Hoffman Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Hoffman Surname Meaning

Hoffman 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 Hofman.

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.

Hoffman Surname Resources on The Internet

  • Hoffman. Hoffmans from Germany to Pennsylvania.
  • Hoffman. Hoffmans from Hanover to Minnesota.

Hoffman Surname Ancestry

  • from Germany and from Jewish emigrants
  • to America, Ireland and South Africa

The 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, Austria, and Switzerland (plus additional Hoffmanns around Poznan and elsewhere in Poland); while there are a further 10,000 Hofmans in the Netherlands.

America. 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 1800’s.

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 Hoffman 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.

Dustin Hoffman’s grandfather Frank and great grandfather Sam Moshko were both murdered in Ukraine by Russian secret police in the early 1920’s.  Frank had earlier made it to Boston where his son Harry, Dustin’s father, was born in 1907.

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 Surname 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 colony.

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 grandson.

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.

Reader Feedback – Hoffmans in Wisconsin.  My family name was originally spelt with two n’s.

My great grandfather was Johann M Hoffmann (1826-1900). He immigrated to Wisconsin in the mid 1800’s. He married Wihelmina Ulerrich (1838-1918).  He was from Schlesien in Germany and was the son of Benjamin Hoffmann. I think he crossed in 1854 from Bremen on the Pannkard, arriving in New York. He then went by rail to Buffalo and from there booked passage to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He lived his life north of Appleton.

My grandfather was the youngest of eight children and he moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. His name was Henry Fred Hoffmann (1873-1928).

Daniel Hoffman (dhoffman1777@comcast.net).

The Murder of Frank Hoffman in Russia.  The Chicago Daily Tribune reported the following on August 30, 1934.

“Mrs. Esther Hoffman is seeking $151,500 from the USSR for the execution of her husband Frank and confiscation of his property in 1920.

Accompanying the application was an affadavit signed by Mrs. Libba Hoffman, mother-in-law of the applicant.  In it the charge was made that in December 1920 the Cheka arrested Frank Hoffman in Russia when he went back to bring his mother to America.  The police seized $1,500 in travelers’ checks and later executed him along with thirty others despite the fact that he was a naturalized American citizen.”

Frank Hoffman was the grandfather of the actor Dustin Hoffman.

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.

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.

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).

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.



Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *