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Lee: Family Name, Meaning, History, and More

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Lee: Family Name, Meaning, History, and More

People all over the world share the family name Lee. However, the origins of this last name vary depending on the region. For instance, Lee is a common Korean name, an English surname, an Irish last name, and also a Chinese family name. Moreover, each branch of the family has several spelling variations of the Lee name that may make family research challenging.

We will explore the various meanings and origins of the Lee family name. We will also note some spelling variations that you may encounter. Additionally, we will highlight some interesting facts about this name and mention some of the most famous individuals with this last name.

Origins and Meaning of the Lee Family Name

The Lee family name does not originate from one country or have one name meaning. The name Lee has several distinct origins, each with a unique meaning. Furthermore, the surname derives from Chinese, English, Gaelic, and Korean languages, resulting in various forms. Below are the countries of origin and the meanings of the names for the different branches of the Lee family.

Asian Origins of the Lee Family Name

  • China – In China, the name Li or Lee (李) is the second most common family name, originating from the Tang dynasty. The character 李 represents the plum tree. This character represents nobility, longevity, and good fortune.
  • Korea – In Korea, the name Yi or Lee is not just a common family name; it is a name that commands respect. Furthermore, the Lee name represents nearly twenty-two percent of the Korean population. The Lee family name has a royal lineage, too. The Korean royal family and aristocracy traditionally associate the name with their lineage.

European Origins of the Lee Family Name

  • England – The Old English word lēah, meaning meadow, grove, or forest clearing, gave rise to the names Lee, Lea, and Leigh. People often used this name to describe someone who lived near that place. Considered a topographic family name because it refers to location, this Lee name variant was most prevalent in the English counties of Buckinghamshire, Essex, and Kent. Other variations on the name come from the Old English word ‘laege’ meaning “fallow.”
  • Ireland – In Gaelic, the name Lee is an anglicized version of the name Mac Laoidhigh, meaning son of Laoidheach, a name that is associated with the bardic tradition in Ireland. Furthermore, the name Lee was used as a byname for a poet and sometimes translated to “poem song.” According to Irish genealogical records, Lee may also be the anglicized version of the name Ó Laoidhigh. Variations of the Irish offshoot of this family name include Lee, Lea, and Maclee.
  • Norway – When immigrants from Norway arrived in America, Lee became an Americanized form of the Norwegian family name Lie or Li.

How Common Is the Family Name Lee?

According to Forebears, Lee is the 232nd most common last name in the world. Around the world, approximately 2,280,266 individuals share the Lee family name. Furthermore, the United States has the highest number of people with this name. Additionally, in the United States, Lee is the 22nd most common family name.

In addition to these countries, the Lee family name is one of the most prominent names in Southeast Asia, particularly in Taiwan. Lee is also a prevalent last name in Hong Kong and Macau. People in Malaysia and North Korea commonly use the surname Lee in their families.

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The Lee family has both European and Asian lineages, each with distinct origins and name meanings.


Spelling Variations of the Lee Family Name

When researching your family tree and trying to find information about the Lee family, it is important to keep in mind that the name has many spelling variations around the world. Family researchers may encounter difficulties in finding information about their family if the name is spelled differently from what they initially thought. This is because names can be spelled phonetically or changed due to immigration to other countries.

Etymology influences the spelling variations of the Lee family name. If your branch of the Lee family is English, it may have been derived from the Old English word “lēah,” which means ‘meadow.” Besides Lee, common variations of this name are Ley, Leys, Laye, Lye, and Lees.

Here are some of the most common variations of the Lee family name that you might come across during your research.

  • Li (Chinese)
  • Maclee (Irish)
  • Lea (English and Irish)
  • Leay (English)
  • Legg (English)
  • Leigh (English)
  • Lees (English)
  • Lie (Norway)
  • Leep (United States)
  • Leer (United States)

Genealogy Resources For the Lee Family Name

If you are looking for online genealogy research sources for the Lee last name, here are a few to consider.

Also, if you are looking for additional information and cannot find the information you need online, be sure to check out old-fashioned resources like the public library and church records. Not all genealogy records have been digitized.

happy three generation asian family celebrating grandpa's birthday at home
Lee is the 232nd most common family name in the world.


Interesting Facts About the Lee Family Name

Discover some fascinating facts about this common family name.

  • In the 2010 census, Lee was ranked as the twenty-first most common last name in America, with the Lee name appearing 693,023 times.
  • Moreover, in the 2010 census, 42.22% of Lee family members identified as Asian/Pacific Islander, and 35.95% identified as White.
  • In 1940, the most common jobs for men and women named Lee in the USA were laborer and maid, respectively.
  • In the 12th century, the name Lee emerged in England and became widespread across the country.
  • Lee is the 42nd most common surname in England and Wales with around 119,000 people sharing the name. However, the name is less prevalent in Scotland.
  • The average salary of people named Lee in America is $44,975, which is slightly more than the national average.
  • In the United States, individuals with the surname Lee are more likely to register with the Democratic Party than the national average, with 51.02% affiliated with the party.
  • Haplogroups are genetic populations traced via DNA. Lee's haplogroup is O-F8, common in East Asian & Indigenous American ancestry. Lee's name is also associated with R-P311 and O-F46, found in European and East Asian and Indigenous American ancestry.
  • In Russian, people spell Lee as Лее.

Famous People With the Lee Family Name

Some successful people were born with the family name Lee; others use it as their pseudonym. Here are some notable people with the Lee last name.

  • Ang Lee – This Taiwanese writer and film director is responsible for the acclaimed films Life of Pi, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain.
  • Brenda Lee – This rockabilly singer recorded the now classic Christmas song “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree” in 1958 and was one of the most popular singers of the 1960s.
  • Bruce Lee – While his birth name is Lee Jun-fan, Bruce Lee is a famous martial arts expert who starred in the films Enter the Dragon and Fists of Fury.
  • Christopher Lee – This actor was well-known for his deep voice and for playing villainous characters in movies. He appeared in both the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Star Wars prequels.
  • Harper Lee – Nelle Harper Lee, who was born in Alabama, won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee was also a close friend of author Truman Capote, and she traveled to Kansas to assist Capote with research for his true crime novel In Cold Blood.
  • Peggy Lee – Peggy Lee was an American jazz singer, composer, and actress. She performed “Fever” and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the 1955 film Pete Kelly's Blues. Additionally, she appeared in The Jazz Singer.
  • Sheryl Lee – Sherilyn Lee is a well-known actress who played two different characters on the popular TV series Twin Peaks. Lee reprised her role as Laura Palmer in the 2017 revival of Twin Peaks.
  • Spike Lee – Award-winning director of films such as Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, and BlacKkKlansman, for which he won the Oscar for Best Screenplay.
  • Stan Lee -Another man who chose the Lee last name is Stanley Martin Lieber, better known as Stan Lee. This comic book artist co-created some of Marvel Comics' most iconic characters, including Iron Man and Daredevil.
  • Tommy Lee – Lee is the drummer and one of the founding members of the heavy metal band Motley Crue, whose albums Shout At the Devil and Dr. Feelgood achieved platinum album status.
Jakarta - December 14,2023: 23andMe Holding Co. logo on signboard. is a publicly held personal genomics and biotechnology
Websites like 23andme use DNA to help identify family groups and common ancestors.


In Summary

The Lee family is one of the most common family names across the globe. There are various branches of this family tree, including those that originated from England and Ireland and others from China and Southeast Asia. While genealogical research can be challenging, it is also fun. It is crucial to be diligent when researching a common family name with a rich history. By being diligent in your search, you will uncover a wealth of family history and stories that are waiting to be shared.

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