When Jewish people were obligated to take surnames in the early 19th century, they often chose ornamental names. The Germand word stein or “stone” was a popular suffix, as with Bernstein – meaning “amber” plus “stone.” Bernstein and Berenstein were surname variants in Lithuania. Some Bernsteins only became Bernsteins after they had made the long journey from their home country to America.
Select Bernstein Resources on The Internet
- Bernstein Family Genealogy. Bernsteins from Minsk in Russia to America.
- Leonard Bernstein Biography. The life of Leonard Bernstein.
Select Bernstein Ancestry
Bernsteins emigrated to America from Germany, Russia, and Poland, the main countries of Jewish settlement and Yiddish culture in central and eastern Europe in the 19th century. Well-known Bernsteins in Russia have been the chess grandmaster Ossip Bernstein and the neurophysiologist Nikolai Bernstein. The Bernstein name is invariably Jewish in America but not necessarily.
America. The peak years for Bernstein immigration into the United States were from 1890 to 1910. They came mainly to the cities of the East. New York drew many Bernsteins, such as:
- Meyer and Anna Bernstein, who arrived in New York from Ukraine in the early 1880’s. Their first-born Harry was born in 1885.
- Morris and Frieda Bernstein, who came from Poland in the mid 1880’s and settled in Brooklyn.
- the writer Herman Bernstein, who came from Russia in 1893. He was an editor of the Jewish Tribune and later a correspondent for the New York Times.
- Joe Bernstein, who was one of the first great fighters to emerge from the Lower East Side of New York. Nicknamed “the pride of the ghetto,” his fighting career lasted from 1894 to 1902.
- while later came Edward and Selma Bernstein. Their son Elmer Bernstein, born in New York in 1922, became a well-known composer for scores of film and TV productions over a fifty year career.
Samuel Bernstein came to Massachusetts from Ukraine in 1908. His son Leonard Bernstein, born in Lawrence ten years later, was the much acclaimed music composer and conductor. Meanwhile in 1922 Mandell Bernstein began practicing law in Detroit. He has been followed by three generations of Bernstein lawyers.
England. One Bernstein family from Poland made it to the milltown of Stockport in Lancashire. Their son Harry, born there in 1913, was raised on a poverty-stricken street where Jews and Christians were strictly divided. He later became a writer and described his brutish upbringing.
Alexander Bernstein had arrived in London from Latvia in the 1890’s and did well as a property developer who was an early venturer into cinemas. His son Sidney Bernstein achieved fame and success as one of the founders of commercial TV in Britain in the 1950’s. Meanwhile another Bernstein immigrant family, this time from Lithuania, found themselves in Merthyr Tydfil in the coal valleys of Wales. Mark Bernstein had arrived there in 1910 and started a market stall. His five sons all became involved in the business.
Dr. Robert Bernstein is the fourth of five generations of doctors in his family who have studied medicine at Cambridge and University College Hospital and trained in London.
South Africa. Lionel Rusty Bernstein was born into a Jewish emigrant family in Durban in 1920. With his wife Hilda he became an outspoken critic of apartheid and spent much of that time in exile.
Select Bernstein Miscellany
If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:
Select Bernstein Names
Leonard Bernstein was a much acclaimed American conductor and composer. His best known work was West Side Story. He was for a long time the music director and principal conductor for the New York Philharmonic.
Elmer Bernstein was an American composer best known for his film scores. He was a friend but no relation of Leonard Bernstein.
Sidney Bernstein progressed from showbusiness to being one of Britain’s first TV barons, the founder of the the Granada Group in the 1950’s.
Sid Bernstein is an American music producer and promoter, the man who brought the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to America in the 1960’s.
Carl Bernstein sprang to fame as the Washington Post investigative journalist into Watergate.
Select Bernsteins Today
- 1,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
- 10,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
- 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)
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