Historically the origin of many surnames often found their beginnings in multiple sources as is the case with the surname Main. The surname has as many as four sources, the first is the Scottish surname which evolved from the Scandinavian given name, Magnus, which in this context would make the name patronymic. It is believed the name immigrated to Scotland during the Viking age. The second is Scottish occupational for farmer who tended the main fields on an estate. The third is a Scots-English-French styling of the Germanic personal name Maino or Meino which translates to mean “strength” or “might” so in this context, it would be patronymic. The fourth is Scots-English which is geographical as it derives its origin from the French province of Maine.
Surnames, as can be noted from the information above, often were adapted from wide variety of sources, from a person's occupation or topographical landmark found near the individual's home or birthplace, or possibly from the name of the village in which the person lived or was born. Surnames were sometimes patriarchal or matriarchal, created by combining the person's given name plus the name of their father or mother. In some instances surnames were also created from defining physical traits; such as a person's hair color, eye color, height, among other things.
While the use of surnames was a common practice in medieval France among the aristocracy, it was not until after the mid-sixteenth century that it became commonplace in the British Isles and across the remainder of Europe. The small size of the settlements and villages which existed during the earlier periods across most of Europe often meant there was no need for surnames as everyone within these communities knew each other and a given name would usually suffice. However, as communities grew and people began to migrate on a larger scale, the Norman aristocracy's penchant for using surnames was found to serve several practical purposes; it allowed people the ability to distinguish themselves, one from another, and it gave the government a reliable way to track people for tax, census, and immigration purposes.
The task of record keeping was primarily under the jurisdiction of the Church, local priories,
and the government. This was due in large part to the fact that literacy was a skill usually found only
among the nobles, the clergy, and government officials and scribes. Even so, there often existed multiple variations of names which may be attributed to a number of factors; the origins of the surname, the lack of guidelines which existed for spelling, and the fact that many scribes who were charged with record keeping spelled phonetically, among other things. One of the earliest records of anyone bearing the surname or any variation of its spelling is that of Robert Main found in Assize tax rolls dated 1204. Some other early variations of the name include; Maine and Mayne among others.
With the discovery of America and the addition to the British Commonwealth of countries such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, it was not long before people began to immigrate to these outlying areas. The use of surnames made tracking of immigrants easier. Some of the first recorded immigrants to America bearing the surname was John Main who landed and settled in Massachusetts in 1679. Pierre Main was one of the early settlers to Canada, landing and settling in Montreal in 1714. William Main was one of the early settlers to Australia, landing in South Australia in 1854 and John and Margaret Main along with their children, Maggie, John, and Robert landed in Auckland in 1864.
Worldwide, the highest concentration of people with the surname Main are found in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and the United States. By state, the largest percentile of those with the surname Main live in Alaska, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.
There are many persons of note with the surname Main, such as Australian born Albert Russell Main. He studied zoology at the University of western Australia, served in the Australian Imperial Force, and the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II. After the war he returned to zoology. He received his Ph.D. In Philosophy in 1956 and he became a Professor of Zoology in 1967.
Main was awarded a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 1969.