Lang Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Lang Surname Meaning

Lang or Lange, the meaning is the same.  The derivation is the pre-7th century word lang meaning “long” or “tall” found in Old German, Dutch, Danish, English and Scots. Its use as a surname probably followed the name being used as a nickname for a tall person.

The Lang spelling has occurred in southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Hungary, as well as in Scotland (where the spelling can also be Laing); while Lange has been the version in northern Germany and Scandinavia. Long developed as the surname in England.

Lang can also be a Chinese surname. Here the origin is the place-name Lang City in the ancient state of Lu adopted by the grandson and subsequent descendants of its ruler. Lang was also adopted as a surname because it was a homophone for the Chinese word for wolf.

Lang Surname Resources on The Internet

Lang, Lange and Laing Surname Ancestry

  • from Germany, Sweden, England, Scotland and Ireland (Connacht)
  • to America, Caribs (Dominica) and Australia

Langs and Langes number some 180,000 in Germany today. There are a further 30,000 Langs in other German-speaking countries such as Switzerland, Austria and Hungary. Langes meanwhile total around 15,000 in Scandinavia. There is also a smattering in Belgium and Poland.

Most of the Langs and Langes who came to America originated from Germany. Some were from Scandinavia and a few from Russia but, like Otto and Susanna Lange, were from a German-speaking part of Russia.

England. There were early evidences of Lang as a surname in England. The name Aetheric Langa appeared in Northamptonshire in 972; while Leofwine Lange was recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles in 1070. But the pronunciation and spelling soon became Long in most parts of the country.

The exception has been Devon where Lang as a surname first appeared in the 14th century and has prevailed. However, some have suggested that Lang here might have come from the place-name Langdon in south Devon.

Other Langs or Laings in England will generally be of Scots descent. David Laing, for instance, moved from Scotland to Cumberland in 1800. His descendants developed the John Laing construction company in Carlisle. It remains family-held through six generations before its sale in 2006.

Scotland.  Here the pattern was the other way. Early documents showed Longus and Long spellings. But then the surnames became Lang and Laing.

Laings outnumber Langs in Scotland by about three to two. Laing has been found principally along the east coast, from Edinburgh up to the Highlands and Orkney:

  • a Laing family first found near Edinburgh included John Laing, the Bishop of Glasgow in 1474. John Laing built Redhouse Castle near Edinburgh in the 1590’s.
  • Laings were also prominent in the Highlands by this time.
  • and the early 17th century saw many Laings move to Orkney. Later Laings from here included Malcolm Laing, a Scottish historian of the early 1800’s, and Alexander Laing, the explorer who discovered Timbuktu in 1826 and then was murdered by his guides.

The Lang name has been more concentrated in the Lowlands in Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire. Langs have had a long connection with the town of Paisley in Renfrewshire ever since its founding in 1488. 

Ireland.  As an Irish surname Lang is thought to have originated from the Gaelic surname O’Longain. The main numbers have been in Sligo, notably in Ballysadare parish. Lang has also cropped up in Armagh and elsewhere in Ulster.

America. There were some early Lang and Laing arrivals from England and Scotland:

  • Robert Lang from Devon was first recorded in Portsmouth in 1673 as a fisherman on the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire. These Langs were recorded through five generations nearby at Sagamore Creek in H.P. Moore’s 1935 book A Genealogy of the Lang Family.
  • while John Laing was a Quaker from Aberdeen who came with other Scottish Quakers to Plainfield, New Jersey in 1685. The Laing House of this Plainfield plantation still stands and has been listed as a historic house.

The Langs of Camden county, Georgia descended from the Sagamore Creek Langs. Isaac Lang was the first of the family to move there, in the early 1790’s, and his descendants remained prominent in county affairs for the next hundred years. His son William Lang established a plantation there in 1820. David Lang, the son of William’s brother Robert, was a Confederate officer during the Civil War and later a Florida politician.     

Pennsylvania.  The largest number of Lang immigrants to America was from German-speaking lands. They began arriving into Pennsylvania in the early 1700’s as religious refugees. These early Langs, however, generally anglicized their names to Long:

  • this was the case with Christian Lang who arrived from the Palatine in 1718 and Johannes Lang from Hesse in 1722. Both settled with their families as Longs in Lancaster county.
  • George Lang meanwhile arrived in Philadelphia in 1751. He settled in North Carolina in 1765 as George Long.

Some did remain Lang, such as the descendants of the Revolutionary War veteran George Lang who was born in Bucks county in 1761. A number of his grandchildren fought as Langs in the Civil War. However, these Langs were Presbyterian in their religion – suggesting a Scottish ancestry.  

Midwest.  Abraham Lang had migrated from upstate New York in the 1840’s to Ohio, to Illinois, and later to Iowa and Nebraska. His son William Lang made his mark in Denver, Colorado where, during a brief career in the 1880’s, he proved himself to be one of the best residential architects the city has known.

Captain Oscar Lange was an early immigrant to the Midwest from Europe. Born in Sweden, he had first come to Boston in 1824 at the age of 13 to work as a seaman. He came to Chicago in 1838 and fifty years later was honored there as the oldest living Swedish immigrant in America.

Wisconsin was a popular destination for Langes. A family from Thuringia in Germany first began arriving in 1846. They made their home in Jamestown township in SW Wisconsin. Friedrich Lange came from Posen in Prussia in 1866 and settled in Juneau county seven years later. August Lange, also from Prussia, came to Milwaukee in 1882. Meanwhile George Oscar Lange arrived in Minnesota from Germany around the year 1910. His grand-daughter was the actress Jessica Lange.

Caribbean. Laings from Scotland came to Caribbean plantations in the 18th century. Dr. James Laing of Haddo, a medical man, acquired three estates in Dominica in the 1790’s. Malcolm Laing meanwhile had arrived to Jamaica earlier as an overseer for absentee plantation owners and became a Kingston merchant.

The Laing name remains in Jamaica. Isaiah Laing has been dubbed “supercop” for his work in the Jamaican constabulary between 1976 and 1996.

Australia. Australia had two early Scots-born Lang immigrants:

  • the first, Walter Lang, did not last long. He arrived as a settler on the convict ship Minstrel in 1812 and built a fine house for himself, Clydesdale House, in Parramatta. But he was dead in 1816 at the age of 27. His son John became a journalist in Australia and its first Australian-born novelist.
  • the second, George Lang from Renfrewshire, arrived in Sydney in 1821 and secured land along the Paterson river in Hunter Valley. He too died young in 1825, at the age of 23. But his father and brothers were able to establish the Dunmore estate on this land. Another brother was J.D. Lang, the fiery Presbyterian minister who became an early advocate for an independent Australia.

Jack Lang, or “the Big Fella,” as he was later known, became one of the most controversial politicians in Australian history. Born in 1876 into an impoverished Scots-Irish immigrant family (his father was Scottish, his mother Irish), he rose in Labor party ranks to be twice Premier of New South Wales.

His second tenure coincided with the onset of the Great Depression. He advocated a more expansionary policy than the Federal Government would contemplate and he was dismissed from his post in 1932. He was never in power again although he remained active in politics. His life was long and he died in 1975 at the age of 98.

Lang Surname Miscellany

Langs and Laings in Scotland.  The following were the number of Langs and Laings recorded in the 1901 Scottish census:

Surname Numbers (000’s) Percent
Lang    3.2    38
Laing    5.2    62

Though many sources have assumed that the name ‘Laing’ is synonymous with the descriptive Old English name Lang, meaning a long or tall fellow, this may not be correct.  The alternative derivation of this Scottish name that has been suggested is the French Norman de le Ange or l’Ange which means “angel.”

Meanwhile Lang may also have an alternative derivation – from the place-name Langbank outside of Paisley in Renfrewshire.

George Lang’s Early Years in America.  George Lang had arrived in Philadelphia from Germany in 1751.  He was bound to a family in Brandywine for whom he labored the next dozen or so years and who presented him at the end of his servitude with a testimonial letter stating that he was a “quiet, industrious person.”  As his younger brother Friedrich explained:

“Since we could not pay for our freight, we children had to serve with strangers until it was paid. I was bound to the Quaker Richard Dutton in Chester county, whom I served for ten and a half years.”

In 1763 George Lang, free at last, headed southwest along the Appalachian Mountains for the Carolinas. With the conclusion of the French and Indian War, the frontier areas of the colonies were again safe for travel and settlement.  He initially found work in the Moravian community of Bethabara in North Carolina and remained there for over a year as a non-member laborer.

When traveling into the area surrounding Bethabara, he especially liked the land along Deep Creek, a tributary of the nearby Yadkin river. He also liked the 15-year-old Catherine Miller whom he had met there.  In April 1765 George and Catherine were married. George was then anxious for his parents to join him on Deep Creek and he returned to Pennsylvania to fetch them.  Once there these Langs were recorded as Longs.

William Lang of Camden County, Georgia.  William Lang, the oldest son of Isaac and Catherine Lang, was born in Florida in 1791, but was brought by his parents as a child to Camden county, Georgia where he lived the rest of his days.   In 1820 he established his Cambray plantation on the south side of the Great Satilla river.

The house, still standing in good condition, remains the residence of one of Lang’s descendants.  It is reputed to be one of the oldest homes in Camden county. The boards were hand-cut by slave labor and the chimneys made of hand-formed bricks.

When William Lang died at a young age in 1826, his wife Nancy took charge of the plantation and farming operations with much success until her death in 1877.

The Langs of the Dunmore Estate in Hunter Valley.  George Lang, the first of the family to emigrate, was given a land grant of 1,000 acres and he chose a site between the future villages of Largs and Paterson along the Paterson river.  However, George died in 1825 when he was only 23.

It fell to his father and brother, Andrew, to develop the estate which took his mother Mary’s maiden name.  They built Dunmore House, possibly as early as 1827, on a hill between Maitland and the Paterson river and overlooking a lagoon.  The house has lasted well and remains one of Hunter Valley’s finest early houses.

Life in the Paterson district when the Langs moved into Dunmore was sometimes uncertain. There were occasional crises in black/white relations and escaped convicts would range the bush looking for victims to rob.  The most famous of these were the Jewboy gang who raided Dunmore House, holding up the Langs in their elegant dining room, probably in 1840.

Situated on a portion of the Dunmore estate, the village of Largs was established when Andrew Lang persuaded 22 families, 120 people altogether, to become tenants on his property in 1837.  They were emigrants from poverty-ridden islands off the west coast of Scotland and had been brought to New South Wales by J.D. Lang.  They accepted Andrew Lang’s offer of clearing leases on a rent free basis for four years.

William Lang – His Rise and Fall.  William Lang has been recognized as one of Denver’s best residential architects. During a brief career in Denver, from 1885 to 1893, he built hundreds of buildings, many of which are still standing. Most of them are recognized by the public today as distinguished.

His physical appearance was striking.  He was 5’8″ tall, weighing 155 pounds with red hair, red whiskers and blue eyes which had a penetrating quality.  His dental work was gold and his gold capped incisor must have been striking.  He dressed well and wore monogrammed shirts. Unusual for architects of the time, he was listed in Mrs. Crawford Hill’s Social Register of 1892.

His rise to fame was meteoric as was the slide to personal disaster that ended his life.

His management of financial affairs had been chaotic and by 1893 he was in serious financial trouble.  His furniture was repossessed and he could not even afford groceries.  He lost his affluent home on 1638 Washington two years later and this occasioned a mental breakdown.  He went to stay with his brother.  However, two years later, dressed like a tramp, he wandered off and was killed by a passing train. 

Otto and Susanna Lange.  Otto Lange and Susanna Rode were children of German colonists who lived in Annette, part of the Volhynia German settlement area in what was then the Russian Empire and is now Ukraine.

The Russian government, not happy with the German settlement, passed laws that denied educational opportunities, made it illegal to sell land to anyone but a Russian, and established compulsory military service.  Not wanting to fight in the Russian army, Otto at the age of 23 decided to emigrate to America.

He arrived in Philadelphia in 1912 and came to the Laona area of Wisconsin two years later in 1914. In the early years there he would work 10-12 hour days at the Connor mill in addition to his farming, often walking to and from work.

His future wife Susanna, also from Annette, had arrived in America earlier with her family.  She worked for several years in Oklahoma as a maid and babysitter for the family of Jim Thorpe, the man who won gold medals at the 1912 Olympic Games. Susanna came to the Laona area in 1916 and she married Otto later that year.

In addition to raising their nine children, Susanna would help with the farm chores while Otto was working long days at the mill.  When Susanna arrived in the United States she was unable to read and write English.  But education was important to her.  She would continually encourage her children to get a good education which she herself had been denied.

Anton and Klara Lang – from Germany to America.  Anton Lang and Klara Mayr were born in Oberammergau, Germany, to families that were actors in the Oberammergau Passion Play, first performed in 1634. The play is performed every ten years. Lang’s father had portrayed Jesus three times. The couple became engaged in 1933, but postponed their wedding for a year so that she could play Mary Magdalene. Klara’s father played Judas.

Anton and Klara were married in Oberammergau in 1934 and came to Washington DC later that year. In 1935 the birth of twins to the former impersonator of Mary Magdalene and the son of the former impersonator of Jesus was page one news in Washington.

Lang Names

  • Cosmo Lang, the son of a Scots Presbyterian minister, was Archbishop of Canterbury during the time of the controversial abdication crisis of 1936. 
  • R.D. Laing was a Scottish psychiatrist who wrote extensively about issues of mental health. His best known work was the 1960 book The Divided Self
  • David Lange served as New Zealand’s Prime Minister between 1984 and 1989. 
  • Jessica Lange is a highly acclaimed American actress. 
  • K.D. Lang is a popular Canadian country singer/songwriter.

Lang Numbers Today

  • 23,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 37,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 17,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Lang and Like Surnames 

The first wave of German immigration into America came in the early 1700’s from the Rhine Palatine and Switzerland.  They were fleeing religious persecution at home.  Most ended up in Pennsylvania, bringing their Mennonite church with them.  Some went to the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York.  Their Germanic names often changed under English rule to English-style names.  Thus Fischer became Fisher, Schneider Snyder, Hubner Hoover and so forth.

The reasons for immigration were different in the 19th century – in search of a better life, sometimes to avoid the draft.  They came from all German states and went not just to Pennsylvania but all over as the middle and west of the country was opening up.  And they brought German skills with them, notably beer-making.

Here are some of the notable German surnames in America that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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