Segal/Siegel Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Segal and Siegel Surname Meaning

Segal and Siegel appear to have been variations on the same name, particularly in the Jewish context, but they do have different origins.

Segal is a Jewish nameThe best evidence suggests that Segal was an acronym of the Hebrew phrase segan Leviyyah, a designation applied to Levites many centuries before Segal first appeared as a surname. The name surfaced at Worms along the Rhineland in Germany as early as the 11th century.  One variant of the Segal name in France was Chagall. The painter Marc Chagall was in fact a Levite.

Siegel is Germanic in origin and can also be traced back to the 11th century, in this case to Bavaria. It was used then by people who made the wax seals for sealed official documents (and were called siegelbeamters).  Siegels outnumber Segals in America by about three to one today.

Segal and Seigel Surname Resources on The Internet

Segal and Siegel Ancestry

  • from Germany Bavaria) and from Jewish emigrants
  • to England, America, Canada and South Africa

Siegels number about 15,000 in Germany today. They started arriving in America in the 18th century. Segals may have had Germanic origins. But the Segal immigrants to America in the late 19th century came mainly from the various parts of the Russian empire at that time.

England. Moshe Zvi Segal was a Jewish rabbi from Lithuania who came to England in 1896. One of his sons Samuel was a doctor and a Labor party politician who as Baron Segal was the Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords in the 1970’s. Another son Ben was a Professor of Semitic Languages at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

America. Siegels came first, Segals followed.

Siegels.  Some early Siegels were from the Baden area in south Germany.

Frederick Siegel came to Pennsylvania sometime in the 1750’s, first in Bucks county and later in Northampton county where he died in 1798.  

Some hundred years later, Franz Sigel, part of the revolutionary government in Baden in 1848, fled to England and then to America when that revolution was quashed. He was a major general in the Unionist army during the Civil War and a newspaper editor and political figure in New York after the war. There is a statue of him in Riverside Park at the corner of 106th Street in Manhattan.

From nearby Wurttemberg came George Siegel as a young boy in 1848. He later worked as a shoemaker in Cincinnati, Ohio; while John Siegel, also from Wurttemberg, arrived in 1852 and settled four years later at Mendon township in Clayton county, Iowa.

Victor Siegel from Dresden came to Butte, Montana in 1890 where he worked in a brewery, a mine, and then for three years as a florist in the employ of Jessie Knox who owned the first greenhouse in Montana. Later Victor became superintendent of the Columbia Gardens located outside Butte.

By that time there were Jewish Siegels in America. Three well-known Seigels have been:

  • Benny Siegel, known as Bugsy, who was born in New York in 1906 to Russian immigrants Max and Jennie Siegel. Handsome and charismatic, he was one of the first front-page celebrity gangsters. He was later a driving force behind the development of the Las Vegas strip.
  • Jerry Siegel, also first generation from Russian immigrant parents, who in the 1930’s was the co-creator of Superman, the first of the great comic book superheroes.
  • and David Siegel, second generation in America, who grew up in Florida and made his fortune in time-share resorts. His wife Jackie starred in the 2012 TV documentary The Queen of Versailles.

Segals.  Segals in America were invariably Jewish, with many of them settling in New York. Their numbers here included:

  • Samuel Segal who arrived as a boy from Russia in 1893 and started the Segal Lock and Hardware Company in Manhattan twenty years later.
  • a later Samuel Segal, a rabbi, who made his home in Brooklyn. His son Erich was a classics professor at Yale University. He became famous when his novel Love Story was made into a blockbuster film in 1970.
  • and Jacob Segal who arrived in the 1910’s from Poland and ran a small kosher butcher’s shop in the Bronx. His son George was a prominent American painter and sculptor in the Pop Art movement of the 1960’s.

The Segal name is well-known in fashion circles on the West Coast. Fred Segal grew up in Los Angeles and opened a clothing store on Santa Monica Boulevard in 1958. He caused a sensation at that time with his form-fitting jeans. The store is now run by the third generation of Segals and celebrities still shop there.  

Shelli Segal meanwhile is a Los Angeles based clothes designer, the daughter of comedy writer Jerry Segal. Her Laundry line, with its trendy, slim-fitting designs, has become a major seller in all department stores that have carried it.  

Canada.  A Hasidic Segal family arrived in Montreal from Ukraine around the year 1910. Their numbers included Jacob Isaac Segal and his sister Esther who were both poets in the Yiddish language.

Joseph Segal was born to Jewish immigrants parents in rural Alberta in 1925. His wealth was based on a chain of discount department stores which he founded. He later expanded into real estate. In 2017 he put his 25 year old mansion in Vancouver on the market for $63 million. Its centerpiece was an Italian Ormolu chandelier which had once belonged to the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

South Africa. Many Jewish Segals moved to South Africa in the early 1900’s. Morris Segal came in 1910, it was said, as a representative of the Russian gymnastic team. He went on to start a jewelry business in Johannesburg. Later Segals from Poland were:

  • Leon Segal who settled in Cape Town and began a discount clothing store which made him rich. His son Ronald, born in 1932, became a prominent anti-apartheid activist.
  • while Abe Segal, born two years earlier in 1930, had been the son of poor immigrant parents in Johannesburg (although his father was later able to start a small textile factory). Abe ran away from trade school to make his mark in the 1960’s as an international tennis player.

Segal and Siegel Surname Miscellany

Segal Name Origins.  The origins of the Segal name are not that clear.  The best evidence suggests that Segal was an acronym of the Hebrew phrase segan Leviyyah, a designation being applied to Levites many centuries before it was used as a surname.

The earliest use of this Segal designation was by Rabbi Isaac ben Eliezer who died in 1070.  He was one of the great scholars of Worms and was known as segan Leviyyah, meaning a Levite. The acronym of Segal was used in the introduction to his Sefer Maharil.  Segal thus was originally a function and title and then became a family name.

David ha-Levi Segal was one of the great Polish rabbinical authorities of the 16th century.  Other distinguished bearers of the name included the 18th century artist Hayim ben Isaac Segal who created the interiors of the wooden synagogue at Moghilev in Russia and the Romanian-born German painter Arthur Segal of the early 1900’s.  Arthur’s son Walter emigrated to England where he developed a system of self-build housing in the 1950’s.

Segals and Siegels Today.  The following are the numbers in America today:

Numbers (000’s) Segal Siegel
America 4    12

And this is where they came from:

Country Segal Siegel
Germany    15%    86%
Austria/Hungary     5%     4%
Poland    18%
Russian empire    48%     5%
Elsewhere     4%     5%

The Segal Lock and Hardware Company.  Samuel Segal, born in Russia, came to New York with his parents in 1893 when he was eight years old. One of his early jobs was as a night watchman in Miner’s Theater on the Bowery. There he learned the English alphabet from the letters on the rows of seats.  As a young man he also was an amateur wrestler and weight lifter.

In 1912, while he was working in the New York Police Department, Segal began to experiment with burglar-proof locks.  His vertical deadbolt lock eliminated the horizontal bolt and concentrated on the hinge principle.  He had noticed that burglars forced locks but never hinges.

The following year he founded the Segal Lock and Hardware Company in Manhattan with an original capital of $1,000.  The firm relocated to Brooklyn in the mid-1920’s.  It was said that Segal and his associates later refused an offer of one million dollars in cash for their fifty separate lock patents.

Samuel Segal lived onto 1964.  In his later years he gave over the management of the company to his brother Louis.

Joseph Isaac Segal in Montreal.  Born in Ukraine in 1896, Segal, whose native language was Yiddish, arrived in Montreal in 1910.  He spent the rest of his life there. He quickly found work in the garment industry where it was possible at the time to work without having to know any language other than Yiddish.  He turned to writing poetry in his spare time.

Successful in his community, he left 12 collections and some 5,000 poems at his death in 1954.

Pierre Anctil in his 2017 biography Jacob Isaac Segal: A Montreal Yiddish Poet and His Milieu noted that Segal’s work reflected in many ways the history of Jewish immigrants to North America at the beginning of the 20th century, as well as the tragic experiences of Jewish intellectual refugees during the interwar period.

However, unlike other immigrant authors, whose work was mainly inspired by homesickness, Segal turned to the city in which he was living for inspiration. His Montreal is full of bell towers, parks and neighborhoods.

Benny Siegel and Las Vegas.  At the age of forty one, Benny Siegel had carved out a notorious name for himself in the annals of organized crime and in Las Vegas history as well.  Somehow he had managed to walk between the raindrops and avoid conviction on a plethora of crimes ranging from bootlegging to murder.

If he had not become a silver screen gangster, which his closest friends believed he secretly wanted to be, he had accomplished the next best thing.  He had become a genuine gangster with movie star looks and had surrounded himself with the Hollywood glitterati.

When people thought of Las Vegas, they would always think of Benny Siegel.  He had turned the Fabulous Flamingo there into the snazziest carpet joint in Sin City.

Siegel and his friends had bankrolled construction of the Flamingo with $1.5 million. But in the months following the end of World War II, materials were scarce.  The job immediately ran over budget.  It didn’t help that the four-floor Flamingo was built like a fortress, a testament to Siegel’s paranoia. The thick concrete walls were reinforced with steel acquired from naval shipyards.  Siegel’s top-floor suite was riddled with trap doors and escape hatches, one leading to a getaway car in his private garage. There were gun portals and hallways leading nowhere.  The Flamingo was in short a physical manifestation of Bugsy Siegel’s troubled brain.

But it also was filled with the sort of posh amenities never before seen in Las Vegas. Siegel not only poured big money into carpets and fixtures. He spared no expense on a pool, tennis courts and riding stables.  Siegel’s idea was to create a real resort capable of not only attracting the Hollywood set, but also to give gamblers a variety of diversions from their inevitable losses at the tables.

Siegel would go down to Los Angeles every two weeks or so to meet up with his girl-friend Virginia Hill who lived in Beverley Hills. He was there on the night of June 30, 1947 when an assassin wielding a Army-issue carbine aimed at the back of his carefully coiffed head and blew his brains out.

The Flamingo is still one of the large casinos in Las Vegas.  It has long since shed its association with Siegel’s kind.  But management saw fit to honor the Flamingo’s founder with a bronze plaque and a small rose garden not far from the original site of the Flamingo’s first pool.

The Queen of Versailles.  In certain ways David and Jackie Siegel were just trying to live the American dream – succeed at business, own a big house, and enjoy the spoils of their labor.  But after achieving those dreams, they found themselves wanting more – much, much more.

Their 26,000-square-foot house was simply not enough.  Happiness could be found, the couple thought, only by building the largest house in all of America – a sprawling, 90,000-square-foot mansion in Orlando, Florida which was modeled after the French palace of Versailles. The mansion was complete with a bowling alley and roller-skating rink, a wing for the children, ten kitchens, and $5 million of marble.

But when the U.S. economic bubble burst in 2008, the Siegels – who were so wealthy that they seemed untouchable – turned out to be no different from the tens of thousands of families who lost their far-humbler dream homes. And film director Lauren Greenfield was there to capture their financial downfall, from Jackie Siegel’s $1-million clothing budget zenith to the family’s stuck-in-coach-class nadir. Her documentary, The Queen of Versailles, came out in 2012.

In one scene, a nanny asks Jackie – a former beauty queen from a small town who was 30 years David’s junior – if one large, cavernous room in Versailles was a future bedroom.  “No, that’s my closet!” Jackie exclaimed, her eyes wide, grinning as if she almost can’t believe her good fortune.

Later in the film, after the family arrives in an airport after having flown coach (a first for the children), Jackie walked up to a rental-car counter and asks the clerk earnestly, “What is my driver’s name?”

Greenfield had met Jackie Siegel by chance at a Hollywood party and immediately fell for the couple’s tale.  The filmmaker had asked if she could photograph Siegel’s ostentatious metallic purse and the image eventually became one of Time magazine’s Photos of the Year, illustrating the “high life” and “gilded age” of America.  But that was in 2007, when David Siegel’s company – the largest privately owned time-share company in the world – had netted him a billion dollars.

Greenfield commented on the film:

“For me, when I started the Queen of Versailles, it was a little bit similar. We see so much of the life of the affluent as these packaged, manipulated reality-TV shows. I wanted to do a real-life look at this family, particularly because Jackie and David had this other quality – a down-to-earth American quality.  They came from humble origins and were a rags-to-riches story.”

David himself spoke as if this was a morality tale at the end when he said:

“We need to learn to live within our means, we need to get back to reality.  I was using cheap money to buy big buildings and I thought it would go on forever.  And when they took away the money I was like, ‘Whoa.’”

Segal and Siegel Names

  • Benny Siegel was an American mobster, one of the most feared gangsters of the 1930’s. 
  • Walter Segal was an architect who developed a system of self-build housing in the UK in the 1950’s. 
  • Abe Segal was a prominent South African tennis player in the 1960’s. 
  • Joseph Segel was a pioneer of direct marketing companies in America in the 1960’s and 1970’s, most notably the QVC television network and the Franklin Mint. 
  • Erich Segal was the American author of the best-selling Love Story in 1970.

Segal and Siegel Numbers Today

  • 1,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 16,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Segal 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 might change after 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.


Written by Colin Shelley

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