Ackerman Surname, Meaning, History & Origin

Ackerman Surname Meaning

Typically an ackerman was a bond tenant of a manor who held arable land for which he paid by serving as a plowman. The term was also used generically to denote a plowman or husbandman.  

The Akerman or Ackerman surname appeared at an early time in Holland, from the Dutch word akkerman meaning “plowman.”

Acerman or Ackerman in England came from the old English word aecerman of the same meaning. The German surname-equivalent has been Ackermann, the Swedish Åkerman.  Ackermann and Ackerman also emerged as Jewish surnames.

Ackerman Surname Resources on The Internet

Ackerman and Akerman Surname Ancestry

  • from Holland, Germany and from SW England
  • to America, Canada, and South Africa

The Ackerman name first appeared in Holland in the 13th century. Frans Ackerman was one of the most famous Flemish statesmen of the 14th century.  Dutch Ackermans went to New York and to South Africa.

The German Ackermann numbers have been much larger than those in Holland. They total today around 30-35,000. German and Swiss Ackermans came to America.

England. The Ackerman name has been a west country name, mainly localized to west Dorset and specifically around Bridport and surrounding villages such as Allington and Broadwindsor:

  • Jacob Ackerman was recorded at Allington in 1680.
  • Jacob Ackerman married Martha Gudge at Bridport in 1717.
  • Abraham Ackerman was born at Broadwindsor in 1745, the son of Daniel and Jane Ackerman.
  • and John Ackerman and Ann Bowring were married at Bridport in 1768.

The Akerman spelling was also found in Dorset at this time and spread into Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. Two Akerman brothers from Southampton, Joseph and Albert, were stewards on the Titanic which sank in 1912.

America. Dutch, English, German, and Swiss Ackermans came to America.

Dutch.  In 1662 David Ackerman and his family, members of the Dutch Reformed Church, left Holland for New York. David died during the voyage, or soon afterwards. His wife and children remained. Some twenty years after their arrival, David’s sons departed Brooklyn, crossed the Hudson, and settled in Bergen county, New Jersey.  

“David Ackerman and his wife Hillegont were two of the few who organized the Dutch Reformed Church at Hackensack in Bergen county, New Jersey in 1686. His initials were carved in the outside wall of the church tower together with others.”  

The Ackermans were early settlers in Saddle River, operating a mill and a blacksmith’s shop there in the early 1700’s.  Ackerman House, built by Abraham Ackerman in 1802, remains and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

An earlier Abraham Ackerman had settled in Middlesex county, New Jersey by the 1760’s.  From his line came Jonathan Ackerman, a prominent businessman of New Brunswick, and his son Warren who became even more wealthy than his father in the late 1800’s.

Meanwhile some Ackermans were Loyalist during the Revolutionary War and had left for Nova Scotia by 1786. And James Ackerman, coming via upstate New York, was an early settler in Michigan in the 1820’s.

The family history has been recounted in Barbara Tobey’s 1980 and 1988 two volume books The Ackerman Family.  The first volume covered the first five generations of the family, the second volume the sixth and seventh generations.

English? Stephen Akerman of uncertain origins was a mariner who arrived in Newbury, Massachusetts sometime in the 1680’s. He likely was English. He settled in an English area rather than a Dutch area and his name was alternatively spelt Acreman.

His son Benjamin moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire; his grandson Benjamin, born in 1714, was a butcher there. He died in 1758 and his obituary read: “Doorkeeper of the General Assembly of New Hampshire. Eleven children by his first wife, four by his second wife Mary. Two sons were lost at sea.”  

Peter Akerman who fought in the Revolutionary War was probably his son.

Amos Akerman, son of a later Benjamin Akerman, moved south to Georgia in the 1840’s. Having fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War, he joined the Republican party afterwards and was appointed US Attorney General by President Grant. In this capacity he vigorously prosecuted the Klu Klux Klan in the South under the Enforcement Acts.

His son Alexander moved to Florida in 1914 and started a law firm, Akerman LLP, which is now one of the largest in Florida.

German. A few German Ackermans came in the 18th century, many more in the 19th century – including some Ackermans from Switzerland.

The earliest was probably George Ackerman, a Mennonite from Baden in Germany, who arrived in Bucks county, Pennsylvania in the 1740’s. The main line was via his son John who moved north to a township in Northampton county in the 1780’s. When he died in 1823 it was said that he and his wife Catherine had thirty-six grandchildren. The Ackermans became so numerous that their township was renamed as Ackermanville in 1870.

The family history was recounted in Claire Ackerman Vliet’s 1950 book The Ackerman Family Association.

Johannes Ackerman was a Hessian soldier from Saxony who fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War and stayed, joining a Moravian community in North Carolina.  In 1791 he fell from his wagon, broke his neck, and died. He had married and his line continued in North Carolina through his son Johannes.

Among the 19th century arrivals were:

  • Matthias Ackerman from Wurttemberg who came in 1831 and made his way initially to Indiana, before moving onto Iowa to farm in 1839.
  • Valentine Akerman from Bavaria who came with his family in 1832 and settled in Butler county, Ohio.
  • Frank Ackerman from Switzerland who came in 1854 and headed for Columbus, Ohio. He moved to Jackson county to farm in 1866.
  • and the sea captain Robert Ackerman from Prussia who arrived in San Francisco in 1868. In time he became the master of the schooner Alfred and engaged in moving lumber in and out of the city.

Canada. Some Ackerman Loyalists from New Jersey departed for Nova Scotia after the Revolutionary War was over, as the report below indicated:   

“The following Ackermans of New Jersey went to Shelburne, Nova Scotia at the peace John with a family of seven and two servants; Richard with his family of seven; and John William with his family of three. Town lots were granted to each.”

There were also Ackermans who left for New Brunswick.

One line from New Jersey ended up in Ontario, first in Prince Edward county and then in Peterborough county. Benjamin Ackerman started out as a saddler in the 1870’s and twenty years later opened a harness factory in Peterborough which he ran until 1925.  His son Arthur died in the trenches in 1916 during World War One.

South Africa.  Ackermans in South Africa could be of German, English, or Jewish origin. 

Christian Ackerman, originally from Saxony, arrived at the Dutch Cape as a soldier in 1720 and stayed. He and his wife Margaretha de Villiers had eight children, many of whom died during the smallpox epidemic of 1755. Christian and his eldest son Christian were both silversmiths.

Another early arrival, also German, was Martinus Ackermann from Baden. He too married a Dutch girl in the Cape, in his case in 1713. Ackerman descendants moved to Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State in the 1850’s.

John Akerman, the son of a Wesleyan minister from Wiltshire, came to Natal in 1850 and established a pharmacy in Pietermaritzburg. He served as the town’s mayor and from 1880 to 1892 he was the Speaker in the Natal Legislative Assembly.

Father and son, Gus and Raymond Ackerman, have been master retailers in South Africa during the 20th century.  Gus, a Jewish soldier during World War One, came to Cape Town and started up South Africa’s first chain store in 1920 (which he sold in 1940). His son Raymond, starting afresh, began the Pick ‘n Pay chain in 1966. This is now South Africa’s largest supermarket chain.

Ackerman Surname Miscellany

Acerman and Ackerman in England. The Old English word aecer from the Old Norse akr, meaning “field” or “ploughed land,” gave rise to the English unit of measure “acre.”  It was also the basis for another word aecerman. 

On many medieval manors there were separate tenements held by acremen in return for their ploughing service.  Two lines from Lay le Freine of the early 14th century read:

  • “The fowls up, and song on bough,
  • And acremen yield to the plough.”

An early surname example was William Acreman, recorded at Ramsey Abbey in Huntingdonshire in 1100.  By the 1300’s the spelling was more Akerman, later on more Ackerman.

David Ackerman – from Holland to New York.  The Ackermans in Holland were members of the Protestant Reformed Church.  David Ackerman had been born in Franckendale in 1580, the son of Laurens and Hester Ackerman.

Sometime in the 1620’s these Ackermans moved to north Brabant where Protestants were being encouraged to settle.   However, the Protestant arrivals met with resistance from Catholics in the rural population and daily life became a problem.  A number looked to move away.

In 1662 a later David Ackerman, aged forty-seven at the time, departed Amsterdam with his family on the Dutch ship D’Vos bound for New York.  At that time it was still Dutch territory and named New Amsterdam.

Some reports suggest that David died during the voyage, others that he made it to New York.  However, if the latter were the case, he was not long for the New World.  He left behind a wife Lysbet and six children – Ann, Elisabeth, David, Laurents, Lodewyck and Abraham.

George Ackerman and His Descendants in Pennsylvania.  The following song, sung to the tune of My Last Cigar, celebrated the Ackerman family who came to Pennsylvania in the 1740’s.

  • “When William Penn the Englishman
  • Whose heart in peace was bent
  • Was given Pennsylvania
  • He made a settlement
  • Of Quakers, Mennonites and such
  • Who heard that he had planned
  • To sell to all who wished to buy
  • A goodly lot of land.
  • So in the 18th century
  • George Ackerman had come
  • To this fair land from Germany
  • To live in ‘Grosse Schwarm.’
  • And to his eldest son named George
  • He left the homestead dear.
  • But John and Henry travelled north
  • Until they settled here.
  • Now Henry had but daughters two
  • And one of them died young.
  • But John had sons – yes, six of them
  • And we from them have sprung.
  • We meet together once a year
  • And pledge ourselves again
  • To live good lives as they have done
  • For we’re American.”

Peter Akerman During the Revolutionary War.  Peter Akerman from Portsmouth, New Hampshire was twenty-eight years old when he enlisted in Captain Jonathan Wentworth’s company in December 1775.

He fought for one year in New Jersey under General Gatts.  He then enlisted at Portsmouth for three years in Captain Beal’s company under General Scannels.  He was badly wounded at the Battle of Bemis Heights near Saratoga in October 1777 and was subsequently discharged.

He enlisted for a third time in the summer of 1780 with Captain Daniel Jewells under Colonel Bartlett and marched ninety-five miles with his regiment for the defence of West Point.

For his service, Peter was an original pensioner of the war in November 1787 in the New Hampshire rolls.  He was married twice, the first time in 1779 to Rachel Foss, by whom he had six children, and then to Harriet Marden.  He died in Dover, New Hampshire in 1832.

Ackermans from Germany to Iowa.  Matthias Ackerman departed Wurttemberg in Germany with his family in 1831 for New York.  On arrival there they headed for Philadelphia, where they stayed at the Black Bear Hotel, before moving onto Lancaster county, Pennsylvania for the winter. Matthias’s wife died there.

The following spring Matthias and his son Johannes departed for Louisville, Kentucky and thence to Crawfordsville, Indiana.  Matthias worked in the grocery business there; while Johannes, aged just fourteen at the time, was sent to Cincinnati to be apprenticed to a confectioner.

Father and son departed Indiana in the spring of 1839, crossed the Mississippi at Rockingham, and then moved to new farming land at Poston’s Grove in Iowa (James Poston had been the first settler there).

Johannes was married twice there, both wives being named Nancy.  He married the first Nancy in 1852 and they had four children.  She died two years later.  He married the second Nancy in 1858.

Gus and Raymond Ackerman – South Africa’s Master Retailers.  Gus Ackerman had escaped almost certain death during the Battle of the Somme on the Western Front in 1916.  He came to Cape Town soon afterward the fighting was over and started up South Africa’s first chain store with two wartime colleagues, Sam Kirsch and Leon Segal.

After much debate, and clearly because anti-Semitism remained a feature of their lives, they decided to call their group Ackermans. It was a name that could be Afrikaans, colored or white, as easily as it could be Jewish.  Their vision for the store was to create a place where customers could find great products at fantastic prices.

They introduced the concept of pricing at 1/11 – one shilling and eleven pence because it sounded cheaper than 2/- and also because it obliged the sales assistants to ring up the sale and open the till to extract change.  After four years fifteen stores had been opened and the group continued to expand thereafter. Gus sold Ackermans to the Greatermans group in 1940.

His son Raymond joined Greatermans as a young graduate in the early 1950’s.  By 1966 was the managing director of eighty-five Greatermans’ stores and had won the Outstanding Young South African award of the year.  However, he was fired from his position the very same year because of his disagreements over the company’s marketing approach.

In response, and using his severance pay and a bank loan, Ackerman bought four stores in Cape Town trading under the name Pick ‘n Pay.  Under his leadership Pick ‘n Pay grew into one of Africa’s largest supermarket chains.

He developed the idea of self-service retail in South Africa, essentially bringing the supermarket culture to this country, and pioneered the hypermarket and generic or “no name” brands.

Ackerman Names

  • Rudolph Ackermann who came to London from Germany in the late 1700’s patented a method for making articles waterproof. He also established art lithography in England.
  • Amos Akerman was the scourge of the Klu Klux Klan during his time as US Attorney General in the 1870’s. 
  • Harry Ackerman was known as the dean of American television comedy, having produced some of the most popular TV sitcoms of the 1950’s and 1960’s. 
  • Raymond Ackerman is a South African businessman who developed Pick ‘N Pay into one of the largest supermarket chains in Africa.

Ackerman Numbers Today

  • 3,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 13,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in South Africa)

Ackerman 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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