Rosenthal Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Rosenthal Surname Meaning

Rosenthal in German and Yiddish has the meaning “rose valley.” The German name, sometimes spelt Rosendahl, dates back to the 14th century. It can be described as an ornamental surname in that, though it translates literally as one who lived in a valley of roses, that might not in fact have been the case.

Rosenthal Surname Resources on The Internet

Rosenthal Surname Ancestry

  • from NE Germany (Prussia) and from Jewish emigrants
  • to America, Canada and Australia

Rosenthals emigrated to America in the 19th century from a number of countries. The largest numbers have come from Germany, in particular in northeast Germany in what was once Prussia. One family account traces Rosenthals in the town of Greifswald back to the early 17th century.

But other Rosenthals, mainly Jewish, have come from Russia and Poland and from elsewhere in central Europe. Naftali Rosenthal, for instance, was one of the most important Jewish figures in 18th century Hungary. Today these Jewish communities have disappeared and the Rosenthal numbers in Germany are only around 8-9,000.

America. Early Rosenthal arrivals from Germany came to the Midwest mainly. William Rosenthal, for instance, came from what was then Prussia and settled in Deerfield township, Minnesota in the 1860’s.

The Rosenthal name has loomed large in Cincinnati, Ohio for more than a hundred years. Samuel Rosenthal started a printing company there only three years after the ending of the Civil War. Son David was an Impressionist painter. Samuel’s business remained family-run until the death of the fourth generation owner, Tommy Rosenthal, in 2006 at the age of eighty.

Meanwhile Edward Rosenthal started F&W Publications – publishers of Farmer’s Quarterly and Writer’s Digest – in Cincinnati in 1910. Richard and Lois Rosenthal ran the business for more than forty years until they sold it in 1999.

Another Rosenthal family, this time four Rosenthal brothers from Poland, set themselves up in the early 1850’s as lithographers in Philadelphia. They produced many works depicting battle scenes and encampments during the Civil War. Max Rosenthal, the principal artist of the company, continued working in Philadelphia until his death in 1918 and was followed there by his son Albert.

New York later drew many Rosenthals, such as:

  • Irving Rosenthal, who arrived with his family from Russia in 1902. For a while he and his brother Jack worked as musicians and in odd jobs around the city. In 1934 they opened the Palisades amusement park on land facing New York City. It ran until 1971.
  • William and Ida Rosenthal, who also came to New York from Russia in the early 1900’s. Ida Rosenthal started her dress shop Maidenform in 1922 and is often credited as being the inventor of the brassiere.
  • and Abe Rosenthal’s family, who came to New York in the 1930’s and his father found work as a house painter. Although his father and four of his siblings died of various ailments at that time, Abe Rosenthal just about survived and went on to become the managing editor of the New York Times.

Refugees from Nazi Germany included Berthold and Johanna Rosenthal who arrived via Portugal in 1940. Berthold Rosenthal was a well-respected Jewish scholar of his time.

Canada.  Aaron Rosenthal had led a wandering life East to India, Sri Lanka and Australia – after leaving Prussia in 1844 at the tender age of 13. In Australia he married his German-born wife Bertha and they moved to Canada in 1874, settling in Ottawa where Aaron opened a jewelry shop and was an early leader of the Jewish community there.  

“His firm became known as A. Rosenthal and Sons Ltd. The shop was located in the beautifully ornate Rosenthal Building on Sparks Street that had been built specifically for the family. It was briefly the tallest building in Ottawa.”  

On Aaron’s death in 1909, his four sons continued the business until 1945.

Australia. Ernst and Auguste Rosenthal from Hanover were among the first German immigrants to South Australia, arriving in 1841.  Many of these Germans settled in the Barossa valley, leaving the place-name Rosenthal there.  This became – because of the anti-German sentiment – Rosedale after the First World War.

Carl Johann Rosenthal arrived in New South Wales from Denmark in the early 1870’s.  He was a schoolmaster in Berrima.  His son Charles fought in France during the First World War and afterwards made his name as an architect, for which he was knighted.  Charles’s son Alvord commanded ships in the Mediterranean during World War Two and later served as a Naval Attache in Washington.

Rosenthal Surname Miscellany

Rosenthal and Other “Rose” Ornamental Names.  “Rose”
ornamental names include:

  • Rosenbaum, or “rose bush”
  • Rosenberg, or “rose mountain”
  • Rosenblatt, or “rose leaf”
  • and Rosenfeld, or “rose field”
  • as well as Rosenthal, or “rose valley.”

The Rosenthal Family in Hungary.  Naftali Rosenthal was one of the most important lay national figures of 18th century Hungarian Jewry.  A learned, wealthy merchant who lived in the small community of Mór west of Budapest, Naftali Rosenthal and his family came to the fore in the frequent assemblies of Hungarian Jewry held during the reigns of Emperor Joseph II and his successors.

In addition to being wealthy political leaders, the Rosenthal family also played key cultural roles in Hungary as pioneers of the Haskalah.  Their links with the German Jewish Enlightenment had begun with Naftali himself.

At the age of 13 he had been sent by his learned father Yitsḥak Yehudah Lewin (Naftali adopted the surname Rosenthal later in his life) to study in Germany.  In the relatively open intellectual setting he found there, Naftali befriended a fellow student, the future philosopher and father of the Haskalah movement, Moses Mendelssohn.  As for Shelomoh Rosenthal, Naftali’s younger son, his network of acquaintances was such that he was easily the most influential layperson in Hungary during the early 19th century.

The vast correspondence of the Rosenthal family was fed to flames sometime around the middle of the 19th century.  But the fraction that survived has proven to be an invaluable historical source, especially the manuscripts of Shelomoh Rosenthal that were deposited in the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.

Rosenthal Emigration to America by Country of Origin.  Rosenthals emigrated to America in the 19th century from a number of countries.

Country Numbers Percent
Germany   929    60
Russia   330    21
Poland    95     6
Elsewhere   178    13

Rosenthals in Philadelphia.  Four of the five Rosenthal brothers in Poland – Max, Morris, Louis, Simon, and David – were each sent abroad by their father Wolf on their thirteenth birthday – to prevent them being conscripted into the Polish army. Morris was sent to Berlin to a rabbinical school, Louis and Simon to London to apprentice as lithographic printers, and Max to Paris where he studied lithography under Martin Thurwanger.

Sometime in 1849 or 1850 these brothers, without David, reunited in Philadelphia.   Their family firm seems to have begun in 1852 when they were listed in directories as doing business at the corner of Third and Dock Streets in Philadelphia.  Louis acted as their publisher and printer and Max was the principal artist of the company.

In 1870 Max Rosenthal received a commission from a group of print collectors to create lithographic portraits of famous Americans for whom no engraved portrait existed. Max later engraved on copper images of the First Continental Congress and the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

His son Albert carried on his father’s work and was the only artist engaged to paint copies of historical portraits for Independence Hall in Philadelphia.  He in fact became curator of the Hall in 1902, a position he held for more than a decade.

Ida Rosenthal and Maidenform.  The history of Maidenform, Inc. began at Enid Frocks, a small dress shop in New York City owned and operated by Enid Bissett.  Ida Rosenthal was a Russian Jewish immigrant and seamstress at Enid’s shop.

In 1922 Ida and Enid decided that the fit and appearance of their custom-made dresses would be enhanced if improvements were made to the bandeaux style bras then in vogue. They gathered the bandeaux in the middle in a design modification that provided more support in a manner they believed enhanced, rather than downplayed, a woman’s natural figure. Ida’s husband, William, added straps and further refined the style. They called their bras “Maidenform”, in counterpoint to the “Boyish Form” brand then in vogue.

Initially, the bras were given away with each dress they sold. As the bras gained popularity they began selling them.  Eventually the bras became so popular they stopped making dresses altogether and shifted to full-scale brassiere manufacturing.  The first Maidenform plant opened in Bayonne, New Jersey in 1925.

When her husband William died in 1958, Ida Rosenthal became the chief executive officer of the company. She moved from her large estate on Long Island to a small apartment in the lower part of Fifth Avenue.  She went to her office every day until she died in 1973 at the age of 87.

Abe Rosenthal’s Path to the New York Times.  Abe Rosenthal was born in 1922 in Ontario, the son of was a farmer named Harry Shipiatsky who had emigrated to Canada in the 1890s and changed his name to Rosenthal.  Harry was an unlikely frontier fur trapper who mushed huskies to Hudson Bay in search of ermine.

When the Depression slowed demand for fur, the family, including five sisters, moved to the Bronx, where Rosenthal senior became a housepainter.  When Abe was nine, his father fell from a scaffold and died after three agonizing years.  Four of his siblings died from various causes and Abe himself spent much of his teenage years on crutches, hobbled by osteomyelitis, a bone infection.

Rosenthal attended City College in New York where he discovered a love of journalism while working on the school paper.  He began working as a campus news stringer for the New York Times and in 1944 was hired by the paper.  He dropped out of college and finished his degree several years later by piecing together classes in night school.

It was a year before he had his first byline, over a story about the last voyage of the battleship New York visiting its eponymous city destined to be either demolished by “the cutter’s torch or sacrificed in research to a test of the atomic bomb.” But after that he rose steadily through the ranks to become managing editor of the New York Times in 1969.

Rosenthal Names

  • Max Rosenthal was a leading actor in the Yiddish theater in America during the early 1900’s.
  • Ida Rosenthal, a Russian immigrant to America, started Maidenform in 1922 and is often credited as the inventor of the brassiere.
  • Jean Rosenthal, born in New York, has been a pioneer in theatrical lighting design.
  • Abe Rosenthal was the much-esteemed editor of the New York Times in the 1970’s and 80’s. He was born in Canada to a Jewish family who had changed their name from Shipiatsky to Rosenthal.
  • Lefty Rosenthal ran illegal betting shops in Chicago and Florida before moving to Las Vegas in 1968 and pioneering sports gambling there.

Rosenthal Numbers Today

  • 2,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 8,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Rosenthal and Like Jewish Surnames

The Jews were banned from England in 1290 and did not return there until the 1650’s, sometimes in the form of Portuguese traders.  They were to make their mark as merchants and financers in London and many families prospered.  There was another larger Jewish influx in the late 1800’s.

In America the early settlement of Sephardic Jews was in Charleston, South Carolina.  In the 19th century Ashkenazi Jews started to arrive from Germany.  Later came a larger immigration from a wider Jewish diaspora.  Between 1880 and 1910 it is estimated that around two million Yiddish-speaking Jews, escaping discrimination and pogroms, arrived from the Russian empire and other parts of Eastern Europe.

Some Jewish surnames reflect ancient Biblical names, such as Cohen and Levy.  Some have come from early place-names where Jews resided, such as Dreyfus (from Trier), Halpern (from Heilbronn) and Shapiro (from Speyer).  Many more surnames came about when Ashkenazi Jews were compelled by Governments to adopt them in the early 1800’s.  The names chosen at that time were often ornamental ones – Bernstein or Goldberg or Rosenthal for example.  Then the name could change on arrival in America at Ellis Island.  And finally anti-Semitism perceived could cause further changes to conceal Jewishness.

Here are the stories of some of the Jewish surnames that you can check out here.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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