Millers, Priests: European Occupational Surnames

  1. Garret Archbold says:

    Very good body of work. On the irish sea warrior I would think pirate is a more literal translation of Murphy. And certainly in roman times there was much piracy and slave trade from Ireland along West coast of Britain.


      1. My bad, you are correct…..we’d looked on the official Finnish website for names but my wife had heard the name wrong – lost in translation (she’s Finnish, I’m English) – but yes i still found it interesting that Seppälä was highly ranked and meant blacksmith


  2. PanDan says:

    Hey, for Czech R., even though Dvořák is fairly common, it is not the most common, the most common is Novák, the most common surname overall. Even though it can mean just a “new man”, it is said to be also an occupation – a shoemaker making new shoes (as opposed to just a guy repairing old ones), or a tailor making new clothes. But it could have a bunch of other meanings, so it’s not that straightforward. Ref. in Czech:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahoj! Thanks for an interesting comment. Hope you don’t mind that I leave the map as-is. Otherwise the majority that only knows the “new man” meaning would be outraged. Also, I don’t know a good English word for a “craftsman of new things”. 🙂


  3. 90dayman says:

    Hey, very interesting stuff. I’d also be interested in how the top3 occupational surnames are shared between different countries, if you can find a way to put it on the map clearly.
    However, I’m not sure if ‘imam’ is the best translation of Hoxha / Hodžic surnames. See


    1. Thank you for the comment. I have already heard it once:

      Copying my answer:

      My Oxford Albanian-English Dictionary says:

      hoxhë nf with masc agreement Moslem clergyman/muezzin, Moslem religious teacher

      I needed a short description and for some reason I can’t recall now I didn’t like muezzin. Is it possible that the Turkish word hoca narrowed its meaning in Albanian and South Slavic? By analogy to pop, an Orthodox priest, I imagined the word meant the “owner” of the village mosque. Can you suggest the proper way to name this man in English?


  4. Recommended reading for those interested in Surnames is The Surnames Handbook by Guild of One Name Studies ( member Debbie Kennett. A very informative book of you are interested in the concept of researching surnames.


  5. The Italian surname “Ferrari” might be a second-order occupational surname as well: my experience is that it’s extraordinarily common in neighboring cities to the city of Ferrara…


  6. Cristina Herzl says:

    I fail to understand why you decided to include Catalonia here. There are dozens of subnational fantasies across Europe (and a bunch of them in Spain alone), so it’s difficult to understand why you singled out that particular one. You could perhaps transliterate Cyrillic, etc. names for easier reference. While political borders are useful shortcuts here, a linguistic approach would be a more interesting (though certainly more difficult) approach. Very interesting study. Congrats


    1. Thank you for the comment. I have added a table with transliterations. I included Catalonia and Kosovo because I had data for them. If I had the data about other regions, I would include them, too.


  7. telescoper says:

    Reblogged this on In the Dark and commented:
    I have known for some time that ‘Ferreira’ (a rather common surname in Portugal) means more or less the same thing as ‘Smith’ (Ferreira derives from the Latin word for Iron). But I’ve often wondered whether other countries have similarly common surnames relating to occupations. Yesterday, through the power of the interwebs, I came across this blog post which answers this very question, though it seems variations on ‘Miller’ may be as common as those relating to ‘Smith’.


  8. cledermann says:

    Miller may be less popular in english languages, where millers were suspected to cheat their customers, as in germanic languages where the name has no such connotations (bill Bryson: Mother Tongue)


  9. Carlos Mediavilla Garcia says:

    Molina in Spanish refers to locations (Molina de Segura, Molina de Aragón…). As most of surnames referred to locations, it used to be acquired by convert muslims or jewish living during Modern Age. The correspondent occupational surname would be ‘Molinero’, but it’s not that commom.

    Herrero (Smith in English) would be the most frequent (73th position). Guerrero is 48th , but probably is not referred to an occupation. (Source: National Institute for Statistics – Government of Spain )


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