Goodman Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Goodman Surname 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 surname.

Goodman Surname Resources on The Internet

Goodman Surname Ancestry 

  • from Wales, England, Germany and from Jewish emigrants
  • to America, Canada and Australia

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 England. 

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 counsellor 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 America.

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 Goodman from North Carolina was an early arrival in Indiana in 1818.

German. Many of the German Gutmanns became Goodmans in America. Michael 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.

Among 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 1850’s.
  • 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 number in 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 Philadelphia, 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.

Canada.  Nicholas Gudmundsson was an immigrant from Iceland who came to Canada in 1891 and there became Nicholas Goodman, settling 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.

Australia.  George Barron Goodman was Australia’s first professional photographer.  This Jewish settler from London arrived in Sydney with his daguerrotype equipment on the Eden in 1851.  However, his time as a photographer was not long.  He had sold his equipment by 1849 and set himself up as a spirits merchant.  He died in 1851, leaving a wife Sarah (who promptly remarried) and two daughters.

Goodman Surname Miscellany

The Goodmans at Ruthin.  The father of Edward Goodman was Thomas ap Edward ap Ievan Goch of Llandyrnog, a small 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:

“Here 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 Gallery of Wales. 

Goodmans in Anglesey.  Goodmans appear to have settled in Beaumaris about the middle of the 15th century, having 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:

“Goodman 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 colony.”

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 have 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 been 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. John 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 county, Indiana with his family sometime around 1818. He settled west of the river at the time when the Indians were numerous 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 farmer 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 sons Christopher and Michael sometime in the 1720’s. The senior male line went from Christopher to William to John Tobias, 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 Weathers 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 library.

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 door to door in town and throughout the county, peddling merchandise out of a 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 items 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 the 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 decades.

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.

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)

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.



Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *