Williams Last Name Popularity, Meaning and Origin

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

Williams, 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 Williams surname is from the 2010 census data.

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

The surname Williams derives from the common first name of William, which itself is of Germanic extraction. The German names of Wilhelm and Willelm are most obvious, although less obvious is the Norman-French version, Guillaume. All of these versions have the same root meaning “resolute protection.”

It is thought that Wilhelm may also be a version of the name Gildhelm which translates to “golden helm.” The name Gildhelm was said to have been awarded to Germanic fighters who were able to kill Roman soldiers in battle.

Although Williams is connected to these continental European first names its use as a surname comes from the country of Wales. In Welsh patronymic naming practices adding the letter "s" to the end of a name, for example, William indicates “son of William.” Williams, therefore, means “son of William.”

The earliest use of the surname Williams arose in the Welsh border counties of Breconshire and Monmouthshire with the first recording of a name similar to Williams being in 1086. In the Doomsday Book, the name Robertus Filius Willelmi is recorded. This is a Latinized version which translated means “Robert son of William.”

There are later mentions of the Williams surname in the 1279 census document the Hundredorum Rolls which lists the name Richard Williams. Later in 1296, John Wylyam is found in the subsidy rolls for Sussex.

With Williams being of Welsh descent and the unique nature of the language there are several variations of the Williams name. Scribes over the centuries struggled with interpreting the pronunciations of the name Williams so versions such as Wilson, Quilliams, and Guilliams should also fall under the banner of the Williams name.

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

According to the data, Williams is ranked #3 in terms of the most common surnames in America.

The Williams surname appeared 1,625,252 times in the 2010 census and if you were to sample 100,000 people in the United States, approximately 550.97 would have the surname Williams.

We can also compare 2010 data for Williams 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 3 3 0.00%
Count 1,625,252 1,534,042 5.77%
Proportion per 100k 550.97 568.66 -3.16%

Race and Ethnic Origin of People with the Last Name Williams

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

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 Williams was:

  • 45.75%, or 743,553 total occurrences, were "Non-Hispanic White Only".
  • 47.68%, or 774,920 total occurrences, were "Non-Hispanic Black Only".
  • 0.46%, or 7,476 total occurrences, were "Non-Hispanic Asian and Pacific Islander Only".
  • 0.82%, or 13,327 total occurrences, were "Non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaskan Native".
  • 2.81%, or 45,670 total occurrences, were "Non-Hispanic of Two or More Races".
  • 2.49%, or 40,469 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 Williams has changed in the 10 years between the two census surveys.

2010 2000 Change (%)
White 45.75% 48.52% -5.88%
Black 47.68% 46.72% 2.03%
Asian and Pacific Islander 0.46% 0.37% 21.69%
American Indian and Alaskan Native 0.82% 0.78% 5.00%
Two or More Races 2.81% 2.01% 33.20%
Hispanic 2.49% 1.60% 43.52%

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

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

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