Nelson Last Name Popularity, Meaning and Origin

In this article we'll look at the origin and meaning of the surname Nelson 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 Nelson.

Nelson, 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 Nelson surname is from the 2010 census data.

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

The surname of Nelson derives from the Gaelic given name Niall or “champion” which also created the English given names Nel, and Neal. Adopted by Scandinavian raiders to Ireland as Njal it then became a patronymic surname. The addition of son as a suffix to the Njal name created Njalson meaning son of Njal.

In the Scandinavian form Njalson it was reintroduced into Northern England and Anglia becoming more anglicized to Nelson. It also was brought in a new wave later during the Norman Conquests of 1066 from the descendants of Viking settlers from Normandy, France who also bore the Njalson name or similar versions.

In 1324 John Nellson was reported in the "Court Rolls of Wakefield Manor.” This was likely one of the first recorded mentions of the more modern spelling of the name. Throughout the 14th century, the name is recorded with a variety of spellings including Neilson, Nielson and Nilson.

Horatio Nelson, (29 September 1758 – 21 October 1805) is a very notable bearer of the Nelson name. Born into a religious family and the son of a priest, Horatio became an extremely successful soldier and leader. Outstanding success in battle saw Nelson rise through the ranks on his way to becoming an Admiral.

The list of his famous military accomplishments is extensive and his service to his country brought him not only acclaim but noble titles. In service of Britain, he lost an eye and one of his arms and ultimately his life. Horatio Nelson was killed at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 after being shot in the back.

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

According to the data, Nelson is ranked #43 in terms of the most common surnames in America.

The Nelson surname appeared 424,958 times in the 2010 census and if you were to sample 100,000 people in the United States, approximately 144.06 would have the surname Nelson.

We can also compare 2010 data for Nelson 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 43 40 7.23%
Count 424,958 412,236 3.04%
Proportion per 100k 144.06 152.81 -5.89%

Race and Ethnic Origin of People with the Last Name Nelson

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

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 Nelson was:

  • 77.66%, or 330,022 total occurrences, were "Non-Hispanic White Only".
  • 15.97%, or 67,866 total occurrences, were "Non-Hispanic Black Only".
  • 0.67%, or 2,847 total occurrences, were "Non-Hispanic Asian and Pacific Islander Only".
  • 1.16%, or 4,930 total occurrences, were "Non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaskan Native".
  • 2.00%, or 8,499 total occurrences, were "Non-Hispanic of Two or More Races".
  • 2.55%, or 10,836 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 Nelson has changed in the 10 years between the two census surveys.

2010 2000 Change (%)
White 77.66% 80.29% -3.33%
Black 15.97% 14.93% 6.73%
Asian and Pacific Islander 0.67% 0.51% 27.12%
American Indian and Alaskan Native 1.16% 1.09% 6.22%
Two or More Races 2.00% 1.49% 29.23%
Hispanic 2.55% 1.68% 41.13%

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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