Smith - History of the Name

Smith, Smyth, Smythe
What’s in a Name?

The stranger you're gaily chatting with,
It's seven to five he's a Smith,
That his first name's John, it's six to two,
  And it's even money that so are you.
The empires tumble and kingdoms fall,
The Smiths still answer the mating call,
Producing daughters, but mainly sons,
in fours and threes, and twos and ones.
And, yes, it's said with considerable pith
that here is a name to conjure with.
For Smith is simple and Smith is neat.
It can't be fumbled, it's too complete.
In the Hall of Fame or the telephone book,
its Smith as far as the eye can look.
There's "Gumboat," "Adam" and "Al: and John,"
And the "Village Smith" to continue on.
Remember the brothers "trade" and "mark,"
And "Kate" and the two on Noah's Ark.
The Social Register boasts of Smith.
The hotel registers dotted with
this oddly adaptable, useful name.
Smythe, Schmidt or Smith, it's all the same.
The Jones' struggle, the Johnson's strive.
The Browns lost out in the final drive.
In Dublin, Flanagan pokes at Flynn
and groans "Bedad, the Smiths are in."
From Edinburgh to Aberdeen,
Including the country in between,
MacDougall bows his head in shame,
as do MacTavish, Ross and Graeme,
To Smith, triumphant in any weather.
He rules the shamrock and the heather.
With little ado and loss of clamour,
and never a thought for Margaret Sanger,
He passed the word to his kin and kith,
and the "Emperor Jones” was "Mr. Smith."
In every region, in every nation,
Smith, the genius of infiltration,
mockingly bows and explodes the myth,
"The name's not legion. The name is "Smith!"

Author Unknown

Aptly put by a man unknown, who most certainly knew the Smith’s if he wasn’t one himself.  We have all heard stories of the Smiths and where they came from, what they did, how many there are, and so on.  Well take if from me - a researcher of the Smith name, as well as having the privilege of being one myself - many stories are correct.  Our last names… are a story handed down for hundreds of years and yet many people don’t know what the story means, nor do some care.  Most last names have a unique history that tells us about our medieval ancestors who gave us surnames.  I have been told whimsical stories such as:

“ALL people in the land were given the surname SMITH.
Then one by one as a person did a bad deed their names
were changed!  And since there were so many Smith’s in the land,
there must be a lot of good people on the earth”
But my favourite is what my father always drilled us (and everyone else who asked) with while growing up:  
“You either are a Smith,
Married to a Smith,
Or ‘wanna’ be a Smith”

The name SMITH is probably the most common of all surnames.  The only names that give it any competition for this title would be Jones and Johnson.  The most widely accepted derivation of the name is from the Anglo-Saxon SMITAN and the Germanic verb “Smioan” meaning to smite or strike.

“From whence comes Smith, all be he knight or squire, but from the Smith that forgeth at the fire” – Verstegan.

  Among the Highland clans of Scotland and Ireland, the smith ranked third in hierarchy to the chief  because of his skill in fabricating military weapons, and his dexterity in teaching the use of them.  In essence, the Smith’s were the warlords or Generals of the Armies, meaning we were not Kings of Chiefs, yet were just as valuable and indispensable.  In Wales there were only three sciences which a villain could not teach his son without the consent of his lord - Scholarship, Bardism, and Smithcraft. Today this is one of the liberal sciences, but the term was more comprehensive or honorary then than we give to it at this time. All the smith’s (craftsman) must have united under one banner, yet with different branches of knowledge which are now practiced separately, for the term was originally applied to carpenters as well as metal workers, in fact, to all mechanical woHammer rkmen, which accounts for the great frequency of the name.  In early times, people were known by their first name and the surname was a derivative of where they lived or what they did for a living; such as William O’ Scot or William de Smith.  If you go the library and find any New York City phonebook from the mid 1800s (in which the names of the heads of families only are given,) you will find that it contains the names of almost two thousand Smiths, of which over one hundred are John Smiths!  Our family name has the problem of William’s, Stephen’s, as well as John’s.  If we were to see in the papers that John Smith died or married unless it was a small community we really couldn’t identify anybody, and is therefore no name at all to some (except for John of course). Our numerous family is the subject of many jokes and witty comments, such as:

“A person, on a certain occasion, coming late to the theater, and wishing to get a seat, shouted at the top of his voice, 'Mr. Smith's house is on fire!' The house was thinned five per cent., and the man of humor found a snug seat.”

In many neighborhoods the name is so frequent that it is necessary to give a descriptive nick-name to identify the person, such as:

“'Can you tell me where Mr. Smith lives, mister?' 'Smith--Smith--what Smith? There are a good many of that name in these parts--my name is Smith.' 'Why, I don't know his t'other name, but he's a sour, crabbed sort of fellow, and they call him 'Crab Smith.' ' 'Oh, the deuce! S’pose I'm the man.'”

This may not seem funny to you but when you are doing genealogy research, this is exactly the kind of things, Names, you find recorded.  In today’s world, try and call a taxi or just order a pizza.  When those on the other end of the phone ask for your name you tell them SMITH as it is the truth.  Their reply is, ‘come on, give me your real name’.  You politely tell them this is your real name and they still ask for some other name to identify you.  How frustrating!  But the best piece of humor relating to the name is the following, which appeared some years since in the newspapers, under the title of 'The Smiths.

“'Some very learned disquisitions are just now going on in the journals touching the origin and extraordinary extension of the family of 'the Smiths.' 'Industrious explorers after derivatives and nominal roots, they say, would find in the name of John Smith a world of mystery; and a philologist in the Providence Journal, after having written some thirty columns for the enlightenment of the public thereanent, has thrown down his pen, and declared the subject exhaustless. 'From what has hitherto been discovered, it appears that the great and formidable family of the Smiths are the veritable descendants, in a direct line, from Shem, the son of Noah, the father of the Shemitish tribe, or the tribe of Shem; and it is thus derived--Shem, Shemit, Shmit, Smith.”

Another writer found in the New England paper, states that the name SMITH is universal, not only in Great Britain and America, but among all nations on the face of the earth. Beginning with the Hebrew, he says, the Hebrews had no Christian names, consequently they had no Johns, and in Hebrew the name stood simply Shem or Shemit; yet in the other nations Smith is found everywhere. In the English world it is spelt as Smith, Smyth, Smithe, and Smythe.  Notice the “i” and “y” are interchangeable and the “e” at the end is a merely the writing style of the day.  Thus, in Latin = Smithius; German = Schmidt; Italian = Smithi; Irish = Gowan, McGowan; Spanish = Smithas, Hernandez, Fernandez; Dutch = Schmidt or Smit; Norwegian = Smidth; Polish = Szmyt; Czechoslovakian = Smid; Jewish = Schmieder; French = Smeets; Russian = Skmittowski; Polish = Schmittiwciski; Chinese = Shimmit; Icelandic = Smithson; Welsh = Schmidd; Tuscarora = Smittia; Mexican = Smitti.  Even the gypsies had a name Romany Petulengro which translated into Smith.  Further stories I have heard that are meant to prove the antiquity of the name is that 'among the cartouches deciphered by Rosselini, on the temple of Osiris in Egypt, was found the name of Pharaoh Smithosis, being the ninth in theBible Sheilds eighteenth dynasty of Theban kings. He was the founder of a once celebrated temple of Smithopolis Magna.'  The Pharaoh Smithosis being the ninth ruler of the 18th Dynasty according to common Egyptian history was also named Akenhaten who was the father of King Tut and nephew of Hebrew Prince Ephraim.  Ephraim (Aye), son of Joseph (Genesis 41 v.52) had at least two generations marry into the royal line of pharaohs and King Tut was a direct descendent (female line) of the Hebrews of the tribe of Ephraim. However, Tut denied the teaching of God and followed the old Egyptian gods and rebuilt the pagan temples and shrines.  Ephraim (Aye) ruled as pharaoh following the murder of King Tut for about four years. He then disappeared when warned in a dream about a plot on his life and the life of his family by his rival, General Horemheb who had also married into the Royal family. Horemheb is believed to have plotted against King Tut and his wife and Nephateri to take the throne, but Ephraim (Aye), by the grace of God, ruled instead.  The usurper pharaoh Horemheb (after Ephraim had left) is reported to have had the names of Iouiya (Joseph), Akenhaten, Tutankhamen and Aye (Ephraim) stricken from all records and monuments in Egypt replacing these names with his own name after he came to power.  If this be true then Aye (Ephraim) may be the actual 9th ruler of the 18th dynasty in Egypt and would have been given the name Smithosis or "the builder of dreams".  The Egyptians believed in God under the rule of both Pharaohs Akenhaten and Aye (Ephraim) who were Hebrew pharaohs descended from the Hebrew tribe of Joseph of the line of Shem during this period. 

History reports that Ephraim (Aye) departed from Egypt with a large number of people to unknown places (the bible calls it the wilderness). Following him were the pharaohs Horemheb (the usurper), Ramses I and Ramses II.  It was under Ramses II that Prince Moses appeared on the scene (remember the movie the “Ten Commandments” with Charleston Heston) to lead Israel back to Canaan and to bring judgment against Egypt for leaving the faith of God brought to them by Joseph and taught to them under two Hebrew Pharaohs.  Joshua became the prince of Ephraim for those that had remained in Egypt, while the other half of the tribe of Ephraim were lead by Ephraim to places unknown.  I respect those researches which usurp the generally received opinion that the great family of the Smiths were the descendants of mere horse-shoers and hammer-men!'

Digging deeper into the history of Smith’s, we have discovered that they used, just as all Knights and Lords did, shields of heraldry.  Depending on the branch of Smith’s one came from, the coat of arms were detailed and colourful, but were very different.  The only major connection between most were the symbols was a knight’s helmet, certain shapes in counts of three, and an animal symbol, usually of a Bull, Ox, or Unicorn. 

It appears that the Unicorn has more history than meets the eye.  Some researchers, (other than me) even trace this mythical beast back to biblical times.  As one researcher puts it:
The context of Deuteronomy 33:17 supports the view that this animal had more than one horn. William Houghton wrote: "The two horns of the re`em are 'the ten thousands of Ephraim and the thousands of Manasseh'-- the two tribes which sprang from one, i.e. Joseph, as two horns from one head" (Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, p. 3351).

In his commentary on Job, Henry Morris stated, "The Hebrew word translated unicorn in this and other passages is believed by most Hebrew scholars to refer to the huge and fierce aurochs or wild ox, which inhabited the Middle East and other regions but is now extinct" (p. 107).  W. L. Alexander wrote, "The re`em is supposed to be the aurochs, an animal of the bovine species, allied to the buffalo, now extinct" (The Pulpit Commentary, III, p. 537).

Unicorn - described as an animal of great ferocity and strength (Num. 23:22, R.V., "wild ox," marg., "ox-antelope;" 24:8; Isa. 34:7, R.V., "wild oxen"), and untameable (Job 39:9). It was in reality a two-horned animal; but the exact reference of the word so rendered (re`em) is doubtful. Some have supposed it to be the buffalo; others, the white antelope, called by the Arabs rim. Most probably, however, the word denotes the Bos primi genius ("primitive ox"), which is now extinct all over the world. This was the auerochs of the Germans, and the urus described by Caesar (Gal. Bel., vi.28) as inhabiting the Hercynian forest. The word thus rendered has been found in an Assyrian inscription written over the wild ox or bison, which some also suppose to be the animal intended (comp. Deut. 33:17; Ps. 22:21; 29:6; 92:10).     

Now I am not a real smart man, I am just a poor boy from the south of the USA.  So some of these theories may be true or may be just plain ole dog poop.  But nevertheless, I know in my heart that the Smith’s have a long and plentiful history in this world.  We have been allowed to multiply and are considered the salt of the earth because of God’s grace watching over us and keeping the lineage going strong.  We are one of the few families that listened to the Lord when he said to go forth and multiply.  This book is totally about the Smith’s, My Smith’s, and their history.  We are a proud people, but are humble before the Lord.  I hope you enjoy reading the book. 

Jerry A. Smith

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