Hoffman Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Hoffman Meaning
in its origins may be German or Jewish or both.
A German Name. Hofmann
and Hoffmann are fairly common German surnames, from hof meaning “farmstead” or “court”
and mann “man.”
Originally this was a status name for a farmer who owned his own
land. But it soon came to denote the manager or steward of a
manor farm.
German names often changed their spelling according to local
dialect. In German-speaking Silesia (now part of Poland),
the spelling was Hoffmann as the local dialect produced a short “o” in hof. Elsewhere it could be
Hofmann; while in Holland, where the surname also appeared (where it
denoted an ordinary worker on a manor farm), the spelling tended to be
A Jewish Name. When
Jewish families were obligated to take surnames in German-speaking
lands in the early 19th century, it is thought that many who had the
role of managing the farms of others adopted the Hoffman
name.  An
alternative view put forward is that the name came from the Hebrew name
Tikvah (Hope), an abbreviation of the German hoffnung or hope, and thus Hoffman
would mean “hopeful man.” Jewish Hoffmans could come from
different places in central and eastern Europe as far east as Lithuania
and Ukraine.

The American spelling is generally Hoffman, but sometimes Huffman.

Resources on

Hoffman Ancestry

Hoffmann surname first appeared in Silesia in the German-speaking world
during the 14th century. Melchior Hofmann was a visionary religious
leader in northern Germany in the early 16th century (he was to have
some 20th century descendants, Karl and Nicholas von Hoffman, in
America). Then there was Friedrich Hoffmann, the physician to
Frederick I of Prussia in the early 18th century.

Today the Hofmanns and Hoffmanns number some 140,000 in Germany,
and Switzerland (plus additional Hoffmanns around Poznan and elsewhere
in Poland); while there are a further 10,000 Hofmans in the

Early Hoffmans in America were to be found in New
York state.

New York There
was a Dutch influence on early Hoffmans who
settled here. Martin Hermanzen Hoffman arrived
in Dutch New York from Estonia in 1657. His descendants settled
in Ulster county. Johannes Huffman came in the 1720’s and his
family later moved to a Dutch area
of New Jersey.

There was also a Hoffman line in Dutchess county, New York descended
from a Conrad Hoffman who had arrived there in the 1720’s from German
Westphalia. Philip Hoffman, a lawyer from Dutchess county, and
his wife Helena Kissam “were among the most valuable members of early
society in New York.”

Meanwhile, Nicholas Hoffman was a New York
merchant who had married into the powerful Ogden family. From
this line came the Ogden Hoffman lawyers and politicians of the early

Maryland and North Carolina
Other early Hoffmans have been traced to Maryland and North
Carolina. William Hoffman ran at paper
mill in Baltimore county, Maryland which printed the money that the
Continental Army used during the Revolutionary War. Three Hoffman
brothers were pioneer settlers in North Carolina at this time (their
story is narrated in F.W. Hoffman’s 1998 book The Hoffmans of North Carolina Revisited).

Generally, Hoffmans in America will be either German or Jewish.
One guide for the arrivals in the second half of the 19th century is
that if
they came to the Midwest (and particularly to the farming states there)
they were likely to be German; but if they came
to New York they were probably Jewish.

Midwest Hoffmans
Among those Hoffmans who came to the Midwest were:

  • John and Margaret Hoffman from Bavaria who came to upstate New
    York in the 1840’s. Their son Lorenz (Lawrence) headed west to
    Carroll county, Iowa.
  • Henry
    who arrived from Switzerland with his brothers in
    the 1850’s and settled in Jo Daviess county, Illinois.
  • Johannes Hoffman who came from Hanover in Germany in 1856, first
    to Wisconsin and then to Minnesota.
  • and August Hoffman and his wife Louise who came from Prussia in
    1857 and settled in Columbia county, Wisconsin.

There were Jewish Hoffmans in the Midwest and William Hoffman’s 1961
book Tales of Hoffman writes
about growing up in the Jewish community of Minneapolis-St. Paul in the
early 20th century.

Ireland. There were
Hoffmans who fled the Rhineland Palatinate in 1709 because of religious
persecution and ended up in Ireland. They
were settled in Limerick. Some later made their home in Kerry.

South Africa. Johan
Bernard Hoffman was a German immigrant to the Cape who arrived on the Vrybeigt in 1744. He rose to
be a person of some standing in the Dutch colony, owning the Libertas
farmstead in Stellenbosch.

South Africa by the 20th century had become a home for Jewish Hoffman
immigrants. N.D. Hoffman, brought up in
Lithuania, came to South Africa in 1889 and was the founder of the
Jewish press there. Lenny Hoffmann, born into a Jewish family
near Cape
Town in 1934, moved to London and was one of the foremost British
judges of his time.


Hoffman Miscellany

Martin Hermanzen Hoffman.  Martin Hermanzen Hoffman was undoubtedly the first
Hoffman to step ashore in America.  He was in fact born in Estonia
(then part of Sweden) in 1624, the son of Hermann Hofman.  At the
age of 33, he set sail for New York, then New Amsterdam and a Dutch

His first marriage, to Lysbeth Hermans in 1663, ended
within the year.  But his second marriage in 1664, to the Dutch
woman Emmerentje Claesen de Witte, produced three children and the line
continued through the youngest son Zacharias who settled in Ulster
county.  Eleven generations of this family were tracked in E.A.
Hoffman’s 1899 book Genealogy of the
Hoffman Family

Reader Feedback – Hoffmans in Ireland.  What about
mentioning the Hoffman families who fled the Rhineland in 1709 and were
sent to
Ireland.  These Hoffman families were Germans not Jewish.

My ancestors were Palatine Hoffmans who along
with other German Palatines were sent to Ireland by the English Queen
Anne to
bolster the Protestant religion.  These families settled in
Limerick but
later on in the mid-18th century our Hoffman family moved to live on
Blennerhassett lands in Kerry.  Today there are Hoffman
descendants still
living in Kerry.  They are known as the Irish Palatines.

Tania Macdonald nee Hoffman (tanimac@slingslot.co.nz) 

William Hoffman’s Paper Mill.  William Hoffman had learnt the craft of paper-making in Germany, near
Frankfurt.  He had come to America with his wife Susanna in 1765
and, ten years later, had started a paper-making enterprise in
Baltimore county close by the border of Maryland and Pennsylvania (at
Gunpowder Falls where he could harness the water power).

Almost all of the paper on which Continental money was
printed during the Revolutionary War was printed by William Hoffman at
this mill.  A marker there today commemorates the event:

“The first paper maker in Maryland was William
Hoffman.  In 1775 he built his first mill on Gunpowder Falls a
quarter of a mile upstream from the present Hoffmanville bridge.
In 1776 Congress adopted watermarked paper for its currency.
Hoffmanville Mills manufactured this paper as well as writing and
wrapping paper.”

The business lasted more than a hundred years at this
location, being handed down to William Hoffman’s son and then to his

Henry Hoffman in Illinois.  Henry Hoffman lived in Jo Daviess county, Illinois after
his arrival in the state in 1854.  He worked on the early
railroads and that may have been how he came to know a Bavarian woman
who lived in Peru, Lasalle county in central Illinois.  In April
1858 Henry went to the Lasalle county courthouse where he obtained his
naturalization papers and a marriage license for himself and Mary
Donner.  They were married two days later.  Henry was nine
years younger than his bride.

They had no children.  Mary died of a heart attack
in 1872.  Her funeral (which Henry did not attend) was recorded in
the German language records of the St. John’s Lutheran church in
Massbach and she was buried in the Elizabeth City cemetery.

The Hoffman Jewish Family from Lithuania.  The Hoffmans lived in the village of Pokroy and were traders of fruit,
vegetables, chickens, and geese.   On the outskirts of Pokroy
lived a Baron Von Roc, a German nobleman who administered the
area.  He had a whole court with a mansion for himself, living
quarters for all his servants, and stables for his horses.  The
Hoffmans supplied the Baron with fruit, vegetables and chickens and it
was the Baron who gave them their surname as “man of the court.”

The first recorded Hoffman was Chayim Hoffman.   His family
later emigrated to South Africa.  They are to be found today in
America and Israel as well.

ND Hoffman in South Africa.  The pioneer of Yiddish journalism in South Africa
was the professional belletrist Nehemiah Dov Ber Hoffman who in 1889
brought the first Hebrew-Yiddish typeface to the land.  Moving
from the Cape to the Transvaal in 1890, he founded South Africa’s first
Yiddish weekly, Der Afrikaner Israelit, which lasted six
months. Returning to the Cape, Hoffman started a second weekly, titled Ha-Or,
which lasted from April 1895 to July 1897.

Hoffman’s volume of memoirs, Sefer Ha-zikhroynes (published in
1916), was the first full-length Yiddish book to be printed in South
Africa.  It described the author’s experiences in Europe, America
(in Hebrew), and Africa.  He was the first writer to record the
eastern European immigrant response to life in South Africa.  His
account of the hardships experienced by the traveling Jewish smous
was the first appearance in South African Yiddish literature of what
was to become one of its major themes.  His Yearbook of
1920 contained important information about country communities.


Select Hoffman Names

  • William Hoffman started the first
    paper mill in Maryland in 1776.
  • Leonard Hoffmann, born in South
    Africa, was one of the most prominent British Law Lords of the second half of the 20th century.
  • Abbie Hoffman was the social and political activist of the 1960’s who co-founded the Yippie party.
  • Dustin Hoffman, the movie actor, broke through to fame with his performance in The Graduate in 1967.

Select Hoffman Numbers Today

  • 2,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 60,000 in America (most numerous
    in Pennsylvania)
  • 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).


Select Hoffman and Like Surnames 

The first wave of German immigration into America came in the early 1700’s from the Rhine Palatine and Switzerland.  They were fleeing religious persecution at home.  Most ended up in Pennsylvania, bringing their Mennonite church with them.  Some went to the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York.  Their Germanic names often changed under English rule to English-style names.  Thus Fischer became Fisher, Schneider Snyder, Hubner Hoover and so forth.

The reasons for immigration were different in the 19th century – in search of a better life, sometimes to avoid the draft.  They came from all German states and went not just to Pennsylvania but all over as the middle and west of the country was opening up.  And they brought German skills with them, notably beer-making.

Here are some of the notable German surnames in America that you can check out.





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