Marcus Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Marcus Surname Meaning

Marcus and Markus are European surnames that have both Christian and Jewish origins, the root in each case being the Roman name Marcus.

In the Christian case the name became popular in medieval times because of Saint Mark or Sanctus Marcus of the Second Gospel.  It produced surnames such as Marcus and Markus, as well the Italian and Spanish Marco and Marcos and the Russian Markowitz.

In the Jewish case where surnames were to be adopted later, the Marcus name was already available and was often used as the kinnui for the Hebrew Biblical name Mordecai of the Book of Esther. We find this in the progression of the 17th century Hungarian Rabbi Mordecai Mochiah to his grandson the physician Mordecai Rofe known in Germany as Moses Marcus.

Marcus Surname Resources on The Internet

Marcus and Markus Surname Ancestry

  • from Jewish emigrants
  • to America, Ireland and England

In Europe the Markus spelling is more common today.  In Hungary there are some 10,000 of the name and a further 6,000 in Germany, with a smattering also in the Netherlands.  The majority of the Marcus and Markus that emigrated to America were Jewish and most adopted the Marcus spelling in America.

America. A number of entrepreneurial Jewish Marcuses came to America or were first generation Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  They were:

  • the Marcus family of Neiman Marcus in Dallas
  • the Marcus banking family in New York
  • Bernie Marcus from Newark, New Jersey
  • and Ben Marcus from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Joseph Marcus came to Louisville, Kentucky in the 1870‘s where he worked as a cotton broker, later moving to Dallas in Texas.  It was there that his son Herbert, together with his daughter Carrie and her husband Abraham Neiman, founded the department store of Neiman Marcus in 1907.  Herbert’s son Stanley made the store the famous store it is today.

Another Joseph Marcus, from Germany but of Russian ancestry, came to New York in 1879. He worked his way up from being a tailor, to a garment industry business, to a banker. He founded the Public Bank in 1906 and the Bank of United States in 1913:

  • his son “the fabulously wealthy” Bernard Marcus was at the helm when this bank collapsed in 1931 and he spent almost two years in prison for his role in the collapse.
  • while his grandson James went to work for Goldman Sachs and made his money there.  He was a noted New York philanthropist who served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Opera for eight years.

Bernie Marcus was the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia who came to Newark, New Jersey in the 1920’s.  His father was a cabinet maker and they lived in a tenement. Bernie worked his way through college and had various retail jobs before co-founding The Home Depot in 1979. This store with its warehouse concept revolutionized the home improvement business and its founders became billionaires.

Finally, Ben Marcus was the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland who came to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1925.

“Ben Marcus was fascinated by the movie business. In 1935, at the age of 24, he pooled his own money with some borrowed funds and bought an abandoned department store in downtown Ripon, Wisconsin for $15,000. He converted the building into the Campus Theatre, a single screen movie-house that served as the foundation of the Marcus Corporation and is still in operation today.”  

The Marcus Corporation expanded into a firm specializing in movie theatres, hotels, resorts and restaurants.

Other Marcuses who came to America were:

  • Mordecai Marcus and his wife Leah who arrived in New York’s Lower East Side from Romania in the 1890’s.  Their son Mickey was a US attorney prosecuting gangsters in New York in the 1930’s and served as a US army colonel assisting Israel in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
  • Djoko Markus and his sister Ivanka from Hungary who came to America on the Graf Waldersee in 1906.  Other family members followed a year later.  They made their home in a large threestory townhouse in Philadelphia.
  • while Abraham and Sarah Shevitz came to America from Russia in 1910, settling in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Their son changed his name from Wolf Shevitz to William Marcus when he enlisted in the US Army in 1914.

Ireland.  Among the small Jewish community in Ireland was the Marcus family from Lithuania that had escaped Jewish persecution there in the late 19th century.

The story goes that they were told that they were arriving in New York when they stepped off the boat in Cork.  David and Louis, grandsons of the immigrants, became well-known in Ireland as a writer and editor and as a documentary film maker. 

England.  There were some Marcuses in England.  Philip Marcus, thought to be from Poland, had made his home in the East End of London in the 1860’s where he acted as a shipping agent.  His son John emigrated to South Africa in 1879 and founded an auctioneering business in Cape Town which passed through three generations.

A more recent arrival was the Jewish Markus family from Budapest in Hungary which fled the Nazis in 1939 for England.  Two Markus brothers established an engineering works near Glossop in Derbyshire to produce machine parts for Spitfires.  A son Robert became a distinguished ecclesiastical historian known for his writings on St Augustine and the history of the early Church.

Marcus Surname Miscellany

Jewish Origins of the Marcus Surname.  According to information from Beth Hatefusoth, the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv, the name can be found as a first name in 13th century Paris, in 16th century Morocco, in 17th century Prague with Margolis. Many of the Marcuses today in Paris originated from Romania and some from Poland.

Some has speculated that the Marcus surname might be Sephardic, emanating from the Jewish communities of Spain and Portugal.  Many of these found exile in the Netherlands.  Marcus was to be found in the Jewish names in the Amsterdam records of the 17th and 18th centuries.  It has also turned up in Sephardic records elsewhere.

But it is usually considered as an Ashkenazic surname.   The Marcus immigrants to America in the 19th century came from the usual Ashkenazic sources of Germany and the old Russian Empire.

In many cases the Marcus name originated from Mordecai or Mordechai, one of the main personalities in the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible.  He was the son of Jair of the tribe of Benjamin.  Mordecai became initially a first name, as did Marcus.

Marcus and Markus in America.  The following were the number of Marcus and Markus arrivals in America by origin according to shipping records:

from: Marcus Markus
Germany    419    107
Russia    126     50
Poland     37
Hungary     15
Elsewhere     70     22
Total    652    194
Number in 1920 Census   2,450    500

When Jacob Marcus Offers You Candy, Kid.  Jacob Marcus was born in 1846 in Germany near the Polish border. He came to America and settled in Louisville, Kentucky where he worked as a cotton broker and raised a family.  In the 1890’s, the family relocated to Texas, a logical move for a man in the cotton trade. In 1907 the Neiman Marcus department store opened. Before you knew it, Jacob had retired and was ensconced inside the front entrance, greeting customers.

As his grandson Stanley Marcus wrote:

“My grandfather, a retired cotton merchant, was given a seat of honor at the front door, where he greeted customers cheerfully and supplied any accompanying children with candy from his coat pocket.”

He died in 1929 and the Dallas Morning News reported:

“’Grampy’ has passed on.  The kindly old gentleman who for years was a familiar figure on the first floor of the Neiman Marcus store is no more.  But he will be remembered by thousands of friends and store patrons for his ready smile and always genial greeting.

Sitting as he was wont to do just inside the main entrance in his great high-backed chair, his pockets mysteriously filled with sweets for all the children who passed his way, he gave to the store a note of charming homeliness which will be remembered by those who knew and loved him.” 

Wolf Shevitz aka William Marcus.  William Marcus was born Wolf Shevitz in 1892 in Bialostock, Russia to Abraham and Sarah Shevitz.  Wolf came to the United States on the Lusitania in 1910.  He later brought his parents and siblings over and they settled in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Abraham was a teacher there at a Jewish school.

Wolf Shevitz worked as a garment cutter until he enlisted in the US Army. According to family history, he enlisted under the name William Marcus so that his family would not discover he joined the army. Marcus was the name of his uncle in New York.  He signed his Declaration of Intention, renouncing his Russian citizenship, as “William Marcus, formerly called Wolf Shevitz” on November 23, 1914. All subsequent documents listed him as William Marcus.

After the war William married and continued to live in Worcester.  He worked in the garment industry, eventually owning his own factory that produced women’s bathrobes.

Gyozo Markus from Hungary to England.  In the inter-war years Gyozo Markus lived in n the upper middle class world of Hungary’s assimilated Jewish community in Budapest. He was an engineer in the family firm, Márkus Lajos, and mixed in a sophisticated world of architects, designers and manufacturers.  He had converted to Lutheranism in the 1920’s.  However, in the next decade, he felt the threat of Nazism and determined to re-connect with his Jewish roots.

This was a dangerous game and in 1939 he fled Hungary, with his family following, initially for Italy and then for England where they made their home in the unlikely setting of Glossop in the Derbyshire hills.

A depressed town on the edge of Greater Manchester with high unemployment and a number of empty textile mills, Glossop was an ideal place to set up factories as Britain geared up for war.  Gyozo Markus and his brother machined parts for Spitfire planes there.  But it was different from the cosmopolitan Budapest they had left. As his wife Lili, an accomplished ceramicist, remarked: “How damp, depressed and provincial life in Glossop seemed.”

After the war the family settled into a new house Ariel which they built on a windy hill overlooking Glossop.

Marcus Names

  • Mickey Marcus was a US attorney prosecuting gangsters in New York in the 1930’s and served as a US army colonel assisting Israel in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. 
  • Stanley Marcus was called America’s merchant prince for the way he developed and expanded the Neiman Marcus department store from the 1950’s to the 1970’s.
  • Bernie Marcus was the American businessman who co-founded The Home Depot in 1979 and was the company’s first CEO.   
  • Greil Marcus has been an American author, music journalist and cultural critic focusing on rock music.

Marcus Numbers Today

  • 1,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 11,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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Written by Colin Shelley

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