Goodman Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Goodman Meaning
Goodman, coming from gode
meaning “good” and man, would be a status word describing the master of
the household (an alternative possibility is that it derived from the
Norse personal name Guethmund).
The German Gutman
and Gutmann have the same
meaning. In America and Britain Goodman is often a Jewish

Goodman Resources on

Goodman Ancestry 

England and Wales. The Godeman name appeared in the Domesday Book in East Anglia.

Wales. The first traceable Goodman family seems to have started with Edward Goodman, a cloth merchant of Ruthin in north Wales who had adopted the Goodman name. His son Gabriel was made Dean of Westminster in London in 1561. A painting of Gabriel, entitled Dean Gabriel Goodman, Kneeling at the Altar, hangs in Westminster Abbey to this day. 

Prominent Goodman families were also to be found in the 16th century at Beaumaris in Anglesey and across the border at Chester in Engtland. 

England.  Records of Goodmans at Southhill parish in Bedfordshire began in 1561. Rowland Goodman was a prosperous fishmonger in London during Elizabethan times and namesake of what was and is still called Goodman’s Field near the Tower of London. And a Goodman family from Cornwall, initially at Lewannick and later at Redruth, dates back to 1520.

Jewish. An early
Jewish Goodman in London was Tobias Goodman, a preacher in the
London synagogues in the early 1800’s. Louis Goodman was a linen
draper and
town councillor in London whose wife Julia, whom he married in 1836,
was a well-known British portrait painter. Their seven children
were all talented – notably Walter a painter, Edward a travel writer,
and Miriam a concert pianist. Henry Goodman, born in the East End
of London, is a Jewish actor who has played, among other parts, Tevya
in Fiddler on the Roof.

Bernard Goodman was a refugee from the Nazis in London in 1944.
His Gutmann parents in Germany had been rich Jewish art collectors in
the early 1900’s. But the Nazis seized their art and foully
murdered them. Bernard’s son Simon Goodman recounted the story
and the efforts to retrieve the art in The Orpheus Clock.

America. There have been
Goodman arrivals from England and Gutmann arrivals from Germany
and sometimes elsewhere in central Europe.

English. John Goodman
arrived at Plymouth colony on the Mayflower
in 1620, but did did not survive beyond the second winter in

Benjamin Goodman, transported to Barbados as a young boy in 1672,
somehow made his way to Maryland
and then
to Virginia (where his descendants were to be found for the next two
hundred years). Other early Goodmans in Virginia were Jacob
Goodman, born in Washingtion county in
1745, and Ansel Goodman, born in Hanover county in 1752. Micajah
from North Carolina was an early arrival in
Indiana in 1818.

German. Many
of the German Gutmanns became Goodmans in America.
and Catherine Guthmann
came to Pennsylvania from Germany
sometime in the
1720’s. Their family later settled in
North Carolina.
Gutmanns/Goodmans in Berks county, Pennsylvania
records trace back to
1742 and Henry Goodman’s birth there in Jefferson township.

later Gutmanns/Goodmans were:

  • Francis
    Gutmann from Hesse who came to America as a young
    boy in 1830, fought in the Civil War as Francis Goodman, and settled in
    Allegan county, Michigan.
  • various Gutmanns from Baden who arrived in Ohio in the
  • Peter Goodman from Hesse who married Catharina Speer in
    Philadelphia in the early 1860’s
  • and Abraham Gutmann from Bavaria who came to New York in the
    1870’s. His children as Goodmans moved onto Kentucky.

Jewish. Many
Goodmans in America have been of Jewish origin, including a
the entertainment business; Benny Goodman, the jazz bandleader of the
swing era; Al Goodman, a popular musical director and conductor at that
time; Frank Goodman, a Broadway theater publicist; and, more recently,
Steve Goodman, the folk singer-songwriter.

Oscar Goodman, who grew up in Philadlphia, has been a prominent figure
in the recent history of Las Vegas, acting as a defense lawyer for many
of its crime bosses and, from 1999, serving as its flamboyant mayor
(John L. Smith wrote a book titled Of Rats and Men: Oscar Goodman’s
Life from Mob Mouthpiece to Mayor of Las Vegas
in 2003). His
son Ross is an attorney noted for taking up high-profile cases.

Nicholas Gudmundsson was an immigrant from
Iceland who came to Canada in 1891 and there became Nicholas Goodman,
in Manitoba. His eldest son Olafur was a
fisherman who drowned in Cormorant Lake. Another
son Palmie fought in World War One and later farmed in Selkirk


Goodman Miscellany

The Goodmans at Ruthin.  The father
of Edward Goodman was Thomas ap Edward ap Ievan Goch of Llandyrnog, a
village in Denbighshire just north of Ruthin.
Based on Edward’s birth date, his father would have been born
about 1456
or earlier.  He may also have been known
as “Redsleeves,” as goch means
“the red” in Welsh.  There is
some speculation that this Thomas may have been one of the Welsh
bodyguards of
Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

Edward Goodman was a prosperous burgess and
mercer of Ruthin.  He died in 1560 and
there was a brass tablet in Ruthin castle commemorating him and his
wife Cisely
and their eight children.  He
was recorded there as follows:

under lyeth Edward Goodman, burgess and mercer of Ruthin, who
in the 84th year of his age departed this life on May 22, 1560.”

These Goodmans were based initially at Exmewe
House and later (until the 1830’s) at Nantclwyd House in Ruthin.  The portraits of Edward Goodman and his son
Gawen had hung in those houses and are now with the National Museum and
of Wales. 

Goodmans in Anglesey.  Goodmans appear
to have settled in Beaumaris about the middle of the 15th century,
probably arrived there from either Ruthin or Chester.
Early Goodmans recorded there were Richard
Goodman, bailiff in 1483, and Rowland Goodman, a wine trader some
thirty years
later.  The Goodmans became prominent
merchants in Beaumaris during Elizabethan times.

Goodmans at Southill in Bedfordshire.  The parish of Southill is located near Biggleswade in Bedfordshire.  Records of Goodmans at this parish began in
1561.  The following are some early
marriage records:

Date Parish Church Groom Bride
1588 Kempston John Goodman Jane Shipabottam
1590 Kempston Nicholas Goodman Rose Reynolds
1616 Tingrith Thomas Goodman Mercy Reeve
1634 Saint Mary Nathaniel Goodwin Mary Goodman
1654 Biggleswade Richard Miller Mary Goodman
1657 Biggleswade William Goodman Elizabeth Curtis
1663 Saint Mary William Stringer Mary Goodman
1686 Kempston Thomas Goodman Joyce Moors
1688 Tingrith James Goodman Elizabeth Pointer
1695 Tingrith John Goodman Mary Gibbs
1698 Tingrith Richard Gibbs Mary Goodman

John Goodman of The Mayflower.  John Goodman
of the Mayflower was mentioned in
several of the early Plymouth colony records.
One story about him goes as follows:

and Peter Brown were cutting thatch in
early 1621 about a mile from the Plymouth
settlement and wandered away and got lost.  The
next day the colonists sent ten to twelve
armed men to seek them, going out as far as seven or eight miles,
afraid that
they had been captured by Indians.  Finally,
after the searchers had given up, Goodman and Brown found their way
back to the

However, John Goodman died
of the “sickness” in the second year of the new colony.
Thus he is not on the list of those Pilgrims
from whom members of the Mayflower Society may claim descent.

No Goodman was in fact descended from him,
despite what many oral or traditional Goodman family genealogies may
claimed (including that his purported wife or children arrived on a
later Mayflower voyage or on the Speedwell).  Early genealogies were often poorly
researched, based on limited information, and may have in some cases
outright frauds.

To complicate matters,
there is an oft-published hoax which claimed that John Goodman was
really John
Dunham in disguise – i.e. that his name was in fact a pseudonym.
Dunham was still living in Leiden after the Mayflower had
departed for
America and came to Plymouth sometime between 1628 and 1631.  But
he was
most obviously not the same person as the John Goodman of the Mayflower
who had by that time died in America.

Micajah Goodman of Vigo County, Indiana.  Micajah Goodman was from North Carolina, fought in the War of 1812, and came to Vigo
Indiana with his family sometime around 1818.
He settled west of the river at the time when the Indians were
and wild animals abundant.  His
reminiscences included killing a panther and almost killing an Indian.

His hogs, as was the custom, ran at large in
the woods.  When a hog was wanted the
simply went out for it as if he were looking for game.
On one of these excursions Goodman espied an
Indian apparently busily engaged in skinning a hog.
Resting his gun against a tree he was about
to fire when the Indian rose and held up the hide he had been removing.  It was the hide of a deer.
In killing this deer he had of course
committed no trespass on the settlers’ rights.

The Goodman family had been members of the New Hope Church in Sugar
Creek.  They later withdrew their support
because the church was pro-slavery.
Micajah’s two sons John and William instead organized a society
for the
Congregational Church and helped in the building of West Vigo Church
which was
dedicated in 1853.   Micajah followed his sons to the new
church and lived onto 1873.

Guthmanns and Goodmans in North Carolina.  Michael
and Catherine Guthmann came to Pennsylvania from Germany with their two
Christopher and Michael sometime in the 1720’s.
The senior male line went from Christopher to William to John
born in 1767, by which time the Guthmanns had become Goodmans and had
moved to
North Carolina.

John Tobias Goodman
married Margaret Nussman and most of his family were raised in the
Creek area of Iredell county, North Carolina.
John died in 1842 and was buried with his wife in the old
Filhour family graveyard in the woods in nearby Rowan County.  There is an extensive family tree of these
Goodmans drawn by Hattie Goodman in 1925 in the Cabarrus county

Abraham Goodman of Shelbyville, Indiana.  Abraham Goodman had been born into a poor Jewish family in Poland in 1885. By the time he was fourteen years old, his
family had saved enough money to send him to England.
He later made his way to America, working in
New York City for two years as a tailor’s apprentice while attending
school in
the evenings.  He moved to the Midwest in
1905 and wound up in Shelbyville by 1910.

Goodman soon became a familiar sight to county residents as he went
to door in town and throughout the county, peddling merchandise out of
horse-drawn cart.  By 1912 he was able to
lease a store on South Harrison Street.
His business grew rapidly and in a few years he expanded into
the second
floor and into half of the storeroom north of the building.

Goodman followed two basic business practices
that contributed to his success.  He set
one price for all patrons and returned cash rather than credit for
returned.  Both were unusual business
policies in the early 1900’s.  At first
he carried basic dime store goods.  Then
he went to men’s clothing and finally women’s clothing.

In 1916 Goodman brought something new to
Shelby County, a fashion show.  In
September of that year he put on an exhibition using models to parade
latest fabrics and fall styles.  He
decorated his store with plants and sold no merchandise that day.  Ladies’ apparel such as suits, wraps and
lingerie was displayed, refreshments were served, and musical
entertainment was
offered to the public.  It was a
resounding success and became an annual event played before capacity
crowds for

Goodman eventually sold the
store to his employee Major T. Jeter.
But by that time his interests had expanded beyond the city and
owned a chain of eleven department stores throughout Indiana.   He died in Shelbyville in 1950 at the
age of
65 and was buried at the Beth-El Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Simon Goodman’s The Orpheus Clock.  Simon’a forebears in Germany were known as “court Jews” who serviced
the financial needs of Germany’s multitude of princely courts.  At
German unification Eugen Gutmann prospered big time.  He moved his
Dresder bank to Berlin, built a palace at Potsdam and became the
confidant of royalty.  And he amassed art on a grand scale.

The Gutmann collection, continued by Eugen’s son Friedrich, whose
collection included the fabulous 16th century Orpheus clock, so named
after the relief of Orpheus on the side.

“If you can visualize the
chronometrically perfect components rendered in gilt brass,with a case
of gold and bronze covered with intricate high-relief depictions of
scenes from the legend of Orpheus in the Underworld, you have an idea
of the mechanical mastery and artistic genius of this clock.”

However, Friedrich’s life and possessions came under threat when the
Nazis came to power in 1933.   Friedrich managed to escape to
Holland while there was still time.  But he was trapped after the
Nazis invaded Holland.  They coerced him into selling items in his
collection for paltry sums and then foully murdered him and his wife in
a concentration
camp in 1944.

His son Bernard Goodman was safe in England by this time.  He
spent much of the rest of his life fruitlessly hunting the lost
goods.  Bernard’s son Simon Goodman took up the tale in his 1995
book The Orpheus Clock.


Goodman Names

  • Julia Goodman was a British
    Victorian portrait painter.
  • Benny Goodman was the
    great bandleader from the jazz swing era. He was of Polish Jewish origin.
  • Martin Goodman was an American
    publisher of pulp magazines, launching in the 1930’s the company that
    would eventually become Marvel Comics.
  • The Happy Goodman Family was a
    Southern Gospel singing group founded by Howard Goodman who were highly
    popular in the 1960’s and 70’s.
  • George Goodman was a popular
    American economics author who wrote under the pen-name of Adam Smith.
  • Len Goodman has been the senior dance
    judge on TV shows such as Strictly
    Come Dancing.

Select Goodman Numbers Today

  • 16,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Hertfordshire)
  • 27,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Goodman 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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