Katz Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Katz Surname Meaning

The surname Katz has both German and Jewish (Ashkenazi) origins.

German. Germans with the last name Katz may come from the Rhineland-Palatinate region of Germany where Katz castle is located. Katz here is a shorter version of Katzenelnbogen, going back to the Latin Cattimelibocus which described the old German tribal names of Chatti and Melibokus in the region.

Jewish. The Jewish derivation is different. Katz here is an abbreviation formed from the Hebrew initials of the term Kohen Tzedek, meaning “priest of justice” or “authentic priest.” It has been in use since the 17th century and perhaps earlier as an epithet for the descendants of Aaron. Katz took hold in the early 19th century when German authorities began to impose surnames. In Russia the spelling was Kac.

Katz Surname Resources on The Internet

Katz Surname Ancestry

  • from Germany (Baden-Wurttemberg) and from Jewish emigrants
  • to America, Canada and Argentina

The Katz numbers in Germany today are modest, around 4-5,000. The main numbers are not in the proximity of Katz castle. but further south  in Baden-Wurttemberg. Katz emigrants were mainly Jewish and came from German-speaking lands and from the old Russian Empire. The principal destination was America. Others made their way to Canada and Argentina.

There was a surge of emigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Later emigrants like David Katz from Grodno were Holocaust survivors who came in the late 1940’s. Friedrich Katz ended up then in Mexico and earned recognition there for his book The Life and Times of Pancho Villa. Louis Katz, a youngster at the time of the Warsaw uprising, came to New York in 1962. Since that time he has worked for the Yiddish Daily Forward.

America.  Martin Katz and his family from Hochdorf in Wurttemberg arrived in Philadelphia on the Ranier in 1749. They settled in Chester county. Some of the Katz descendants became Kitts. Other 18th century Katz in New Jersey became Kays.

Later Katz arrivals were mainly Jewish and many headed for New York. Among those who made their name there were:

  • Katz’s Delicatessen, an institution on New York’s Lower East Side. Founded in 1888, the store took its name from Willy Katz who ran the place with his cousin Benny from 1910. It remained family-owned until the 1970’s.
  • Abraham Katz who started a machine shop in Brooklyn in 1926 that became Kason Industries, a food equipment manufacturer.
  • and Louis Katz who was big in Manhattan real estate from the 1940’s to the 1960’s.

Mickey Katz grew up in Cleveland and made his mark in the 1940’s as a Jewish comedian. His two sons pursued completely different professions. Ronald Katz was an inventor in the field of automated call center technology; while Joel Grey, his stage name, was the actor who became famous for his performance in Cabaret. Joel’s daughter Jennifer starred in the movie Dirty Dancing.

Canada. Barry Katz opened up his first drugstore in Edmonton in 1955. He soon prospered and developed his Value Drug Mart chain. But it was his son Daryl who expanded the Katz chain throughout North America and became in the process one of the wealthiest men in Canada. He owns the Edmonton Oilers hockey team.

Chaim and Zena Katz were Holocaust survivors who came to Winnipeg in 1951. Their son Sam was elected the first Jewish mayor of Winnipeg in 2004. He also owns a professional sports team, the Winnipeg Goldeyes in baseball.

Argentina. Some Katz made it to Argentina. A number were buried in the Jewish cemetery at La Tablada in Buenos Aires. Argentina was thought to provide a safe haven for Jews.

But anti-Semitism persisted there, as this account from the 1980’s showed:  “Silvio Katz was 19 years old at the time of the Falklands conflict. He was killed by Ardoino Eduardo Flores. He wasn’t a British soldier, he was his company officer. And he “killed” him because he was Jewish.

In later more tolerant times Daniel Katz became a leader of the Consenso Federal party block in the Argentine Chamber of Deputies.

Katz Surname Miscellany

Katz Castle.  Katz Castle is a castle above the German town of St. Goarshausen in Rhineland-Palatinate.  The. castle stands on a ledge looking downstream from the riverside at St. Goar.  It was first built around 1371 by Count Wilhelm II of Katzelnbogen.

Though commonly known as Katz, this is actually a contraction of Katzenelnbogen.  The name roughly translates into English as “Cat’s Elbow Castle” and so is popularly linked with that of the nearby Burg Maus or “Mouse Castle.” 

Early Katz Jewish References.  According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the Katz abbreviation occurred on a tombstone, dated 1536, in the cemetery in Prague.  It was found also on a tombstone of the year 1618 in Frankfurt, in the books of the Soncino family of Prague of the 17th century, and in one of the prefaces to Shabbethai ben Meir ha-Kohen’s notes on the Choshen Mishpat in 1663.

Katz in America by Country of Origin

Country Numbers Percent
Germany    747    40
Russia    663    36
Poland    198    11
Austria    159     9
Hungary     71     4
Total   1,838   100

Katz’s Delicatessen.  Unfortunately, the exact history of New York’s kosher-style deli is hazy and may be lost to time.  Everyone agrees that Katz’s was founded in 1888 at the corner of Houston and Ludlow streets in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, but by whom?

Some accounts point toward a Russian-Jewish immigrant family, while others say the founders were German.  Most references seem to indicate that the restaurant was started by the Eisland brothers who may have been German or Russian, depending on your source.

There is some agreement that the eatery was sold in 1910 to Benny or Willy and Harry Katz, who were either German or Belorussian.  They changed the named to Katz’s and moved the restaurant across Ludlow street to its current location.

In the early 1920’s the Tarowsky family, ostensibly from Minsk, bought in to the partnership and the two families would own Katz’s for nearly seven decades.  Over this period the restaurant firmly established itself as a beacon for preserving the flavors of the Old World and became the go-to place for millions of immigrants in New York.

Katz’s fame spread not only through word-of-mouth, but also via the movies.  It was here that Meg Ryan performed her fake orgasm scene in the 1989 romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally.  An arrow points to the table where Ryan sat with co-star Billy Crystal.  At least once a week a group of kids come in to act out the scene. The deli also served as the venue for Johnny Depp’s meeting with his FBI contact in the mob movie Donny Brasco.

David Katz, Holocaust Survivor.  David Katz was the only member of his immediate family from Grodno in present-day Belarus to survive the Holocaust.  He was in the fourth transport of the ghetto there when it was liquidated in 1943. He was interred at Birkenau.  After the camp was liberated, he tried to make his way back to Grodno and was conscripted into the cavalry of the Russian army.  He deserted after only a few days.

David had members of his family in New York and he went there in 1946 and stayed with them in the Bronx. He recalled that a relative came to bless him on his arrival.  He met his wife-to-be, Hilda Berman, on the boat on the way to the US.   When they met again two years later, they married.

David ended up owning a business with several other Holocaust survivors.  They manufactured fireproof doors.

Katz Names

  • Friedrich Katz was a distinguished historian in Mexico.
  • Harold Katz was the American entrepreneur who founded the Nutrisystem weight loss program.
  • Daryl Katz heads the Katz Group, Canada’s leading drugstore company.

Katz Numbers Today

  • 16,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Katz 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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Written by Colin Shelley

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