Jacobs Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Jacobs Meaning
The Hebrew Yaakov and the Biblical Jacob are the sources for the surname Jacobs and its variants.  The Jewish surnames from Yaakov include Yakov, Jacob, Jacoby and Jacobowitz, as well as Jacobs.
The Biblical Jacob has given the Jacob and Jacobs names in Holland, Flemish-speaking Belgium, and Germany and the Jacobsen name in Scandinavia.  Jacobs has been a somewhat less common surname in England because Jacob frequently transposed to James.
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Jacobs Ancestry

Today, the Jacobs number about:

  • 20,000 in Holland,
  • 20,000 in Belgium
  • and another 20,000 in Germany.

Of these, the Dutch had been the first to spread their wings –
establishing colonies in New York and
South Africa by the 17th century.  However, they were slower than
the English in adopting surnames.
At this time many families were still operating a
patronymic system.  Surnames were not to be formerly required
1811.  Even so, the Dutch did bring Dutch surnames like
Jacobs into what were to become English-speaking areas.

One Flemish Jacobs line began with Jan Jacobs, born in Puurs near
Antwerp in 1750 and married there in 1784.  Fernandinus Jacobs
emigrated to Peru around the year 1875.

South Africa.   The
Jacobs in South Africa are mainly
of Dutch origin.  The early Jacobs arrivals in the
1680’s included a French Huguenot refugee and a Dutch orphan girl being
sent there in search of a husband.

A young Jacobs boy, Stephanus Erasmus Jacobs, became famous in 1866
when he discovered on his
family’s farm – at Hopetown on the fringes of Cape colony – what turned
out to be the Eureka diamond.  The
find sparked a diamond rush and marked a major turning point in the
economic history of South Africa.

Since that time the number of Jacobs has grown and Jacobs is the most
common white surname
in South Africa.

America.  The Dutch
brought the Jacobs name to New York in the 1650’s, but for its bearers
– like Tryntje
– the name would still be varyingly patronymic rather
than one to stay constant over the generations.  Even so, under
English influence, the Jacobs surname did spread in colonial

Another early Jacobs, George Jacobs and probably English, arrived in
the Massachusetts Bay colony in the 1650’s and settled in Salem.
In 1692 he was caught up in the Salem witchcraft trials.  Despite
the vigorous defense that he mounted, he was found guilty and hanged
that year.  Interestingly, the Jacobs family remained in
Salem.  When they eventually sold their house in the 1980’s, old
George’s bones, buried on the land, had to be moved.

Later, there were some nondescript Jacobs who perhaps unwittingly gave
their names to illustrious Jacobs:

  • The first was a Captain Jacobs
    of German ancestry living in Pennsylvania in the 1750’s.  A mighty
    Delaware Indian, responsible for multiple raids on English settlers at
    that time, was given that nickname because, it was said, he resembled
    the German.   His real name was Tewea.
  • Then there was Henry Jacobs, an
    illiterate small-time farmer who lived near the Knox plantation in
    Edenton, North Carolina.  In the early 1800’s his name passed
    onto a slave family in the plantation. Two children there, Harriet and
    John, escaped slavery and Harriet later wrote her story, Incidents
    in the Life of a Slave Girl
    , one of the most compelling slave
    accounts written from a woman’s perspective.

Over 60 percent of the Jacobs arrivals in the 19th century were from
German-speaking lands.  The following are two examples of Jacobs
immigration at that time:

  • Three children from a
    Jacobs/Jacoby family in Posen, Prussia left their homes in the 1860’s
    to try to better their lot in America.  They came to Wisconsin
    and Illinois and prospered there.
  • Later came a Jacob family, this
    time Jewish from Lithuania, who were more typical perhaps of the
    “tired, poor, and huddled masses.”  They came through Ellis Island
    in 1905 to seek their fortunes on the streets of New York.

Not all of the Jacobs immigrants were German or
Jewish.  The Joseph Jacobs who founded the Jacobs Engineering
Group was the son of a Lebanese immigrant who came to Brooklyn and made
his living selling razors.

A number of Jacobs have made their mark in America in more recent
times, including:

  • New York’s Jacob brothers and their piano company
    (from 1877)
  • the Jacobs brothers of Buffalo who started a sports concession
    business (from 1915)
  • the Jacobs of Cleveland
    (from 1955)
  • and Bernard Jacobs who took over the Shubert theater group
    in New York in 1972.

were early pockets of the Jacobs name in various places in south and
east England:

  • A William Jacob was recorded as
    holding land in Cambridgeshire as early as 1138.  The Jacob name
    then become quite widespread in Suffolk, with many references in the
    Laxfield, Bury St. Edmonds, Buxhall and Glemsford parish records in
    Elizabethan times.
  • The Jacob name also showed up in the records of Folkestone in
    Kent from the 1400’s.  Thomas and William Jacob appeared as barons
    of the Cinque ports at that time.  There are Jacobs family
    histories from Folkestone and Dover and the nearby village of Elham
    which began in Elizabethan times.
  • Another Jacobs family has traced
    their history also back to Elizabethan times and to William Jacob on
    the Isle of Wight in Hampshire.

London Focus  The
Jacobs distribution in the 1891 census showed that
the name
was not that prevalent in England outside of London, with the exception
of Hampshire.  Some London Jacobs of that time were local-born –
such as the humorous short-story writer W.W. Jacobs, the son of a
His roots went back to Burstall in Suffolk in the early 1700’s.
But more Jacobs in London probably came from immigrant German and
Jewish families.

German/Jewish Jacobs
There was a
Jacobs butchers’ family
in Whitechapel from the late
1700’s.  And David Jacobs had arrived from Litzen in Germany by
that time.  He and his family were china and glass
merchants.  Old trade directories indicate a significant number of
Jacobs as glass cutters and dealers in the Berwick Street area of
London from the early 1800’s.

Meanwhile Lazarus Jacobs from Frankfurt had started a glassmaking
business in Bristol
in the 1760’s and his firm were to
become glassmakers to King George III.

Australia.  The
Jacobs were among the earliest arrivals in South Australia, firstly
and Elizabeth Jacobs from the Isle of Wight in 1837 and then
two Jacob brothers, William and John, who got there a year later. The
Jacob brothers farmed in what is now known as Jacob’s Creek.

A number of Jewish Jacobs also came to Australia, including:

  • John
    and Sarah Jacobs from London in 1837.  Their son Joseph became a
    well-known children’s writer and Jewish historian.
  • Charles Jacobs, whose marriage with his wife Elizabeth in 1846
    was the first to be celebrated in the Jewish faith in South
    Australia.  Charles became a sugar importer, his son Samuel the
    manager of a brewery, SA Brewing Company, where he was succeeded by his
    son Roland in 1948.
  • and Moses Jacobs and his brother Solomon
    who came to Victoria in 1852.  They established a clothing shop in
    Geelong which ran through three generations.


Jacobs Miscellany

Early Jacobs in Cambridgeshire.  The Jacobs appeared on the lands of Robert de Ho in Everdon, according to The Hundred Rolls of Cambridgeshire.

The following were the Jacobs recorded in the land tenures:

– William Jacob and his wife Basila in 1138

– his children Henry, John, and Isabella

– his grandchildren Henry, John, Tona, and Jacobus.

Within the next hundred years or so, the Jacob name had spread to Suffolk and Norfolk. 

Early Jacobs in South Africa.  The following were early Jacobs recorded in South Africa:

1688 Ariaantje Jacobs marriage aged 21, born in the Netherlands
1693 Jan Jacobs birth in Paarl, the Cape
1698 Pierre Jacob death aged 51, born in France (Calais)
1703 Adriana Jacobs birth in Cape Town
1721 Daniel Jacobs birth in Drakenstein (Paarl), the Cape
1738 Anna Jacobs birth in Tulbagh, the Cape

Two Jacobs came to the Dutch South African colony in
1688, but from very different situations.

Pierre Jacob arrived on the De
in June with his wife
and three children.  They were French Huguenots escaping
persecution in their home country.  His family settled in
Drakenstein and soon added an “s” to their name.  A descendant
David Jacobs made the trek with his wife to new farmland at Zeerust in
the Transvaal in the 1850’s.

Ariaantje Jacobs was one of eight orphans that arrived on
the Berg China later in the
year.  Her father had died when she was five months old and her
mother when she was eight and she was eighteen years old when she left the orphanage in
Rotterdam to go to the Cape.  It had been felt that the male
settlers of the Cape needed wives.  Consequently orphan girls were
sent there, giving them the opportunity for a better life and resolving
the problem of the lack of female population.  Ariaantje was
married almost immediately on arriving there.

Jacobs as a Surname in South Africa.  Jacobs is the most common surname for whites in South
Africa.  The following shows the top five surnames and their
approximate numbers in the 1970 South Africa census.

1. Jacobs  95,000
2. Botha  90,000
3. Smith  85,000
4. Van der Merwe  75,000
5. Van Wyk  70,000

Tryntje Jacobs and Her Four Husbands.  Tryntje was the Dutch diminutive for Catherine and was variously
written in the early records.  Her surname is uncertain.  She
may have, according to the Dutch custom of the time, retained her
father’s name of Jacob.  But it is also possible that she had so
identified herself with her first husband that she was referred to as
“Tryntje, Jacob’s wife.”

The date and place of Tryntje’s birth is not known.  The date
looks like being about 1620 and the place perhaps Winkel in north
Holland where her first husband Jacob Walichs was born.

They had come to New Amsterdam in 1650 and raised six children, the
last of whom was born in 1656.  A year later, the records were
reporting that she was marrying for a second time, to Jacob
Stoffelsen.  He died in 1667 and Tryntje then married her third
husband, Michael Tades.  When Michael died in 1670, there soon
came the fourth, Casper Steymets.

She herself died in 1677 and the Bergen records recorded it as follows:
“Buried Tryntje Jacobs, wife of Casper Steymets, at New York.”

Henry Jacobs, A London Butcher.  Henry Jacobs was born in Whitechapel around
1813.  He married Rebecca Isaacs in 1841 (Henry signed his name at
the marriage register but Rebecca could not).   He was a
member of the Great Synagogue at Dukes Place in Aldgate.  From the
synagogue marriage records Henry’s Hebrew name was Tevi ben Yaacov and
Rebecca’s Rivka bat Yehudah.

Henry’s father, born in London in 1769, had been a butcher, and so was
Henry.  He had a butcher’s shop from 1841 to 1878 at 27 Duke
Street, Houndsditch.  He and Rebecca lived upstairs and raised
eight children there.

Jacobs Glassmakers in Bristol.  Lazarus Jacobs, a Jewish artisan from Frankfurt in Germany,
arrived in Bristol around the year 1760.
He was a glassmaker and his firm soon its place in the front
rank of
glassmakers, manufacturing much of the blue glass which was becoming
and becoming glassmakers to George III.

business passed to his son Isaac on Lazarus’s death in 1796 at the age
87.  Isaac prospered for a while, buying
a retreat in Weston-Super-Mare for his family.
But the Bristol glass trade was soon in serious difficulties,
due to
heavy taxation and the resulting competition from untaxed Irish glass.  In 1820 Isaac was forced to declare

Despite this setback,
Lazarus and his son Isaac were said to have “fathered an immense and
distinguished body of descendants.”

Jacobs Name Distribution in England.  The table below shows the distribution of the Jacobs name in England in the 1891 census.

County Numbers (000’s) Percent
London     3.0    39
Hampshire     0.7     9
Suffolk     0.3     4
Kent     0.3     3
Elsewhere in the South and East     0.6     9
Elsewhere in England and Wales     2.8    36
Total     7.7   100

The Jacob Brothers Piano Company.  Charles and Albert Jacob founded the Jacob Brothers Piano Company in
New York in 1877.  After 1905 they established their own factory
in Leominster, Massachusetts and sold their pianos both retail and
wholesale.  They also manufactured pianos for other American piano

This was how they were described sometime around 1910:

“The Jacob Bros. Co. is one of the most
progressive and successful concerns in the piano industry. They have
several retail stores in the city of New York and in other important
cities of the east.  Their wholesale trade is very large and
substantial.  Their pianos and player-pianos are durable
instruments, their finish being exceptionally fine and their tone
quality satisfying.   They received an award at the World
Columbian Exposition in 1893 and have been the recipients of many
encomiums from the music trade and public.”

The business continued to be family-run until the death of Charles Hall
Jacob in 1953.

The Jacobs of Geelong.  Morris Jacobs was from London and came to Victoria in Australia with
his brother Solomon in 1852.  He returned to England a few years
later and there secured the necessary merchandise with which he could
start his own clothing business in Geelong.  He did this on Yarra

Success necessitated an increase in space and in 1897 he enlarged his
shop by including the property next door so that his premises occupied
three adjoining shops devoted respectively to drapery, clothing and
oilskins, and boots and shoes.

Morris’s sole surviving son, Solomon, managed his father’s business and
Solomon’s son Morris was the manager when Myers bought the store in
1950.  Both Solomon and his son Morris were in their time
councillors and mayors of Geelong.



Select Jacobs Names

  • Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,
    published in 1861, is the most important slave narrative to be written by an African American woman.
  • Michael Jacobs was a leading boxing promoter in New York in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
  • Jane Jacobs, a Canadian writer,
    is best known for her 1961 book The
    Death and Life of Great American Cities
    .  She was born Jane Butzner in Pennsylvania.
  • David and Richard Jacobs began
    their real estate business in Cleveland in the 1950’s and were pioneers in America’s new shopping developments.

Select Jacobs Numbers Today

  • 15,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 41,000 in America (most numerous
    in New York)
  • 25,000 elsewhere (most numerous in South Africa).


Select Jacobs and Like Surnames.

These are Dutch-originated names, Dutch surnames that found their way in the 17th century to New York and to South Africa.  Here are some of the Dutch surnames that you can check out.

BeekmanHendricksKnickerbockerVan Buren




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