Sassoon Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Sassoon Meaning
Sasson and Sassoon are Sephardic Jewish surnames.  Sasson may originate from a Hebrew name
meaning happiness.  However, the Sassoon
family of merchants that came from Iraq probably had different name
origins.  One theory is that they had
come from the mountainous region of Sason west of Lake Van in Turkey.  Another is that they can trace their ancestry
back to Spain and to the well-known Ibn Shoshan family that lived in
The Sasson and Sassoon names are to be found
in infrequent numbers in Britain, America, and Argentina.

Sassoon Resources on

  • Sassoon  Sassoon family

Sassoon Ancestry

Salih and his family, Iraqi Jews,
were the chief treasurers to the pashas of Baghdad in
the early 1800’s.

Their son David Sassoon
fled from a new and
unfriendly vali and came to Bombay in India in 1832 with his family.  In Mumbai he built up a large international
business concern, with various branches established in India, Burma,
Malaya and
east Asia.   His wealth and
were proverbial and his business extended to China, where Sassoon House
on the
Bund in Shanghai became a noted landmark, and then to England.

The Sassoon interests in
China devolved to Victor Sassoon who had come to Shanghai in 1923 after
been made lame in a plane accident during World War One.
Yet he was a formidable businessman and soon
became known as the king of real estate in Shanghai.

“Victor lived in a half-timbered hunting
lodge and an apartment with a 360 degree view atop Sassoon House on the
Bund.  Noel Coward wrote Private Lives
in forty eight hours while laid up with influenza for a weekend in
Cathay Hotel.” 

Victor Sassoon remained in China (Sassoon Road in Hong Kong was named
after him) until he sold out his interests in Shanghai in 1948 and
moved to the
Bahamas.  His British interests revolved around his horse
stables near Newmarket

England.  David’s son Albert carried on his father’s
work in Bombay.  It was mainly through
his contributions that a colossal statue of Edward, then Prince of
Wales, was
erected there.  In 1872 he was knighted
and in the following year the corporation of London conferred upon him
freedom of the city, he being the first Anglo-Indian to receive it.  Albert’s son Edward became a British MP in
The seat was then inherited by his son Philip from 1912
until his death
in 1939.

Another son Sassoon David
Sassoon had moved to London in 1858 and soon occupied a prominent
among the principal merchants of that city:

  • his line
    led to Alfred Sassoon, who was however disinherited for marrying
    outside of his
    faith, and to Siegfried Sassoon,
    poet of the First World War.
  • and to his daughter Rachel who was also
    disowned for marrying
    outside her faith.  Her husband was
    Frederick Beer, the wealthy financier.  In
    her will she left a generous legacy to her nephew
    him to purchase his home at Haytesbury House in Wiltshire.

Then there was the line from David
, a Jewish manuscript
collector, whose son Solomon and grandsons Isaac and David were noted

of this Sassoon family, there were a few other Sasson and Sassoon
living in England.  Nathan Sassoon, of
Greek Jewish origin, deserted a family that included Vidal Sassoon who was to
become the famous hairdresser of the

America.  Brooklyn has been a home for
Jews and that is where many Sassons are to be found.
The best-known is Steve
who, while working for Eastman Kodak, invented the
digital camera.


Sassoon Miscellany

David Sassoon and the Opium Trade.  David Sassoon was 40 years old when he came to Bombay in 1832.  Initially he operated as a middleman for the British East India Company, using his contacts in the
Middle East.  In 1842 the British signed the
Treaty of Nanking with the Chinese Emperor, opening up the Chinese
market for
trade in opium.  David Sassoon sent his
sons to open offices in Canton, Shanghai and Hong Kong to profit from
the trade.

sort of three-way flow emerged.  The
would export Indian yarn and opium to China; then from China, they
would export
tea and silk to Britain; and from Britain they exported textile goods
India.  The opium was grown in the Malwa
region.  The Sassoons acted as bankers to
finance the Malwa opium crop, making advances to an already established
of dealers in Malwa opium.  In effect,
they purchased the crop before it was even planted.

The chief cause of David
Sassoon’s success was probably the use he made of his sons. Although
spoke no English, his sons learnt the language and adopted Western
modes of
clothing as well. David
Sassoon died in
Bombay in 1864.  Six of his eight sons
eventually left the city and there were soon few Sassoons remaining in

David Sassoon, Manuscript Collector.  Albert Sassoon was surprised one day when his 34 year old single half-brother Solomon Sassoon, expressed his interest in marrying
Albert’s granddaughter, Pircha (Flora) Gabbai.  Albert loved the
idea. The shidduch
was arranged and the couple had three children, their middle child, a
son David
being born to them in 1880.

David astonished his parents one day when at
eight years old he traded his toy kite with a young boy for a rare
printed book
containing an Arabic translation of the Book
of Ruth
that was written for Baghdadi Jews who lived in India. That
was to be the first item in his life-long pursuit of collecting Jewish
and manuscripts.  His interest in
collecting Seforim may have helped soften the pain of losing his father
at the
tender age of fourteen.

of being educated at Eton like his Sassoon
cousins, David was sent to a yeshiva in North London. Although
he had learned to use a rifle as a
cadet, his poor health saved him from ever going to battle. Instead the
Navy hired him to translate Hebrew and Arabic documents and decode
intercepted in the Middle East.

developed into quite a Talmid Chochom and decided to
devote his
life to collecting Seforim.  He explained in his Ohel David,
a two volume
catalogue of his Seforim that he
printed in 1931, that he assembled a huge library because he wanted to
the Mitzvah of writing or acquiring a Sefer
by extending the mitzvah to include all religious literature.  He would travel extensively to Yemen,
Germany, Italy, Syria, China and the Himalayas seeking manuscripts and
old Seforim.

the time David Sassoon passed
away in 1942 he had amassed about 1,300 items in his library. Sadly the
collection was dispersed sold at a number of Sotheby auctions,
beginning with
one in Zurich in 1975.

Siegfried Sassoon.  The old Sephardic surname Sassoon was shared by two Englishmen who had little in common other than their good looks, their military
valor, their love of sport, their glory in separate spheres, and their

The elder Sassoon, Siegfried, was one of the
leading poets and most searing critics of the First World War, in which
served as an officer, lost a brother (at Gallipoli) and a friend of the
(Wilfred Owen), and won a Military Cross.

He was born in 1886 into a dynasty of
immensely rich merchant bankers, originally Iraqi Jews. But his father,
was disinherited for marrying an Anglo-Catholic—Theresa Thornycroft, a
scion of
prominent sculptors and herself an artist of note. Siegfried, named
Wagner’s hero, was educated at Cambridge; served as the literary editor
of a
socialist newspaper where he employed E.M. Forster among other
luminaries; and
published several acclaimed works of autobiographical fiction in
addition to
the satiric poetry that he felt was misunderstood.

After a paternal aunt,
Rachel Beer, the editor of the Sunday Times,
left him a fortune he
lived the life of a British gentleman on his estate in
golfing, and playing cricket into his seventies.

Siegfried had many affairs with men and a late
marriage that produced his only son. He converted to Catholicism
shortly before
his death, just shy of eighty-one, in 1967.  His name is inscribed
on a tablet
in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Vidal Sassoon.  The younger Sassoon, Vidal, who revolutionized the art of haircutting and died of leukemia at eighty-four, was the son of
Jewish immigrants—a Greek father, Nathan, and a Ukrainian mother, Betty. He
grew up in
London tenements and spent part of his scrappy childhood in a Jewish
After Nathan Sassoon abandoned his family, Betty was too poor to raise
sons.  By the time she remarried and was able to make them a home,
Vidal was

a schoolboy during the Second
World War, Vidal was evacuated to the Wiltshire countryside not far
Siegfried’s estate. It is tempting to imagine them crossing paths
there, though
it is doubtful that they ever did.

formal education ended at fourteen in
1942 when he apprenticed himself to a ladies’ hairdresser in a
neighborhood, though in his spare time he studied elocution to erase
Cockney accent. Hairdressing was his mother’s idea; she had somehow
his talent for it. At seventeen, he joined a militant Jewish
underground group
that broke up rallies staged by the thuggish followers of Oswald
Mosley, the
British fascist, earning an epithet from the Telegraph: “the
anti-fascist warrior-hairdresser.”

married four times and had four children.
He opened his first London salon in 1954 and by the 1960’s was a
pop-culture celebrity who literally defined fashion’s cutting
edge.  His radical
approach to styling hair made the cotton candy beehives of the early
seem as quaint as the coiffures of Marie Antoinette.

Sassoon’s technique was influenced, he
said, by Bauhaus architecture, but also, more obviously, by the
allure of new “wash and wear” clothing and the lean geometry of the
couture.  Obituaries hailed him as a
“feminist,” and in a sense, he was one. He liberated women from a
certain form
of degradation: their time-consuming primping with rollers and teasing,
their generic, yearbook-photo cuteness.

signature hairstyle, The Five-Point Cut, was a silken
“sculpted” or “carved” to the contours of each client’s cranium, and
based on a
close study of her bone structure. In 1968, Roman Polanski hired
the outrageous sum of five thousand dollars—to give Mia Farrow her
famous pixie
cut for Rosemary’s Baby. The pixie cut
that launched a million copies, however, was Jean Seberg’s, in Godard’s
Breathless, from 1960.

Sassoons stayed fit into old age. Vidal
also turned to autobiography and earned a fortune (greater, probably,
Siegfried’s) marketing his hair-care products. He made a dashing
appearance in
television commercials for them, delivering a catchy slogan: “If you
don’t look
good, we don’t look good.”  It wasn’t poetry, but, as his fellow
idealist and
survivor wrote, “Soldiers are dreamers.” It was a fitting epithet for
them both.

Steve Sasson and the Digital Camera.  Born in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, Steve
Sasson grew up with a keen interest in electronics. As a child he
designed and
built radio receivers, stereo amplifiers and transmitters in his
basement with
salvaged electronic components from discarded televisions and radios.

He joined
Eastman Kodak Co. in 1973 as an electrical engineer working in an
research laboratory in the Apparatus Division.
Sasson was given a broad assignment to build a camera using
imagers, a new type of electronic sensor known as a charge coupled
device which
could capture optical information.

Sasson went about constructing the digital
circuitry from scratch, using oscilloscope measurements as a guide.  For the rest of the camera, he made use of
what was available to him at the time: an analog-to-digital converter
Motorola, a movie-camera photographic lens made by Kodak, and tiny CCD
introduced in 1973 by Fairchild Semiconductor.

The original prototype weighed eight
pounds and about the size of a toaster.  With a resolution of 0.01
megapixel, it
recorded black and white digital images to a magnetic cassette
tape.  With this
prototype model, Sasson took the first image in December of 1975 taking
seconds to capture it and forever changing the way the world takes


Sassoon Names

  • David Sassoon was the founder in Bombay in the 1830’s of the Sassoon business empire in Asia.   
  • Siegfried Sassoon was one of the leading poets of the First World War.   
  • Vidal Sassoon was the famous hairdresser of the 1960’s. 
  • Steve Sasson pioneered the digital camera in 1975.

Select Sassoon Numbers Today

  • 300 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 400 in America (most numerous in New York)


Select Sassoon 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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