Hirsch Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Hirsch Surname Meaning

The surname Hirsch derives from the Old German word hirsch meaning “deer” and described either someone who was a game hunter or who was a keeper of deer. It began as a first name, first recorded in 1170, and had become a surname by the 14th century.

Hirsch can also be Jewish. The deer meaning had associations with the Hebrew name Naphtali and Hirsch was often adopted as a Jewish ornamental name.

Hirsch Surname Resources on The Internet

Hirsch Surname Ancestry

  • from Germany (Bavaria) and from Jewish emigrants
  • to America, England and Canada

The Hirsch name was particularly prominent in Bavaria, which is perhaps not surprising as this region is heavily forested and famous for its hunting. Today the Hirsch population numbers about 20-25,000 in Germany, with a concentration around Nuremburg, and a further 2-3,000 across the border in Austria.

In 1765 Johannes Franz Hirsch started a small leather workshop for shoes and saddles in lower Austria and his descendants still run the company today. Baron Maurice von Hirsch was a 19th century Jewish philanthropist from Munich whose grandfather was the first Jewish landowner in Bavaria and whose father acted as banker for the Bavarian king.

America. Hirsch immigrants came mostly from German-speaking lands, early into Pennsylvania and later, mainly Jewish here, spread all across the country. There were Jewish Hirsches from Lithuania as well, such as Rabbi Mayer Zvi Hirsch who came to San Francisco in 1907.

Pennsylvania.  Simon Hirsch from the Rhine Palatine arrived sometime in the 1750’s and settled initially in Montgomery county. Many descendants later adopted the Harsh or Hersh spelling.

David Hirsch also came from the Rhine Palatine but left there at a much later time, following the failed revolutions of 1848. He settled at first in Erie county, Pennsylvania before moving to Ohio where he acted as the spiritual leader of the German community in Washington county.

South.  Some Jewish immigrants arrived before the Civil War, finding business as merchants in the South:

  • Aaron Hirsch came from Alsace in 1852 and set up a general store with partners in Batesville, Arkansas. He spent the Civil War smuggling on the Confederate side.
  • Samuel Hirsch came from Germany to America in 1853 and later made his home in Memphis, Tennessee. He became a successful cotton merchant. E.D. Hirsch, born in Memphis in 1928, made his name as an English professor in cultural literacy.  
  • Joseph Hirsch from Germany started with his brothers a clothing shop in Atlanta in 1863. The store, burned down by Sherman in the following year, later grew into a successful department store. Joseph was able to win election to the city council.  
  • Jules Hirsch from Alsace came to Houston from Alsace in 1871 to make his fortune. He prospered as an investor in the Humble oil field. Part of that land is now the Hirsch Memorial Park. His son Maurice served with distinction during World War Two.  
  • while Emile Hirsch, also from Alsace, came to Plaquemine, Louisiana in the 1880’s, opened a furniture store, and later became a successful real estate investor.

West Coast.  Others headed West. Five Hirsch brothers from Wurttemburg were drawn to California by the Gold Rush, but by 1852 had moved north to Portland, Oregon where they prospered as Jewish businessmen and later as politicians:

  • Solomon was a state senator in 1872 and almost became the US Senator for Oregon in 1885.
  • while Edward was appointed State Treasurer in 1878, a post he held for nine years.

Max Hirsch, representing a later generation, arrived from Germany in 1886 and, together with his son Harold, built up their White Stag skiwear company in Portland to be one of the largest skiwear companies in the world

Joseph Hirsch from the Black Forest area of Germany came to Irvington, California (near San Francisco) in 1867. He was one of its first settlers and opened a general store there. The Hirsch family has remained in Irvington, now part of the city of Fremont.

England. The Hirsch numbers in England were few in the 19th century, as there was little Hirsch immigration at that time. A few came in the 1930’s escaping the Nazis. Kurt Hirsch left Berlin for London in 1934 for these reasons. He was interned in England during the war as an alien but flourished afterwards as a mathematics professor.

Canada. John Hirsch survived World War Two in Hungary but lost both his parents in Auschwitz. He subsequently arrived as a child refugee in Canada and was adopted by a family in Winnipeg. He became the legendary co-founder of the Manitoba Theater Center.

Hirsch Surname Miscellany

Baron Maurice von Hirsch.  The Baron’s grandfather, the first Jewish landowner in Bavaria, was ennobled with the appellation auf Gereuth in 1818.  His father, a banker to the Bavarian king, was created a baron in 1869.  For generations this family occupied a prominent position in the German Jewish community.

Maurice worked in the banking business in Brussels, London and Paris, amassing a large fortune along the way.  He increased this by purchasing and working railway concessions in Austria, Turkey and the Balkans and by speculating in sugar and copper. He lived in great splendor in Paris.

During a trip to Turkey he was struck by the poverty and desperation of the Jewish population there and decided, with his great wealth, that he could do something about it.  His initial attempts to improve the lot of the Jewish people in Russia met with resistance from the Government there.  He turned his attention with reluctance to Jewish emigration.

He was the founder of the Jewish Colonization Association which sponsored large-scale Jewish immigration to Argentina.  The association built up large Jewish agricultural colonies in Palestine and Canada, as well as Argentina.  He also founded a benevolent trust in the United States for the benefit of Jewish immigrants there.  When he died in 1896 the Baron was still among the five richest individuals in Europe.

Aaron Hirsch in Arkansas.  Aaron Hirsch had arrived in Batesville, Arkansas in the 1850’s and owned one of the largest general stores in the area.  In 1858 he secured with his associate Simon Adler the U.S. Mail contract and ran a four-horse stagecoach from Batesville to Jacksonport in neighboring Jackson county three times a week. Dubbed the Colonel Noland in honor of Batesville’s well known resident Charles Noland, the stagecoach had room for nine passengers.

During the Civil War Aaron Hirsch would pass through the enemy lines for the Confederates smuggling cotton for gold and quinine and, it was also suspected, for slaves.  He was arrested in 1864 for disloyalty to the Union cause.  It was suspected by then that he had sent all of his slaves off to Texas. He was subsequently released, but did not return to Batesville.

Instead he moved to Newport in Arkansas, set up another general store, and became one of the civic leaders of the town.  His sons Lazar and Jacob followed him in business there in the 1870’s.

David Hirsch of Washington County, Ohio.  Daniel Hirsch, banished from Germany as a failed revolutionary in the uprisings in 1848, spent the latter part of his life as the spiritual leader of the German community in Washington county, Ohio.  There were seven church areas that he regularly pastored during his thirty years in the community, while also conducting German school as well.

He died in 1893 and his tombstone reads as follows:

“Here rests in peace our husband and father Pastor Daniel Hirsch. born March 18, 1815 in Homburg, Rhein, Bavarian Pfalz, died May 19, 1893. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. The spirit speaks: They rest from their labor and their works follow them.”

The Hirsch Family in Irvington, California.  Joseph Hirsch opened his first general store in Irvington, California in 1867.  When he died twenty years later, the store was being run by his surviving wife Caroline (there is a surviving photograph of her standing on the porch of her store in 1896), together with her four young sons.

Each of the Hirsch sons later followed different paths of employment.  William (Bill) and his brother Alfred worked as plumbers and ran a well-drilling business; Edwin managed the store; and Otto – perhaps the most adventurous – was involved with real estate, insurance and farming.

Otto had purchased had some vineyards prior to prohibition and then had to find some other use as the wineries were closed. He was able to lease the land to dairy farmers.

His grandson Mark recalled one of the many stories about Otto. He apparently gave property to a company that made radiators in order to add to the local commerce and create jobs for the area.  “In the old days, you did whatever you could to bring business into the area,” said Mark.  He added that this type of promotion would never happen today.

Otto’s home and barn at 42,800 Caldas Court survived until July 2013 when they were demolished by the city of Fremont.

Hirsch Rabbis in San Francisco.  Mayer Zvi Hirsch was born in Lithuania in 1874 and ordained a rabbi there when he was eighteen years old. After he immigrated to America, he first worked as a rabbi in Denver and then, when he was 33 years old, he came to San Francisco.  Besides being a rabbi at the city’s Anshe Sfard, he also served as a rabbi at congregations B’nai David and Keneseth Israel.  In addition, he became recognized as a leading authority in ancient Hebrew literature and Jewish philosophy.

His oldest son Samuel was also a rabbi.  During World War II President Roosevelt made him the military chaplain for the combined military services throughout the western United States. During and after the war, he also met many Jewish refugees at the San Francisco docks, provided their entry bonds, and helped them find shelter and food.  As a vice-president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in San Francisco, he greatly assisted the immigration of Jewish refugees to the United States.

Reader Feedback – Francis Hirsch to Canada.  My mother was Francis Hirsch, the daughter of Josef Hirsch and Cartella Meuller who met and married at Karamurat in Romania. They immigrated to Canada in 1925.

Kathleen Hirsch (Radermaggie66@gmail.com).

Hirsch Names

  • Baron von Hirsch was a wealthy philanthropist from Bavaria who founded in 1881 a benevolent trust in America for Jewish immigrants. 
  • Joel Hirsch was an award-winning racing columnist and founding President of the National Turf Writers Association.  
  • Sy Hersh is an investigating journalist best known for his exposure of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1969. 
  • George Hirsch is a magazine publisher and co-founder in 1976 of the New York City Marathon.

Hirsch Numbers Today

  • 7,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Hirsch 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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