Adler Surname, Meaning, History & Origin

Adler Surname Meaning

The surname derives from the German word adelar, a compound of adel meaning “noble” and ar meaning “eagle.” A stylized eagle was commonly used as a house sign in Germany and Austria in medieval times and Adler emerged as a surname during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Adlers first appeared in church records in Viernheim outside of Mannheim in Hesse in the early 17th century.  The Adler name is also to be found in Hungary, Poland and Sweden. 

However, in English-speaking lands this name has been mainly borne by Jewish immigrants and their descendants.  Adler as a Jewish name may date back to 1614 in Frankfurt. Still, the Jewish Adler name might have no specific connotation, instead developing in the 19th century as an ornamental name.

Adler Surname Resources on The Internet

Adler Surname Ancestry

  • from Germany and from Jewish emigrants
  • to America and England

There are some 20,000 Adlers in Germany today (mainly in Hanover and Saxony) and a further 2,000 in Austria. The largest number of Adler immigrants have come from these two countries. Others have arrived from what had been the Russian Empire.  Most of those who came were Jewish.

England. The first notable Adler in England was from Hanover and was appointed Rabbi.  Nathan Adler was appointed Chief Rabbi of Britain in 1844.  After his death in 1890 he was succeeded by his son Herman who held the post until his own death in 1911. He would appear to have had a sense of humor.  

“Once he was having a lunch with the Catholic cardinal Herbert Vaughan, he was asked: ‘Now, Dr. Adler, when may I have the pleasure of helping you to some ham?’ The rabbi responded: ‘At your Eminence’s wedding.'”

The threat of Nazism brought Adlers to England as well as to America. Ota Adler arrived in 1932 from Prague to establish the family fur business in London.  He was the founder of a committee to help Jews escape Germany and start a new life in Britain. After the war he was one of the first to promote Britain’s membership of the European community.

America. Some of the earlier Adlers that came to America were German but not Jewish:

  • there were Adlers who purchased land at the Milwaukee land office in 1848 and settled in Germantown, Wisconsin before moving onto Marshfield in the same state.  Philip Adler was one of Marshfield’s early settlers in 1880.
  • Matthias Adler departed Viernheim in Hesse for New Orleans in 1852, followed by his brother Nicholas a year later. They settled in Gibson county, Indiana in the late 1850’s.
  • while John Adler came to New York around 1870 and migrated west in a covered wagon.  John first operated a meat market in Holdrege, Nebraska before he and his family homesteaded in Colorado in what was then still wilderness prairie land.

Jewish Adlers arrived in the southern state of Arkansas in the 1850’s as merchants.  Simon Adler came to Batesville in 1856,  Samuel Adler to Van Buren two years later.  However, the disruption caused by the Civil War caused them to move:

  • Simon departed for Texas with his four brothers. Only Simon returned to Batesville after the war was over. He was the sole Jewish resident of the town for more than a decade. In 1891 he organized and built the People’s Savings Bank  This building, along with Adler Hall, has remained as a landmark on Batesville’s Main Street.
  • while Samuel Adler moved with his family to Philadelphia. His son Cyrus became a distinguished academic and civic leader. Over the course of his life he helped found the American Jewish Council, the United Synagogue of America, and the Jewish Welfare Board.

Coleman Adler had arrived in New York from Slovakia as a small boy in 1874. He moved to New Orleans in 1896 where he founded the famous Adler’s Jewelry store, a business that still thrives under third and fourth generation Adlers today.

Carl Adler meanwhile had left Germany for America in 1871 and made his way to Oregon in 1874. His son Leo made his fortune marketing magazines and newspapers across the West Coast. He was always a booster for Baker, the town in which he grew up.

Jacob Adler, a star of Yiddish theater in his native Odessa and later in London, came to New York in 1889. There he was nicknamed “the great eagle” for his performances.  Nearly all of his family went into the theater, the most famous being his daughter Sara who later taught method acting in New York and Los Angeles to, among others, Marlon Brando.

Baltimore was the home of Louis and Sadie Adler, Russian immigrants who had arrived in the 1890’s.  Their son Larry Adler became the world-renowned harmonica player. The city was also home to Benjamin and Ada Adler who had come in the 1880’s.  Ada Adler was to outlive her husband and to remain active into her nineties.

The rise of Nazism in Germany brought more Adlers to America. The famous psychotherapist Albert Adler departed Austria for America in 1935. The Austrian conductor Kurt Adler made the same journey in 1938. Erwin Adler fled Frankfurt for Bolivia, the only country that would accept him at the time. He immigrated in the 1950’s to Seattle to be reunited with his family.

Adler Surname Miscellany

A Jewish Adler in 1614.  In 1614 the Jews of Frankfurt had been subject to vicious onslaughts on them and their homes by local tradesmen led by the cake-baker Vinzenz Fettmilch.  It was the Emperor’s troops who helped restore order and enable them to return to the Judengasse.

One Jew who functioned as a standard bearer for the Jews adopted the name of Adler after the eagle in the imperial flag.

Philip Adler in Marshfield, Wisconsin.  Philip Adler had worked in Milwaukee and Chicago before moving with his wife Margaret to Marshfield, Wisconsin in 1880.   They were among the early settlers there.

He first started a shoe store there but later began investing in real estate.  This was to make him wealthy.  In 1887 he erected the corner building on Central Avenue and Second Street that became known as the Adler block.  He later built the Adler opera house.  He was one of the leading developers and promoters of the town.

He died in tragic circumstances in 1915.  The automobile in which he was travelling was crossing a railroad track when it was hit by a train and he and the other three passengers in the vehicle were instantly killed.

Simon Adler in Bakersville, Arkansas.  Simon Adler was born in Bavaria in 1832 and first came to Bakersville, Arkansas with his four brothers in 1856.  Soon after the Civil War began the Adlers left Arkansas for Texas to escape the conflict, taking most of their business possessions – slaves, stock, and merchandise – with them.  Only Simon came back.

He returned in 1866 and assumed control of their family businesses there, their general store and their land holdings. He was the only Jewish resident in the town for over a decade.

Adler’s general store was destroyed by fire in 1880. He then acquired title to new lot on Main Street and built a two-story brick building that he named Adler Hall.  Local tradition holds that Adler carried bills and notes in his hat as he strolled up and down Main Street, “banking out of his hat” as it were.

Ada Adler in Baltimore.  Ada Adler brought the rest of her family to Baltimore in the 1880’s from Vilna in Poland, then in the old Russian Empire.  Her husband Benjamin and eldest son Julius had arrived first, working in a clothing sweatshop until they could save enough money to bring the rest of the family over.

Benjamin died in 1902 at the age of 60.  But Ada lived onto her 80’s and 90’s.  She became a well-known character in her neighborhood.

She often travelled alone around the city by trolley.  The conductors, spotting this spry 90-pound fire- ball, four and one-half feet tall, knew immediately that they only fare they would receive from her would be a crumpled transfer, sometimes outdated by more than a year.  No degree of persuasion, no amount of argument would induce her to either leave the car or pay fare in cash currency.  Her transfers were always carefully sorted and stored.

Her instructions on riding the streetcar ran as follows:

“Board the streetcar and find a seat next to a window. When the car starts to move you will hear the conductor call  ‘Fares, please, fares, fares,’ becoming louder, but don’t take your eyes from the window.

The voice will come closer and closer until, it will be just behind you. Don’t move, but keep looking out the window. The voice will say  ‘Mister, let me have the fare please’, but you don’t move. When the conductor shakes your shoulder and says ‘Hey mister, I mean you, I need your fare please.’ Then you turn around and give him the money!”

These stories were told in Yiddish and sounded a lot better in that tongue.

Jacob Adler and His Family.  Jacob Adler had married the actress Sonya Oberlander in 1880 and together they had two children.  But Sonya died of an infection contracted while giving birth to their second child in 1886.  At the same time he had been having an affair with actress Jenny Kaiser, who gave birth to his son Charles, and with a young chorus girl from an Orthodox Jewish family named Dinah Shtettin, as well as having several other affairs.

Dinah’s father insisted on a marriage and this took place in 1887.  In 1889 Dinah gave birth to a daughter, but the marriage did not last. After Jacob ran away with Maurice Heine’s ex-wife Sara, Dinah and Jacob were divorced.

Together, Jacob and Sara Adler were two of the most prominent Yiddish theater actors for almost thirty years and Sara continued to act after Jacob Adler’s death in 1926.  Jacob and Sara Adler had six children together, all of whom, like their three older half-siblings, were involved with the theater.  And many of the Adler nieces, nephews, in-laws, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were also involved in theater and in films.

On March 31, 1926, Jacob Adler collapsed, dying almost instantly. Thousands of mourners marched with his coffin through the streets of the Lower East Side.  A New York Times editorial maintained that Adler’s death marked the end of the heroic age of the Yiddish theater.

Larry Adler in Germany in 1945.  That year Larry Adler was touring Germany together with the actress Ingrid Bergman and comedian Jack Benny for the purpose of entertaining the US troops still stationed there after the end of World War Two.

While there they met up with John Weitz who was tasked with rooting out a guerrilla group of ex-Nazi soldiers.  Reports had been received that the group was holed up in a house in Munich and Weitz was ordered to carry out a raid.  John Weitz curiously invited the three of them to join him on the raid.  Larry Adler accepted.

He was duly picked up and driven to the house to be raided. As planned, they burst into the house. But what happened next?

Adler said: “According to John, two of the German soldiers fired back at the OSS operatives and were killed, and a further six soldiers were captured.”  But Adler also said that what in fact took place was that when they burst into the house there were no soldiers there, “Just two old ladies. No firing, no one hurt in any way.”

Who is right? Adler and Weitz became firm friends, but they would argue about this event for the rest of their lives. How could they each remember an event as unique as this so differently?

Larry Adler in England.  In 1948 Larry Adler and his performing partner, the tap dancer Paul Draper, were denounced as Communist sympathizers.  Although a self-described ”left-minded kid,” Adler steadfastly denied he had ever supported the Communist cause but refused to take a loyalty oath or mute his criticism of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Adler and Draper sued for libel but were unable to win full vindication.  Larry Adler, a celebrated star who had been earning up to $200,000 a year, suddenly could not find employment.

He departed for Britain where he continued to be a star of the first rank.  Despite being blacklisted he won an Oscar nomination in 1953 for his soundtrack to the film Genevieve.  He lived in London until his death in 2001.

Adler Names

  • Jacob Adler from Odessa in Russia was the star of Yiddish theater, firstly in London and then in New York.
  • Cyrus Adler was a Jewish American scholar, editor and community leader in the early 1900’s.
  • Alfred Adler, the founder of Adlerian psychology, left Austria for America in 1935.
  • Larry Adler developed from vaudeville to be recognized as one of the world’s most skilled harmonica players.  He popularized harmonica playing around the world.

Adler Numbers Today

  • 2,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 9,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Adler and Like Jewish Surnames

The Jews were banned from England in 1290 and did not return there until the 1650’s, sometimes in the form of Portuguese traders.  They were to make their mark as merchants and financers in London and many families prospered.  There was another larger Jewish influx in the late 1800’s.

In America the early settlement of Sephardic Jews was in Charleston, South Carolina.  In the 19th century Ashkenazi Jews started to arrive from Germany.  Later came a larger immigration from a wider Jewish diaspora.  Between 1880 and 1910 it is estimated that around two million Yiddish-speaking Jews, escaping discrimination and pogroms, arrived from the Russian empire and other parts of Eastern Europe.

Some Jewish surnames reflect ancient Biblical names, such as Cohen and Levy.  Some have come from early place-names where Jews resided, such as Dreyfus (from Trier), Halpern (from Heilbronn) and Shapiro (from Speyer).

Many more surnames came about when Ashkenazi Jews were compelled by Governments to adopt them in the early 1800’s.  The names chosen at that time were often ornamental ones – Bernstein or Goldberg or Rosenthal for example.  Then the name could change on arrival in America at Ellis Island.  And finally anti-Semitism perceived could cause further changes to conceal Jewishness.

Here are the stories of some of the Jewish surnames that you can check out here.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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