Epstein Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Epstein Meaning
Epstein surname is Germanic in origin from a place-name
– Eppstein in Hesse or Bavaria or Ebstein in the Styria region of SE
Austria. The root in each case was the
High German ebur meaning “wild boar”
and stein or “stone.”
In Hesse the Lords of Eppstein were a family
of German nobility in the Middle Ages.
From the 12th century onwards they ruled extensive territories
in the
Rhine Main region from their castle at Eppstein, northwest of Frankfurt. However, their line became extinct in 1535
and the Eppstein name no longer featured in that area.Instead, the Epstein surname has had Jewish origins.
the Jewish exodus from Spain in 1492, a line
moved to Ebstein in Styria and took the Ebstein name.
Ebstein became Eppstein and then Epstein.
the course of the succeeding centuries the name was assumed by many
Jewish people, not necessarily
because of any particular line or relationship, but simply because it
was a well-known surname.

Epstein Resources on

Epstein Ancestry

The Epstein name spread amongst the Jewish community in Europe.

in Prague by the 16th century. Meir b. Jacob ha-Levi Eppstein was
a printer there in 1522 and Meir Eppstein a leader of its Jewish
community in 1601.
the beginning
of the 19th century, two brothers in Prague – Israel and Ephraim
Epstein – had acquired
sufficient wealth from their calico printing to establish themselves in
the Austrian capital. Gustav Ritter von
built his Palais Epstein
in Vienna over
the course of the 1860’s. However,
his family fortunes were wiped out by
the Vienna stock market crash of 1873

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Epstein name also featured in
places such as Brest-Litovsk, Grodno, Friedberg and
Konigsberg. Jakub Epstein was a prominent merchant and banker in
Warsaw in the early 1800’s.

But Epsteins, because of Russian pogroms
and later Nazism, are not much seen in Europe today.
largest number of Epsteins
now are in America, followed by
Israel and South
Almost all of these Epsteins are Jewish. But some Catholic
Epsteins from the Hesse area in Germany emigrated as well.

England. The Epstein name
first appeared in London in the 1860’s. Sigmund Epstein, born in
Germany, was recorded as a leather merchant in the 1871
census. Morris Epstein, a cabinet maker, arrived from
Russia in the 1890’s. His sons built furniture in the Art Deco
style until the 1950’s.

Meanwhile Isaac Epstein had come from Lithuania in the 1890’s and
settled in Liverpool. His grandson was Brian Epstein, the
ill-fated manager of the Beatles who took his own life in 1967.

America. Max Epstein was the name that Polish immigrant
Chatskel Barnkovsky took on his arrival in New York in 1870. His
son Jacob, born on the Lower East Side in 1880, moved as a young man to
England where he became the world-renowned sculptor.

Others Epsteins who came to New York were:

  • Morris
    and Sara Epstein who were present there in the early 1880’s.
    Their daughter Charlotte, born in 1884, initially trained as a
    stenographer but then found her metier as a swimming coach. She
    women’s Olympic swimming teams of the 1920’s and 1930’s.
  • Ibzig and Bessie Epstein from Lithuania who came on the Rhynland in 1906 and settled in
    Brooklyn. Their son Teddy became a successful New York pulp
    magazine publisher.
  • Rachmael (Raymond) and Krana Epstein from Minsk who arrived
    around 1910 and also settled in Brooklyn. Their sons Benjamin and
    Samuel who came with them had successful professional careers.
  • while Louis and Della Epstein, Russian immigrants, were living in
    Manhattan around this time. Their son Leopold changed his name to
    Lee Eastman and was the father of Linda Eastman who married Paul

the son of a rabbi from Lithuania, came in 1904 and was a
rabbi in Massachusetts,
first at Roxbury and then at Brookline. There
was later a very notable Epstein family at Brookline,

  • the
    twins Julius and Philip Epstein, screenwriters
    for the 1942 film Casablanca
  • and
    Philip’s grandson Theo Epstein, general
    manager for the Boston Red Sox baseball team in the year 2004 when they
    won the
    World Series.

Epstein, born in Boston, was with his then wife Barbara the
of The
New York
Review of Books
in 1963

Dutch-born Isador Epstein studied music in
London and performed there as a concert pianist before emigrating to
South Africa in 1929. There he became the leading piano teacher
in Johannesburg.


Epstein Miscellany

Epstein’s Jewish Origins.  Two prominent Ashkenazi
families have claimed descent from two brothers who lived in Spain
during the
13th century.

The Epsteins’ alleged patriarch was Rabbi Aharon de na Clara ben
Yosef haLevi; while the Horowitzes’ alleged patriarch was Rabbi Pinhas,
Aharon’s older brother and mentor.  These two brothers were the
direct male
descendants of Rabbi Zerahyah ben Yitzhak haLevi Gerondi who died
sometime after

Epstein family lore asserts that Aharon’s surname was Benveniste.
After the
Jewish exodus from Spain in 1492, this branch moved to Ebstein in
Austria.  The family was Levite and took
the Ebstein name.  Ebstein there ultimately
became Epstein.

The Epsteins of Palais Epstein in Vienna.  The writer Stefan Zweig wrote as follows in his work The World of Yesterday: 

“It is generally assumed that the real and typical aim in the life of a
person is to become rich.  Nothing could
be further from the truth.  For him,
rich is merely an intermediate stage, a means to an end, not an end in
itself.  What a Jew strives for, his
immanent ideal, is
his ascent into the realm of the spiritual, a higher cultural level. This is why among the Jews the striving for
riches almost invariably exhausts itself in a matter of two or at most
generations of a family, and it is in particular the most influential
that find their sons unwilling to take over the banks or factories, the
well-established, cushy businesses of their fathers.”

The Epstein family was prototypical of this
model.  Having attained wealth in the
course of two generations, its orientation changed with the
representative of
the third, Gustav Ritter von Epstein.  His ideal – a life devoted
and philanthropy – was to be shattered by the consequences of the Stock
Exchange crash of 1873.

von Epstein had seen his palace not only as a residence that provided
an inspiring
ambience for himself and his family, but also as a venue for
like-minded people
with whom the Epsteins could enjoy the pleasures of the arts – a salon
of the Ringstrasse society.  The Epsteins
devoted particular attention to the planning of their soirées musicales.

Paul Epstein and the Nazis.  Paul Epstein was brought up in a Jewish family in Frankfurt where his father
was a professor at the Philanthropin Academy.  He
too became a professor there in the 1920’s.
work was in number theory and in the history of
mathematics.  Another of his talents was music and he
took part energetically in the cultural life of Frankfurt.

came to power in 1933, however, the Civil Service Law provided the
means for
removing Jewish teachers from the universities.   All
civil servants who were not of Aryan descent were to be retired.  However, there was a clause which
exempted non-Aryans who had fought for Germany in World War One.   Epstein qualified
under this clause and this allowed him to keep his
lecturing post.

But the decisions at the
Nuremberg party congress of 1935 made it clear that non-Aryans would no
be able to keep their posts even if they had served in World War One.   Epstein
relinquished his teaching position at that time.  He
did not attempt to emigrate, however, as – at
the age of 64 – he saw no prospect of employment outside of

Then in 1938 on the Kristallnacht of November 9-10, ninety one Jews
were murdered, hundreds were seriously injured,
and thousands
were subjected to horrifying experiences. Thousands of Jewish
businesses were
burnt down together with over 150 synagogues. The Gestapo arrested
30,000 well-off
Jews and a condition of their release was that they emigrate.

Gestapo broke into Epstein’s house at that time, but
found that he was seriously ill and could not be moved. Epstein
subsequently received a summons from
the Gestapo.  He knew what had happened
to others who had received such a summons, many having been tortured
and killed.  He wanted to avoid that
suffering and thus took a
lethal dose of Veronal.

Epstein Numbers Today

Leading Countries Numbers (000’s)
America    9.0
Israel    3.0
South Africa    1.5

The Epsteins of Brookline, Massachusetts.  The forebear of the Epstein family of Brookline,
Massachusetts was immigrant Harry Epstein, a livery stable owner in New
York in the days when horses were still widely used in the city.

His twin sons Philip and Julius Epstein were Hollywood
screenwriters who wrote
the scripts for such classic films as Arsenic and Old Lace,
Mr. Skeffington, and a popular little
trifle called Casablanca.  Leslie Epstein, the son of Philip, was the director of
University’s creative writing program and author of nine

son Theo has been the general manager of the Boston Red Sox, a job he
took at
tender age of 28, making him the youngest general manager in Major
League baseball

His twin
brother Paul has been a social worker at Brookline High School.
And their sister Anya has followed in the
family business, writing for the critically acclaimed TV series Homicide:
Life on the Street
.  She is married to
Dan Futterman, an actor best known for playing the son of Robin
character in The Birdcage.

The Epsteins and The New York Review of Books.  In February 1963 the printers at the New York
went on strike.  Until then,
the paper’s book review section
had been seen as the ultimate arbiter of literary and academic quality
in the
United States.  Its own quality, however,
was not universally acknowledged.  In New
York City itself a group of serious young intellectuals, writers and
despised the NYT for what they saw as its philistinism and low

night at dinner in the apartment of
Barbara and Jason Epstein, a group of these critics were rejoicing at
disappearance of the paper from the Manhattan bookstands.  Then they realized that the event was not just
a source of satisfaction; it was also a business opportunity.
Besides Jason, a
powerful young editor at the leading trade publisher Random House and his wife
Barbara, one of the editors of the influential Partisan Review, those present
included the poet Robert Lowell, his wife Elizabeth Hardwick, and

was this group that founded
The New York Review of Books, with Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein as its joint
editors.  The
magazine went on to become a leading intellectual
journal of the English-speaking world.  Even though its
pre-eminence was
grudgingly acknowledged, it was also resented both by those who
disliked its
left-of-centre politics and by those who felt excluded from its magic


Epstein Names

  • Sir Jacob Epstein,
    based in Britain, was a
    pioneer of modern sculpture in the first half of the 20th century.
  • Charlotte “Eppie” Epstein coached the US Olympic swimming team in the 1920’s. She was known as the mother of women’s swimming in America. 
  • Brian Epstein was the Liverpool manager
    of the Beatles during the 1960’s. 
  • Jason and Barbara Epstein were co-founders
    of The New York Review of Books in 1963
  • Jeffrey Epstein was the disgraced financier who hanged himself in prison in 2019.

Select Epstein Numbers Today

  • 1,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 9,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in South Africa)


Select Epstein 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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