Shapiro Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Shapiro Meaning

Shpria – which became Shapiro – was the Jewish name for the city of
Speyer on the Rhine.  Speyer had a large Jewish population during
the Middle Ages and Shapiro denoted someone from Speyer.  The
Shapiro surname might also have derived from the Hebrew word sofer meaning “scribe” or from the
Russian word safir meaning

The main spelling variants today are Shapiro and Schapiro.

Shapiro Resources on

Shapiro Ancestry

Jewish community of Speyer
thrived for more than two hundred
years from
the late 11th century. Speyer at that time was an important center for
Ashkenazi culture.  The early Shapiros there were rabbinical
scholars – Rav Schmuel of Shapiro and his son Rav Schlomo Shapiro, the
first to adopt Shapiro as a family name.

However, religious persecution of the Jews began and the Jewish
population of Speyer steadily declined until by the year 1500 there
were none remaining there.  They spread elsewhere.  Notable
Shapiros were later to be
found in Lithuania, Prague, and Cracow in Poland.  Others were to
be found among the Jewish communities in Hungary and elsewhere in
Poland and Russia.

America.  Most of the
Shapiros that came to America
originated from Russia rather
than from
Germany. Among these Shapiro immigrants were:

  • Jacob
    , born in Odessa in 1899, who came to New York as a
    young boy and became one of the chief mobsters in the garment district
    during the 1920’s and 30’s.  He co-founded Murder Inc. as his
    weapon of enforcement.  Among those wiped out during his splurge
    of killings were the three Shapiro brothers (not related to him) also
    into racketeering, who were murdered in
    the early 1930’s.
  • Meyer Schapiro, on the other hand, born in Lithuania in 1904,
    to New York also as a young boy, but achieved renown as an art
  • Joseph and Jennie Shapiro had also arrived from Lithuania.
    Their son Ted became a noted Tin Pan Alley songwriter in the 1920’s.
  • and Samuel Shapiro, who was born in Estonia in Russia in 1907 and
    came with his parents to Chicago at a young age.  Known as
    “Smiling Sam,” he briefly became
    Governor of Illinois in 1968.

One Shapiro family traces their history back to Amsterdam where two
Shapiro brothers were meat wholesalers
who supplied
army.  One of these brothers, Abraham, travelled with this army to
Russia in 1812 and remained then afterwards, settling in the Minsk
area.  From his line came Isaac and Eliyahu Shapiro whose families
migrated to Wisconsin and California in the late 19th century.

Morris Shapiro also came to America from the Minsk area, although at a
later date.  He achieved renown as a weight-lifter and was known
as “the Mighty Atlas.”  He lived out his life in Las Vegas.

Another Shapiro family, based this time in Odessa, were food suppliers
to the Tsar’s fleet in the Black Sea during the 19th century.
These Shapiros emigrated to America in 1903, settling in Indianapolis
where they opened Shapiro’s Delicatessen.  It
still flourishes.


Shapiro Miscellany

Speyer and Shapiro.  In Jewish sources Speyer is best known as one of the three Jewish communities on the Rhine,
the other two being Worms and Mainz, which were destroyed during the
Crusade. These three communities are also remembered for their set of
regulations known as Takanot “Shum,” Shum is an acronym for Shapiro
(Speyer), Vermaiza (Worms), and Magentza (Mainz).

In spite of the destruction of the Jewish
community in 1096, it seems that it was later restored since there were
references to rabbinical scholars from Speyer in later periods.  The most famous of these was Rav Shmuel of
Shapiro, whose son Rav Shlomo Shapiro, rabbi of Heilbronn and Landau,
traditionally the first to use Shapiro as a family name.
While there are no precise dates for Rav
Shmuel or Rav Shlomo, contemporary evidence suggests that they were
during the middle of the 15th century.

traditional Shapiro lineages in eastern Europe start a little later –
with Rav
Noson Notte Shapiro of Grodno who died in 1577.
From his line came the famous mekubal, Rav Noson Notte Shapiro
of Krakow,
author of Megale Amukat. 

Two Shapiro Brothers.  Two Shapiro
brothers were successful meat wholesalers, supplying meat to Napoleon’s
army.  During Napoleon’s 1812 war against
Russia, one brother, Abraham, accompanied Bonaparte’s army as it
across Europe.  The other remained in
Amsterdam.  After Napoleon’s drive
faltered on the steppes of Russia, Abraham Shapiro remained in Russia.  He married a Russian woman and settled
there.  Meanwhile, the family of his
brother in Amsterdam died out.

an attorney wrote to Abraham’s descendants from Amsterdam saying he
would come
to Slutsk near the family home to deliver the yerusha,
the inheritance, of the Amsterdam’s family to its Russian
relatives.  The family gathered to
receive what it thought would be vast riches.
They were very disappointed to receive not money, but a yichus brif instead, a listing of their
patrilineal descent from Ezra.

yichus brif explained that the family
possessed the name Shapiro because Ezra was a scribe and that the
Hebrew word
for scribe was sofer.  Over
millennia sofer became Shapiro.

Shapiros in America by Country of Origin.  Most of
the Shapiros that came to America originated from Russia rather than from Germany:

Country of Origin Numbers Percent
Russia   257   68
Poland    65   16
Germany    31    9
Elsewhere    26    7

Mobster Jacob Shapiro.  Shapiro grew
up on the streets in Brooklyn.  It was
said that he met his crime partner, Lepke Buchalter, there when both
boys were
trying to rob the same pushcart.  Instead
of fighting over the spoils, they agreed on a partnership.
Buchalter served as the brains and Shapiro
provided the muscle in an alliance that lasted for decades.  They were active in labor racketeering in the
garment district and later in bootlegging.

Jacob was a big hulk of a man who had a way of roaring when he was
angry.  He would yell: “get out of here;”
and it would sound like “gurrah da here.”
He did it so often that his nickname became Gurrah.

In the late 1920’s Shapiro and Buchalter formed Murder Inc, an
organization that performed contract murders for organized crime.  One of its most dedicated members, Shapiro
personally oversaw many contract murders and recruited promising gunmen
future membership.

By the late 1930’s,
however, Shapiro and Buchalter had become the focus of US Attorney
Dewey’s crime investigations.  Shapiro
was eventually convicted of conspiracy and extortion and sentenced to
15 years
to life in prison.  Buchalter went to the
electric chair for murder in 1944.

Shapiro’s Delicatessan.  The Shapiros
had once been the primary food supplier for the Czar’s naval fleet in
Odessa.  But the anti-Jewish pogroms that
erupted in Russia at the turn of the century meant that Louis Shapiro
spending many nights fending off vandals while Rebecca and the children
hiding in the basement.  The Shapiros
therefore emigrated to America in 1903.

settled in Indianapolis.  After raising
capital through pushcart street sales of flour and sugar, they set up
shop at
Meridian and McCarty streets, with living quarters above the store for
themselves and their eight children.  The
Shapiros saw to it that the grocery was a family affair, waking the
children at
three each morning with the rallying cry: “The day is half over

The grocery featured canned goods stacked in
dazzling pyramid displays, pickles and mayonnaise, and kosher deli
supplied by the Vienna Meat Company out of Chicago.
The transition to restaurant began after the
end of Prohibition in the mid-1930’s, when aging Louis, suffering from
problems, delegated the running of the store to sons Abe, Izzy, and Max.

Max served as major domo of Shapiro’s for 44
years.  He guided Shapiro’s through
several expansions, including a kitchen and bakery that could fully
the preparation of its minimum daily requirement of 300 pounds of
corned beef briskets; 100 pounds each of pastrami, turkey, and roast
beef; 150
to 200 loaves of rye bread, and the quartering of 1,000 pickles.

Helen Shapiro, English Pop Singer.  Helen Shapiro was the granddaughter of Russian Jewish
immigrants to the East End of London.
Her parents were piece-workers in the garment industry and
Helen, born
in Bethnal Green in 1946, grew up in that neighborhood.

Although too poor to own a record player, her
parents encouraged music in their home.  Helen played banjolele and sang with her
brother occasionally at his youth club.  She
had a deep timbre to her voice and friends gave her the nickname of
“Foghorn.”  At the age of thirteen she
started singing
lessons at the Maurice Burman School.
connections led to Columbia recording a demo of her singing.

The rest was history.  In 1961, at the age
of fourteen, she had a UK
#3 hit with her first single, Don’t Treat
Me Like A Child
, and two number one hits, You Don’t
and her best-known song Walkin’ Back to Happiness.
When she first went on tour, the Beatles were the back-up act.

A quarter of a century later, Helen Shapiro decided to walk back
to happiness through her new-found belief in Jesus.
And she is still walking, preaching and singing
the gospel.  Her website is Manna Music.


Shapiro Names

  • Jacob Shapiro, co-founder of Murder Inc, was a New York mobster of the 1920’s and 30’s.
  • Carl J. Shapiro founded Kay
    Windsor in 1939 and built it up to be one of the largest women apparel companies in America.
  • Helen Shapiro was a British pop
    star of the 1960’s.
  • George Shapiro is an American show business manager and television producer, best known for representing Jerry Seinfeld.

Select Shapiro Numbers Today

  • 1,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 13,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Shapiro 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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