Halpern Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Halpern Surname Meaning

Halpern is a Jewish surname derived from the German town of Heilbronn in Wurttemburg. Heilbrunn had a large and influential Jewish population in medieval times. Halpern and Halperin are the main spellings today, dividing approximately 75/25. 

Halpern Surname Resources on The Internet

Halpern and Halperin Surname Ancestry

  • from Jewish emigrants
  • to America (New York) and England

Heilbronn gave rise to the Jewish name of Halpern even though the town had emptied of Jews by 1500. There has been one DNA connection to an old Heilperin rabbinical family from Germany at that time. Another line is thought to have connected to Rabbi Reuven Halpern of Glowno in the early 1800’s and then possibly before that to Rabbi Jehiel Heilprin or Heilperin of Minsk a century or so earlier.

The Halpern and Halperin emigrants to America came mainly from the Jewish quarters in the Russian Empire at that time. Sizeable numbers came from Galicia, then part of Poland. Some records from Lvov date from the early 1800’s. Others came from lands that were then part of the Austria-Hungary empire but are now part of Ukraine.

There was a tidal wave of emigrants to America at the turn of the 20th century. Others escaped, to America or Israel, before or after the Nazi atrocities.

America.  Halperns and Halperins came mainly to the New York area. Some remained strongly rooted in their Yiddish culture. Others had a broader American experience. Among those in New York were:

  • Ralph Halpern who was born in Manhattan in 1890. He became a state assemblyman for Queens. His son Seymour followed in his footsteps.
  • Harry Halpern who was born on the Lower East Side in 1899. He became a very prominent conservative rabbi in Brooklyn.
  • Harry Halpern who arrived in the early 1900’s from Russia, worked in the garment center, and settled in the Bronx. His son Morty Halpern became a legendary Broadway stage manager.
  • Moshe-Leyb Halpern who came in 1908, aged 22, from Zlotshev in eastern Galicia to avoid the draft. He became well-known in the 1920’s as a modern Yiddish poet.
  • and Sam and Arie Halpern who came in 1949 after World War Two, having survived the Nazi slave camp at Kamionka in Poland. The brothers started with supermarkets and then expanded into property, becoming one of the biggest property developers in New Jersey.

Jacob and Judith Halpern emigrated to America from Jablanow in Galicia in 1913. They settled in Fall River, Massachusetts. Later Halperns of this family changed their name to White.

Samuel and Rebeka Halperin came to Minneapolis from Odessa in Russia in 1900 where they raised five children, two boys and three girls. Hal Halperin became a manager of the Chicago office of Variety and Max Halperin a Chicago agent; while daughter Nan Halperin became a star of the vaudeville stage.

England. The Halpern numbers in England, mainly in London, are small. Moshe Halpern arrived in London from Lvov in 1910. Bernard and Olga Halpern were wealthy Jews in Austria who fled the Nazis and came to London in the 1930’s.  Their son Ralph, born in 1938, was a flamboyant British retail tycoon who rose to prominence in the 1980’s and was knighted. 

More recently, Rabbi Chaim Halpern has been a leading member of London’s orthodox rabbinate. And Colin Halpern acquired the UK Domino’s Pizza chain franchise in 1993 and is now a wealthy man.

Halpern Surname Miscellany

Jews in Heilbronn.  Heilbronn is a German city in the province of Wurttemburg. There were apparently Jews living there in the second half of the 11th century.   They initially encountered discrimination and persecution.  In 1298 the followers of Rindfleisch massacred 143 Jews at Heilbronn.  Jewish learning evidently flourished at that time as the names of scholars and teachers were recorded among the martyrs.

Jews re-established themselves in Heilbronn in 1316. They possessed a synagogue and a cemetery, and lived on a Judengasse, where non-Jews also resided.   During the Black Death persecutions in 1349 the community was expelled and their property transferred to the city.  Some returned in 1357 and in 1361 they obtained royal protection.

After 1411 King Sigismund granted the Jews of Heilbronn protection of life and property, limited taxation, freedom of movement, and judicial autonomy in Jewish lawsuits.  A Jewish oath was to apply in cases tried before the city court.

However, the Jews were expelled from Heilbronn three times during the 15th century, the last being in 1490 when the synagogue and the cemetery were confiscated. After that time there was no organized Jewish community in the town until the 1830’s when Jews were seen there again.  However, after the Nazis, only 10 Jews were recorded  as living in Heilbronn in 1967.

Halpern Records in Lvov.  Lvov, the historical capital of Galicia, is now part of Ukraine.  The following were some Halpern r4eocrds there of the early 1800’s.

Date Event
1801 Marriage of Naftali Heilperin
and Beridal Lax
1805 Death of Herz Heilpern
1806 Birth of Loeb, son of Israel
1808 Death of Samuel Heilpern
1808 Birth of Chaim Josef, son of
Aaron Alpern

Halpern to China, Halperin to Israel 

Fanny Halpern

Fanny Halpern had been born in Kracow in Poland in 1899.  She was the daughter of Simon Halpern who had been a Surgeon General in the Austrian army.  She studied medicine at the University of Vienna and, after working at various clinics in the city, she was invited to China in 1933 to teach at the Medical College of China in Shanghai.

In 1935 she organized China’s first modern psychiatric hospital, the Shanghai Mercy Hospital for Nervous Diseases. She became the hospital’s medical director, while at the same time serving as a consultant to several other medical institutions.  She founded the Mental Hygiene Association of Shanghai and the first committee on psychiatry in China.

Shortly after her mother passed away in 1951, Fanny moved to Vancouver to be near her brother George who had gone to Canada with his wife Ida in 1939.  Fanny Halpern died there in 1952.  George lived onto 1989.

Jozef Halperin

Josef, born in 1922, was the son of Chaim Halperin, active in the Zionist cause in the city of Lodz in Poland.  His elder brother Mordechai emigrated to Palestine in 1938.  One year later the Nazis occupied Lodz.  Josef then fled to the Polish territory that was occupied by the Soviets and began working as a director at a day school in the village of Dubrowna in present-day Belarus.  He was employed in that position for about a year.

After Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union, Jozef obtained fake Polish documents and joined the partisans in the forests of the Kielcy region where he remained until the end of the war.

In May 1945 Jozef formed a group of young Jewish survivors entitled Leherut (“Toward Freedom”).  The next year, after a six-month journey, they arrived to Palestine.  Jozef described his experiences in his book The Road to Freedom.

In 1948 he enrolled in the Rehovot branch of the Hebrew University where he earned a Master’s degree.  In 1958 he accepted a post in the Forest Research Institute as an entomologist.  Even after his retirement in 1987, he continued publishing articles, wrote two books, and created an album documenting his family history.

Origin of Halperns and Halperins in America

Country Halpern Halperin Total Percent
Russia   107    42   149    65
Poland    22     4    26    12
Austria    24     3    27    12
Elsewhere    23     1    24    11
Total   176    50   226

The numbers above are based on shipping records.

Nan Halperin, Vaudeville Star.  Nan Halperin rose to fame as a star of the vaudeville stage.  Her comedic musical numbers and her ability to change quickly into many elaborate costumes during a single act earned her the appellation of “the Wonder Girl.”

She started young.   Born in 1898, she secured her first acting part was at the age of six in Little Black Me. Her big break came in early 1915 when she headlined at New York’s Palace Theatre.  Halperin credited her fame to her talents as an actor and to her business acumen. “Many really talented performers do not get ahead because they do not know how to push themselves ahead,” she explained in a 1915 magazine interview.

Coinciding with Halperin’s vaudeville success in 1915 and 1916, newspapers publicized the story that her family was less persecuted than other Russian Jews.  Her grandfather was a baron and member of the czar’s court who gained his title because a relative had offered money to aid the Russian emperor during a war. The veracity of this story is uncertain.  Its circulation was possibly a publicity stunt to heighten the allure of Halperin, then a rising celebrity.

Among the most famous of Halperin’s musical numbers were her two burlesque “song cycles.” The first of these, which she began to perform in 1916, depicted five stages of girlhood. Halperin would grow before her audience from the youngest child in a family to a mischievous high school valedictorian, a comical bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding, a bride and, finally, a “blasé divorcée.”

In her second song cycle, originally performed in 1919, Halperin played an amusing young girl who becomes an indignant debutante and complains that her parents force her to wear “too many swell clothes all to catch just one lone man.”

By 1919, at age twenty-one, she was commanding a salary on a par with vaudeville’s highest-paid female performers. This secured her place in what was then called vaudeville’s “Big Time.”   She continued in vaudeville until she ended her professional acting career in 1934. She lived on in New York until her death in 1963.

Knives Were Out for the British Retail Tycoon Ralph Halpern.  Only days after the Fiona Wright story broke in 1987 in the News of the World scoop that she and Halpern had sex five times a night, Sir Ralph Halpern was being described by a Burton shareholder at the annual general meeting as the “second greatest Englishman after Churchill.”

Knighted in 1986, he would travel in the Burton Group’s private helicopter and make use of executive jets as others made use of trains. Wherever he went, he was accorded celebrity status.

After this kiss-and-tell exposure, the knives were out for the “five-times-a-night Burton boss.” Even then, it was said that he secretly enjoyed the notoriety and believed himself to be untouchable.  He was, however, ousted from his post by the Burton board in 1991.

Halpern Names

  • Moshe-Leyb Halpern was an influential Yiddish poet writing in New York in the 1920’s.
  • Nan Halperin became a star of the vaudeville stage in 1915.
  • Morty Halpern was considered the dean of Broadway stage managers. He died in 2006 at the age of 96.
  • Sir Ralph Halpern was a flamboyant British retail tycoon of the 1980’s.

Halpern Numbers Today

  • 3,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 500 elsewhere (most numerous in UK)

Halpern 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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