Lee Last Name Popularity, Meaning and Origin

In this article we'll look at the origin and meaning of the surname Lee and how popular it is in the United States. We'll also look at the race and ethnic origin of people in the United States who are named Lee.

Lee, like all of the names we have data for, is identified by the U.S. Census Bureau as a surname which has more than 100 occurrences in the United States in the Decennial Census survey. The most recent statistics we have for the Lee surname is from the 2010 census data.

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What is the Origin and Meaning of the Last Name Lee?

The surname Lee is considered a topographical name that may derive from the Middle English (8th-15th centuries) word lee or the Old English (Pre-7th century) word lea, both referring to a meadow or patch of farmland. People living in proximity to these geographic locations may take their family name based on this. Another Old English word leah, which means wood or glen may also be connected to the development of this surname.

There are also several Asian countries in which Lee is a variation of several very similar and very widespread names. These names include Li, Lei, Lay and Lie. The Lee variant of the name is found in China, Taiwan and Korea. It is thought that these Lee names may derive from Dali, a title once held by Gan Yao a legendary minister in the court of the Xia Dynasty. Gan Yao is also considered to be an ancestor of the Imperial Li Family.

It is thought that in the British Isles many Lee families may have developed due to living in areas that bore the Lea. Several counties throughout the Isles have villages or towns that feature the name such as Priors Lea, High Leigh and various others simply known as Lea.

The first recorded use of the name in the UK was in the 1148 Charters of Northamptonshire. Ailric de la Leie is mentioned in these charters. Throughout the remainder of the 12th and 13th centuries, other Lee families are recorded in census rolls in areas such as Warwickshire, Norfolk and Wiltshire.

Where Does Lee Rank in the Most Common U.S. Names?

According to the data, Lee is ranked #21 in terms of the most common surnames in America.

The Lee surname appeared 693,023 times in the 2010 census and if you were to sample 100,000 people in the United States, approximately 234.94 would have the surname Lee.

We can also compare 2010 data for Lee to data from the previous census in 2000. The table below contains all of the statistics for both years in a side-by-side comparison.

2010 2000 Change (%)
Rank 21 22 -4.65%
Count 693,023 605,860 13.42%
Proportion per 100k 234.94 224.59 4.50%

Race and Ethnic Origin of People with the Last Name Lee

We also have some data on the ancestry of people with the surname Lee.

The below race categories are the modified race categories used in the Census Bureau's population estimates program. All people were categorized into six mutually exclusive racial and Hispanic origin groups: "White only", "Black only", "American Indian and Alaskan Native only", "Asian and Pacific Islander only", "Two or More Races", and "Hispanic".

For the most recent 2010 census data, the race/ethnic origin breakdown for Lee was:

  • 35.95%, or 249,142 total occurrences, were "Non-Hispanic White Only".
  • 16.33%, or 113,171 total occurrences, were "Non-Hispanic Black Only".
  • 42.22%, or 292,594 total occurrences, were "Non-Hispanic Asian and Pacific Islander Only".
  • 0.97%, or 6,722 total occurrences, were "Non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaskan Native".
  • 2.64%, or 18,296 total occurrences, were "Non-Hispanic of Two or More Races".
  • 1.89%, or 13,098 total occurrences, were "Hispanic Origin".

Note: Any fields showing (S) means the data was suppressed for privacy so that the data does not in any way identify any specific individuals.

Since we have data from the previous census in 2000, we can also compare the values to see how the popularity of Lee has changed in the 10 years between the two census surveys.

2010 2000 Change (%)
White 35.95% 40.09% -10.89%
Black 16.33% 17.41% -6.40%
Asian and Pacific Islander 42.22% 37.83% 10.97%
American Indian and Alaskan Native 0.97% 1.03% -6.00%
Two or More Races 2.64% 2.30% 13.77%
Hispanic 1.89% 1.34% 34.06%

Data Source(s)

All of the data on this page is sourced from the Decennial Census survey, from the United States Census Bureau.

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  • "Lee Last Name Popularity, Meaning and Origin". NameCensus.com. Accessed on December 8, 2022. https://namecensus.com/last-names/lee-surname-popularity/.

  • "Lee Last Name Popularity, Meaning and Origin". NameCensus.com, https://namecensus.com/last-names/lee-surname-popularity/. Accessed 8 December, 2022

  • Lee Last Name Popularity, Meaning and Origin. NameCensus.com. Retrieved from https://namecensus.com/last-names/lee-surname-popularity/.