Bergman Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Bergman Surname Meaning

Bergman is a name which is Swedish and German in origin,  the German version being Bergmann.  It means “mountain man” in both languages, as well as “miner” in German.  Bergman can also be a Dutch name although Holland has no mountains.  Some Bergmans there might have started out as Borgman.

Bergman Surname Resources on The Internet

Bergman Surname Ancestry

  • from Germany, Sweden, Holland and from Jewish emigrants
  • to America, Canada and South Africa

The two most famous Bergmans have both been from Sweden – the film director Ingmar Bergman and (unrelated) the film actress Ingrid Bergman, mostly remembered for her role in the 1942 film Casablanca. The Bergman numbers in Sweden are around 15,000 today. They came to America in the late 19th century, mostly to the upper Midwest states.

Bergmanns in Germany today run around 28,000, mainly in the eastern part of the country. Israel von Bergmann, a landowner in Pomerania, was an influential privy counsellor in the Prussian court in the early 1700’s.

Some early Bergmanns to America did come from Hesse. There was also an enclave of Mennonite Bergmanns recorded around Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland) from the 16th century onwards. A number of them migrated, first to  southern Russia, and then, in the 1870’s, to America.

Bergmann is both a German and Yiddish name. Jewish Bergmanns and Bergmans began coming to America in the early 1900’s. A second wave came later as they fled Nazi Germany.

Most of the Bergmanns shed an “n” in their name on their arrival in America; although some did not.

America. Bergman in America can have German, Dutch, Swedish, and Jewish origins.

German.  The Bergmans here included:

  • Johann Christoph Bergman who was an early arrival from Hesse. By the 1760’s he was in Frederick county, Maryland. Later Bergmans moved onto Ohio. Solomon Bergman, after marrying in 1855, settled down in Defiance township where he built his log cabin.  
  • Jacob Bergman who came to America, also from Hesse, around 1852 and fought in the Civil War. He was afterwards a pioneer of southern California, running a stagecoach station on the Butterfield road to Los Angeles.  
  • Christ Bergman who had left his home in Asch (in present-day Czech Republic), fleeing military conscription, sometime in the 1850’s. He married but lived a wandering life – to Pennsylvania, Illinois and Wisconsin – before finally settling in Cherokee county, Kansas in 1874. In addition to farming, Christ was a veterinary surgeon and was well known in the county for his ability to treat horses.  
  • while German Mennonite refugees from southern Russia had also arrived in Kansas in 1874. Katarina Bergman, married to Johann Barkman (a variant spelling of Bergman), came four years later. It was Barkman rather than Bergman that then featured among the Mennonite preachers in Kansas, Nebraska and later in Manitoba.  
  • and Wilhelm Bergmann, a tailor from Saxony, who came to Kansas in 1882 before eventually settling across the border in Tecumseh, Missouri.

Dutch. A Bergman family had settled in Miami county, Indiana which was where Joseph Bergman was born in 1861. He had three sons – Alfred, Arthur and Joe – who all attended Notre Dame University and all displayed great prowess on the football field:

  • Alfred Bergman was known as “Big Dutch” and afterwards played some professional baseball.
  • Arthur or Dutch Bergman, also known as “Little Dutch,” was later the football coach for the Catholic University of America and then for the Washington Redskins, in both cases with an outstanding winning record. 
  • and Joe Bergman who settled in California after World War One.

Swedish. Minnesota and Wisconsin became the focus for Swedish immigration into America from the 1860’s onwards.

Their numbers included some Bergmans, Lars and Ingrid Bergman for instance who settled in Upsala, Minnesota in the 1880’s. L.E. Bergman founded the Bergman Silo Company in Princeton, Minnesota in 1915. Reuben Bergman recalled in later life his recollections of his family’s Christmas in Milwaukee in the early 1900’s.

Walter Bergman was born in Youngsville, Pennsylvania in 1899, the third of three siblings of a Swedish immigrant farmer.  He became an indefatigable civil rights advocate who as one of the first Freedom Riders was savagely beaten by the Ku Klux Klan in 1961. He lived to be 100.

Jewish. Bernard Bergman, born in Hungary, came to America with his parents in the 1920’s. He was a leader of New York’s Orthodox Jewish community who made a fortune from his real estate and nursing home holdings. He was, however, convicted of bribery and Medicaid fraud in 1976.

Among the Jews who fled Nazi Germany for America were Gustav Bergmann, an Austrian-born philosopher who came in 1938 and became a professor in Iowa, and Stefan Bergman, a Polish-born mathematician who arrived in 1939 and later became a professor at Stanford University. David Bergman from Czechoslovakia who survived Nazi concentration camps settled after the war in Cleveland.

Canada. Some Mennonite Bergmans from Russia made it to Canada. Cornelius and Anna Bergmann arrived in 1874 and made their home in Altona, Manitoba. Anganetha Bergmann, a daughter of the murdered Hermann Bergmann, arrived in 1923 and settled with her husband in Fiske, Saskatchewan.

Gustav Bergman, born in Illinois of Swedish parents, migrated north in 1902 with his brother Emil to Alberta where they took up homesteads. Gustav was the first elected mayor of the town of Beverly near Edmonton in 1914.

South Africa. Jacob Bergman came to Port Elizabeth in 1893 from Lithuania (where his family name was Gochin). His brother Joseph followed him ten years later. They made their home in Cradock township.

Walter Bergman was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who ended up in South Africa in 1936. After World War Two he settled in Cape Town and earned a living in ice skating and photography which were ostensibly his hobbies. However, he made his name in numismatics with his collection of Roman coins.

Bergman Surname Miscellany

Bergmanns Among the Low German Mennonites.  One group of Mennonites have been called the Low German Mennonites as their ancestors spoke Low German (plattdeutsch).

They came originally from Holland and Flanders and had migrated east in the 16th century to Poland, to an area around Danzig (now Gdansk).  However, Prussian expansion there brought problems and caused another migration in the early 1800’s, this time to south Russia (now Ukraine).  The name Bergmann or Bergman has featured in both the Polish and Russian period of this history.

The Mennonites had kept to themselves in Poland and they did so again in Russia.  But by the 1860’s they were coming under pressure from the Russian Government to assimilate into Russian society.  This included joining the military.It was Abraham Bergman who in 1868 had expressed the desire to emigrate as he had three sons approaching the draft age.  The main Mennonite exodus occurred six years later in 1874.

Cornelius and Anna Bergmann left for Quebec in 1874 and they settled in Altona, Manitoba.  Katarina, the daughter of Peter Bergman, had married Johann Barkman in Russia and they departed for Kansas in 1878.  After Johann died she married another Barkman there, Martin, in 1881.

Not all Bergmans departed.  Hermann Bergmann, who had only arrived from Prussia in 1862, remained.  He had wealth and distributed it generously.  He was a Tsarist supporter, however.  After the Russian Revolution of 1917 he was captured and brutally shot.  Some of his children were able to emigrate to Saskatchewan in 1923. 

Jacob Bergman in Southern California.  Jacob Bergman from Darmstadt in Hesse had worked as a farrier and blacksmith in the German army in his mid-teens.  It is believed that he came to America about 1852.  He enlisted in the US army at the Presidio in San Francisco in 1858 and later fought on the Union side in the Civil War.

After being discharged from the army, Bergman and his family drifted south to Fort Yuma where he signed on as a stage driver and mail rider on the old Butterfield Stage Road from Fort Yuma to Los Angeles.

While on the trail Bergman met a German by the name of Joseph Gifthaller who kept a station near the old Indian village of Aguanga.  In 1864 Gifthaller decided to sell his ranch to Bergman.  Bergman brought his wife and three children there.  Five more children were to be born at the ranch.

He helped build up the region around Palomar Mountain where he lived.   He ran the Bergman stage station for the Banning and Tomlinson Stage lines and served as the postmaster for several years.  He resided at the ranch until his death in 1894 when the place became known simply as Bergman.

There is a marker today, erected in 1976, in Aguanga, Riverside county which reads as follows:  “Gracious Host, Station Keeper Stage Driver, U.S. Trooper. A house beside the road,   A friend to man.”

Dutch Bergman and His Football Record.  Arthur Bergman was one of three Bergman brothers to attend Notre Dame University in Indiana and excel is sports there.

Arthur, who went by the nickname, Little Dutch, earned four monograms, three in football and one in track.  He played right halfback for Notre Dame in 1915 and 1916.  In a 7-0 victory over Army in 1915, he scored the only touchdown late in the game when he caught a pass on the Cadets’ 30-yard line and outran everyone to the end zone.  At Notre Dame he was a roommate of George Gipp and played under the legendary coach Knute Rockne.

Bergman served as the head football coach at Mexico State University from 1920 to 1922[ and at The Catholic University of America from 1930 to 1940.  Catholic University’s football team, known as the Flying Cardinals, was among the finest in the nation in the 1930’s.  Bergman guided CUA to the most victories in its football history and won the second Orange Bowl.

He left the University when the sport was discontinued in 1941 because of World War Two.  He later coached the Washington Redskins to the 1943 NF Championship Game which they lost to the Chicago Bears.

Bergman afterwards worked as a pro football scout, sports writer, mining engineer and government official.  He had his own radio show on WRC in Washington for many years and enjoyed an 11-year career as a color analyst for NBC.

A Bergman Christmas in Milwaukee.  In the 1990’s the 89-year-old Reuben Bergman recorded his memories of boyhood in the Milwaukee Swedish-American community.  His Bergman family were active members of what was officially known as the Swedish Congregational Church of Milwaukee, but was in reality a forerunner of what was later known as the Mission Friends among local Swedes.

As the youngest child in the Bergman household, Reuben had delightful memories of the Juletide season.  Reuben recalled such incidents as the Christmas Eve dinner in his boyhood home, carried out with the traditional menu from the Old Country: brown beans, herring, cheeses, rice pudding and meat balls etc.

A feature of this was the serving of lutefisk, a great favorite of his father’s, but a liking for which Reuben did not share. One Christmas Eve a guest at the table noted Rube had not taken a serving of lutefisk and asked “What kind of Swede are you, not eating lutefisk at Christmas?”  Rube responded by pointing to several forks and spoons nearby on the table which already had begun to turn black from the fish, and responded, “Look what it is doing to Mother’s silverware. Imagine what it will do to my stomach!”

Following dinner, the Bergmans sang the usual Swedish Christmas hymns and exchanged and enjoyed gifts, prior to retiring fairly early due to the need to attend the Julotta service at the Mission Friends church which began at 5:30 a.m.

The trip from the Bergman home on N. Oakland Avenue, on the east side, to the church on Scott Street was by street car, no matter how infrequently they ran at that hour, accompanied by the usual snow and freezing cold.

David Bergman – from the Nazi Death Camps to America.  In 1990 David Bergman was interviewed about his experiences in German concentration camps.

He was just thirteen in 1944 when his town in Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Germans and he was sent to Auschwitz.  He was among the three of 150 people in a cattle car who survived a transport to Dachau and he was then placed on a train to Innsbruck just three days before the Americans arrived in Dachau.

He was liberated after having been sent on a death march from Innsbruck to the front line of conflict between US and German troops.  He went into an American hospital to rehabilitate and then traveled back to his old family home which he found occupied by a Russian family.

Discovering that everyone in his family except him had perished, he immigrated to the United States, settling in Cleveland.  He later joined the American military to fight in the Korean War.

Bergman Names

  • Dutch Bergman from Notre Dame was a prominent American football coach in the 1930’s and 1940’s. 
  • Ingrid Bergman the Swedish film actress was a star of Hollywood movies in the 1940’s and 1950’s. 
  • Alan and Marilyn Bergman were prolific lyricists and songwriters in America in the 1960’s.

Bergman Numbers Today

  • 11,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Bergman 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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