Rubin Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Rubin Surname Meaning

There is some confusion about its origins. The name appears to derive from the given name of biblical times Reuven, meaning “behold my son;” but it may equally share roots with the German word rubin meaning “ruby” and a derivative of the Latin rubeus or red.

Rubin, derived from ruby, tends – like the ornamental name Rubinstein – to be a Jewish surname in America. However, there are some non-Jewish origins for the Rubin name.

Rubin Surname Resources on The Internet

Rubin Surname Ancestry

  • from Jewish emigrants
  • to America and Canada

The early Rubin surname in Europe was not Jewish in origin. Names such as Richter Rubynus in 1240 and Nicolas Rubein in 1377 can be found in medieval German charters.

Ruby appeared in Reichenbach parish records in Switzerland in 1559; and Rubin cropped up in Markdorf in southern Baden and, more noticeably, in Lauterbrunnen in the Swiss Berne canton. The numbers there are not that large, about 1,000 in all of Switzerland today.

Rubin also appeared in northern Spain – Rubin de Celis from the village of Celis near Santander – and in Norrbottens Lan in northern Sweden. The Spanish Rubins crossed the Atlantic; but the Swedish Rubins did not.

The Rubin arrivals in America reflect mainly Jewish and Yiddish origins – from the Jewish enclaves in Russia and Poland to Germany itself. The peak years of immigration were from 1890 to 1910.

Rubins in Dolhinov near Minsk in present-day Belarus are said to have been there since the early 1700’s. Barry Rubin’s 2012 book Children of Dolhinov is an account of the Rubins from Dolhinov in Poland who made it to America in 1909.

Dolhinov was later the site of Nazi atrocities against the Jews in 1942. The Rubins of Paszto in Hungary were also rounded up by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps. Most of them died there. But Ted Rubin survived, made it to America, and later fought for America in the Korean War.  

America. Rubin – and sometimes Rubinchik, Rubinsohn, Rubinovsky, and other names as well – came to America as Rubin. Rubin was one of the most commonly registered names for Russian Jews arriving at Ellis Island. The first Rubin might well have been Avram Chaim Rubin from Rzeszow in Poland who came in 1858 and settled after the Civil War in San Francisco.

Many Rubins came to New York and they or their offspring made their mark there. Two notable Sam Rubins here were:

  • Samuel Rubin from Bialystok in Russia who arrived with his parents in the early 1900’s. They opened a small dry goods store in Brooklyn. He was a committed Communist as a young man, but later earned a large fortune from his cosmetics firm Faberge Perfumes.
  • and Sam Rubin who started working in the movie concession business selling candy in the 1920’s at the age of twelve. He became known as Sam the Popcorn Man for introducing popcorn into New York theaters.  

Robert Rubin, a whizz-kid at Goldman Sachs and later US Secretary of the Treasury, was born and raised in New York. His grandfather had arrived penniless from Minsk in Russia, but grew wealthy speculating in Florida real estate during the 1920’s, and then lost it all in the Crash of 1929. Robert’s daughter-in-law Gretchen Rubin is the author of the best-selling The Happiness Project.  

Donald Rubin meanwhile grew up in New York of trade union parents during the Depression. His interest in Himalayan art was sparked by a painting he saw in a Madison Avenue art gallery in the early 1970’s. He became a passionate collector and later founded the Rubin Museum of Art in New York.  

Harvey Rubin was born in Brooklyn and also grew up during the Depression years. He moved to Larchmont and became an independent book publisher. His son Jamie Rubin, married to the CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour, is a former diplomat and is a current editor of Bloomberg News.  

Rebecca Rubin was the replica doll which was created in 2009 by American Girl to portray the early 1900’s Russian-Jewish immigrant girl.

Canada. Montreal was a destination for many Jewish immigrants and, for some Rubins, also a way station on their way to New York. Montreal’s Jewish quarter recorded 54 Rubins in the 1911 census. Ruth Rubin was born there in 1906, the daughter of Russian immigrants. She became an exponent of Yiddish folk songs.

Rubin Surname Miscellany

Rubins from Lauterbrunnen.  The Rubins in the Lauterbrunnen valley of the Bern highlands are said to belong to one of the oldest families of the valley.  The Annuary of Lauterbrunnen of 1488 registered various bearers of the name, written then as Ruby.  The name Ruby also appeared at Reichenbach to the west of Lauterbrunnen in the same canton.

More recent Rubin records from Lauterbrunnen have been:

  • Johannes Rubin who was born in Lauterbrunnen in 1782. Christian Rubin who married Alla von Allmen in Unterveen in the 1820’s.  Their son Frederick emigrated to Canton, Ohio.
  • Jakob Rubin who married Susanna Althaus in Lauterbrunnen in 1843
  • Another Christian Rubin who emigrated to America and married Johana Biery in Polk county, Iowa in 1876
  • and Johannes Rubin who married Maria von Allmen and who emigrated to New York around 1884.

Reader Feedback – Barry Rubin’s Children of Dolhinov.  Barry Rubin’s book Children of Dolhinov is the story of Barry’s family in Dolhinov and later in the U.S.

Most of the people of Dolhinov did not die in Nazi camps. They died right in Dolhinov itself in 1942, on a day when the Nazis massacred about 3,000 Jews with help from some Polish residents.  Some of the Jews escaped Dolhinov and were conducted through the forest to safety in Russia by Russian partisans. It is a moving account.

I have ancestors who perished in Dolhinov and some who came to the U.S. before the Nazis.

Robert McCormick (

Ted Rubin Did Get His Medal.  Tibor (Ted) Rubin was born in Paszto, a Hungarian town with a Jewish population of 120 families.  He was the son of a shoemaker and one of six children.  At age 13, he was transported by the Nazis to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.  Both his parents and two of his sisters perished in the camps. But he survived and was liberated two years later by American combat troops.

Ted Rubin came to the United States in 1948 and enlisted in the US Army, seeing it as a short cut to citizenship.  Two years later he was in Korea but came up against an anti-Semitic army sergeant who sadistically volunteered Rubin for the most dangerous patrols and missions.

For various acts of bravery, Rubin was recommended four times for the Medal of Honor.  He never received any sort of award because he was Jewish.  In October 1950 Rubin was captured and spent the next 30 months in a Chinese prisoner of war camp.  His fellow prisoners who survived credited Rubin with keeping them alive.

In the end it took a special act of Congress to award him the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Not until 2001 did Rubin receive that medal from President Bush.

Rubins in America by Country of Origin

Country Numbers Percent
Russia    134    43
Germany     81    26
Poland     39    12
Austria     34    11
Switzerland     26     8
Total    314   100

There are some sketchy details as to the specific places where Russian Rubins originated over the period 1900 to 1922. The main locations and numbers were:

  • Minsk (Belarus), 36
  • Dolhinov (Belarus), 16
  • Vilna/Vilnius (Lithuania), 11
  • Radoshkowitz (Belarus), 8
  • and Bialystok (Poland), 6

Dolhinov lies halfway between Vilnius and Minsk.  Many of the Rubins from Minsk were originally Rubenchiks. 

Rebecca Rubin, American Doll.  Rebecca Rubin was the name chosen by American Girl to portray a young immigrant girl in New York at the turn of the century

.”Many girls in Rebecca’s time lived in two worlds – the one their families came from and the America they all came to together. Rebecca loves to celebrate the traditions of her Russian-Jewish family, but she’s also excited about the new customs of New York City.  With a little creativity, she learns how to stay true to her heart as she follows her dreams.”

Rebecca, an 18 inch tall doll, debuted with American Girl in 2009.  She comes with a whole host of clothes and accessories.  In addition there is a handsomely bound hardcover collection of novels about Rebecca Rubin.

Though the books mentioned the family’s origins in an Orchard Street tenement, the Rubins by 1914 had settled into an apartment in a sunny row house. Rebecca’s father owned a shoe store.  However, her recently-arrived cousin Ana still lived in a crowded smelly tenement with her father working in a sweatshop.

Sam Rubin and Popcorn.  Movies had prospered without popcorn until the Great Depression, when theater owners scrambled to make up for reduced ticket prices by turning to “audible edibles.” The appetite of moviegoers was so great that from 1934 to 1940, the nation’s annual popcorn harvest grew from 5 million to 100 million pounds.

Sam Rubin had worked in the movie concession business selling candy from the age of twelve.

Marty Winter, who worked with Sam for more than sixty years, recalled that Mr. Rubin had seen popcorn being made in Oklahoma City on a visit around 1930 and started selling it at concessions he controlled when he returned to New York.

But Sam’s daughter said it was not until the early 1950’s that he began to sell popcorn in a major way. At the time, his company, ABC Consolidated, had the refreshments concession for major movie chains in the New York metropolitan area.

Sam Rubin was very likely the first to pop corn in machines on a widespread basis in theaters.  He had begun by popping the kernels in Long Island City and trucking the result to theaters, but quickly realized that the smell of popping corn would not exactly hurt sales.  Improvements in machines had lessened the fire danger.

Rubin Names

  • Sam Rubin was best known for introducing popcorn into movie theaters in New York in the 1930’s.
  • Jerry Rubin was a social activist in the 1960’s and co-founder of the Yippie movement.
  • Robert Rubin was US Secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton administration in the 1990’s.

Rubin Numbers Today

  • 1,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 10,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Rubin 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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