Stein Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Stein Surname Meaning

The German word stein means “stone” and the surname originally described someone who lived on stony ground or (occupationally) someone who worked in stone, such as a mason or stonecutter.

Stein also became through Yiddish a Jewish name when Jewish people were obliged to adopt surnames for themselves in the early part of the 19th century.   The Stein name either exists by itself or is combined in a longer name, such as in Bernstein or Goldstein, or in a prefix form, such as in Steinway, the famous piano-maker.

Steinn as “stone” also appears in Scandinavian languages.  The Dutch Steijn/Stein is apparently an abbreviation of Augustin, the Scottish Steen/Stein of Steven.

Stein Surname Resources on The Internet

Stein Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Fife), Germany (northern Bavaria) and from Jewish emigrants
  • to America, England, South Africa and Australia

In Europe, the surname Stein is mainly to be found in German-speaking lands, the count today being approximately as follows:

  • Germany, 60,000
  • France, 2,500
  • Scandinavia, 1,200
  • and the Netherlands, 1,000.

The Stein name is most known in Germany in Franconia, an area of northern Bavaria.  Wurzburg has been home of the famed vineyard Stein (and of Steinwein); the town of Nassau was where the von Stein family originated; and rabbi Leopold Stein, the prominent leader of reform Jewry in the 19th century, was born in Burgpreppach in lower Franconia.

Stein emigration to America, initially just German, took on an increasingly Jewish flavor, not just from Germany but from Jewish outposts in the Austrian- Hungarian and Russian empire as well.

England.  Most Steins in England are of German extraction.  They begun arriving into the East End of London in the mid 19th century.  Their numbers are smaller today than might be expected.

Many Steins anglicized their names due to the anti-German hysteria of the First World War.  Rick Stein, the celebrity chef, has talked in the BBC TV program Who Do You Think You Are? of the trauma his father experienced as a young boy at that time which eventually caused him to take his own life.

Scotland.  Stein and Steen, both abbreviations of Steven, are Scottish Lowland surnames found originally in Fife and adjacent areas, Ayrshire and the Border counties.

The Stein name may have first appeared in the Clackmannan area near Fife in 1200.  They were substantial landowners by the 16th century and apparently learned the art of whisky distilling from the friars at Kennetpans Abbey.  Andrew Stein first established a commercial whisky distillery there around 1720.  They remained important distillers for more than a century.  But their last plant closed in 1856.

Katie Stein was said to have been the heroine of Burns’ poem Tam O’Shanter. The most famous recent Stein has been Jock Stein, the football manager who led Celtic to their European Cup triumph in 1967.

South Africa.  Steyn, a variant of Stein, is a well-established South African surname.  The origins are both Dutch and German.  The majority of South African Steyns seem to have been descended from a Dutchman Jacobus Steijn of the early 1700’s.  Another line apparently stems from a soldier, Johannes Steyn from Darmstad, who settled in Cape colony in the late 1700’s, married, and raised eight children.

One line from Jacobus Steijn leads to Bloomfontein.  The Steyn farm there – once the home of Martinus Steyn, the last President of the Orange Free State – has become something of a shrine to Afrikaan nationalism.  Another descendant is the present-day business tycoon Douw Steyn.

America.  The Steins followed the early German immigrant pattern into America, via Philadelphia into Pennsylvania.  Among those arriving in the first half of the 18th century through this route were:

  • Johannes Leonardt Stein in 1733 on the Hope of London, settling in Lancaster county
  • Johannes Stein from Rheinland in 1748 on the Edinburgh, settling also in Lancaster county
  • Philipp Stein in 1751, settling in Bedminster, Bucks county
  • and another Johannes Stein from Rheinland in the early 1750’s, settling in Pine Grove, Berks county(where the family remained for the next two hundred years).

Baltimore.  Leopold Stein settled in Baltimore in 1833 and subsequent Steins of this line became Baltimore lawyers and judges.  Meyer Stein – who had arrived in 1841 and started up a clothing store – was part of the vibrant German Jewish community of Baltimore.  His son Daniel made money in railroads and his granddaughter was the writer Gertrude Stein.

New York  The largest number of Steins were to be found in New York, following the wave of Jewish immigration in the late 19th century from Eastern Europe.  Their Yiddish culture transplanted readily itself to New York; and Joseph Stein, the son of Polish immigrants in New York, depicted this culture in his smash-hit musical Fiddler on the Roof.

New York has provided the platform for Steins to succeed in the professions, in particular as lawyers, doctors, and businessmen.  Recent New York headlines have told of the death of Linda Stein, a real estate mogul, and of the conviction of Edward Stein, a hedge fund manager, for a Ponzi-scheme fraud.

Elsewhere.  Steins have also spread across America.  Three family stories have been:

  • the Stein family of Lafayette, Indiana which began in 1851 when John Stein moved there from Pennsylvania.  He later was instrumental in founding Purdue University.
  • Jacob and Caroline Stein who farmed in La Crosse county, Wisconsin, but lost five of their six children during a black diptheria outbreak in 1872.
  • and Charles Stein and his family who immigrated from Germany to California in the 1880’s.  They started up the Stein family farm (now preserved as a museum) near the US/Mexican border.

A Jewish Stein family from Lithuania moved to South Bend, Indiana in the 1890’s where they ran a general store.  Their son Jules Stein started a talent-agency business in the 1930’s which grew into the mass entertainment company MCA.

And a Jewish immigrant from Russia, Sam Stein, came to Mississippi in 1905 and started up a general store in Greenville. David Ginzl’s 2004 book Stein Mart narrates how the family built up the business in the succeeding years.

Australia.  The Stein name began in Australia in 1838 when Johann Stein was brought out from Germany with the first cuttings of Rhine Riesling.  Steins have been living in Smithfield, NSW almost from that time. Since 1976 the vineyard in Mudgee, NSW with Jacob Stein has been in Stein family hands.

Heinrich Stein came out from Germany in 1849 to work as a vinedresser.  His family made their home near Orange, NSW.

Stein Surname Miscellany

The von Steins in Germany and America.  The von Steins were an old Franconian family which had been in Nassau in the Lahn river valley in northern Bavaria since the 12th century.  Baron Friedrich von Stein, who was born on the family estate there, was an important player in the modernization of Prussia, introducing reforms which were to pave the way for the later unification of Germany.

A later von Stein, Christian von Stein, born in 1825, emigrated to America.  Family legend has it that when Christian was a young boy, he walked into the woods and, hearing a cuckoo bird, counted the bird’s cuckoo call.  He counted to 110.   If you can count the time a bird says “cuckoo” (according to the belief at the time), that is how long you will live.

Christian later renounced his title and inheritance and came to America to begin a new life.  He built a flour mill in Missouri which has recently been restored and is still working.  He died in America in 1929 at the age of 103, sound of mind and wit.  He ate his noon meal, drank his glass of Schnapps, smoked his cigar, and went for his afternoon walk, twirling his cane.  He returned home, retired to his bedroom for an afternoon nap, and died in his sleep.

Reader Feedback:  Christian Stein was my great grandfather.  My maiden name is Stein.  i am so excited to find this. He is buried in the cemetery at Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  I was told that he would walk from Cape Girardeau to Jackson, about ten miles, once a day.  I’ve only found very little information about him. The only info I have is from the census from his arrival in America.  Would you please send me sources of his information to me. Thank you so.  Susan Beard (

Leopold Stein and Judenmatrikel.  Leopold Stein’s life, just like that of his father Abraham, had been severely restricted as to where they were allowed to live and how they could earn a living.

In Bavaria, no Jew could stay in a locality unless he had obtained a special permit to live there, the so-called Judenmatrikel. The Judenmatrikel, begun in 1813, would list the members of each Jewish family.  No name could be added to the list until someone on the list died.  In addition, only the head of the household and the eldest son were entitled to work.

Because of the Judenmatrikel, Leopold Stein – when he was made Rabbi in Frankfurt in the 1840’s and preached to his congregation – would encourage them to emigrate to the United States.

Leopold Stein of Baltimore.  Franz Leopold Stein was the son of the Grand Duke of Baden’s physician at Schwetzingen and Rastatt.  This young man was involved in the democratic student movement at Freiburg University in 1832 and forced to cross over into Alsace to escape arrest.

In the following year, in April 1833, Leopold Stein left Strasbourg for Le Havre where he boarded the ship Lexington for New Orleans.  His mother, two sisters and a brother accompanied him. On their way up the Mississippi to Ohio, his mother died of cholera.  Late in June they arrived in Cincinnati.

But Leopold soon decided to turn east and, as the last diary entry states, he settled in Maryland:

“Baltimore, July 25th, 1833. Temperature 110 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Three years later Leopold married Miss Young who came from one of the old southern Maryland families.

Reader Feedback – Leopold Stein of Baltimore.  There were two Leopold Steins – Rabbi Leopold Loeb Stein of Frankfurt and Franz Leopold Stein of Baltimore – both of whom encouraged and assisted people to emigrate to Cincinnati in the mid-19th century.

David Lewin ( 

Reader Feedback – Steins from Poland to Canada.  My ancestor is Andreas Stein who was born around 1780, a German Lutheran living after 1800 in central Poland near Chodecz and later in Chodnow (district Rawa Mazowiecki).

Many descendants remained in Chodnow until World War Two.  But others migrated to Volhynia (now in Ukraine) after 1880, with some later descendants going to the USA and Alberta in Canada. Do you have any information about this line of Steins? Unfortunately, Rawa church records were lost in 1945 when the Russian army swept through.

Dick Stein in Canada (

Stein and Company.  The Stein name appears either by itself or with a prefix.  The table below shows the eight most common Jewish Stein names in America, ranked according to their frequency.

Surname Meaning A Notable
1. Stein stone Joseph Stein, writer of Fiddler on the Roof
2. Goldstein gold + stone Vida Goldstein, Australian
3. Bernstein amber + stone Leonard Bernstein, American
4. Epstein boar + stone Jacob Epstein, British sculptor
5. Silverstein silver + stone Abe Silverstein, American
pioneer in the space program
6. Finkelstein carbuncle + stone Norman Finkelstein, American
Holocaust expert
7. Feinstein fine + stone Moshe Feinstein, American
Orthodox rabbi
8. Rubinstein ruby + stone Arthur Rubinstein, famous pianist

Other famous -steins are Einstein, Eisenstein, and Hammerstein.  Stein also appears as a prefix in surnames, such as Steiner, Steinitz, Steinbeck, and Steinway.

Steins may have increased in numbers as some sons or grandsons of -stein immigrants shortened their names.  Thus in New York politics the son of Jerry Finkelstein has been Andrew Stein.

Joseph Stein and Fiddler on the Roof.  Joseph Stein was born in New York in 1912, the son of Polish immigrants.  Growing up in the Bronx, Stein’s father read him the stories of Sholom Aleichem, a Yiddish author of Jewish folk tales.  Stein would remember these stories when he came later to develop the musical that became Fiddler on the RoofFiddler was in fact originally titled Tevye as it was based on Aleichem’s story Tevye and His Daughters.

In Stein’s version, the story begins outside Tevye’s house, with a fiddler seated on the roof.  Tevye addresses the audience, explaining that they are all as precarious as a fiddler on the roof, trying to stay up without breaking their necks.

Why do they stay?  It is because this small village is their home, and they keep their balance through tradition.  They have traditions for every piece of their lives, such as always covering their heads and wearing a prayer shawl, which shows their constant devotion to God.  Tevye tells the audience that he has no idea how the traditions began, but because of those traditions, everyone knows what part they play in life.

Fiddler opened on Broadway in 1964.  Although its backers were originally reluctant to produce the musical because they feared it might have limited appeal, Fiddler went on to become a smash hit.  Stein won three major awards for his effort, including the Tony award for best musical.

The Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics.  When Lou Stein ended his business career, his role as a leading legal philanthropist was just beginning.  Lou had been a supporter of Fordham Law School in New York for many years.  He took that dedication to a new level in the mid-1970s.  Lou decided that, in the wake of Watergate, it was critical that the legal profession rededicate to service and ethics.

He therefore established the Fordham-Stein Prize, which has annually honored lawyers whose careers have embodied the highest ideals of the profession.  He then created the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics –  which has become known worldwide as a powerful force in educating the public about the importance of the rule of law and in educating lawyers about the awesome responsibility that their profession casts on their shoulders.

The Stein Center is possibly without peer in legal academia.  It has helped establish Fordham as a leader in the field of legal ethics and it has helped educate a generation of lawyers that are dedicated to advancing the public interest.

A Portrait of the Steyn Family in South Africa.  The Steyn family selection in the 2003 book Group Portrait South Africa examines the journey of a prominent Afrikaner family that traces its roots to Martinus Steyn, the last president of the so-called Orange Free State.  The life stories revolve around a farm that has remained in the family since the 19th century and has become something of a museum of Afrikaner nationalism.

The Steyns have been the only family in the collection that have managed to keep their land through the 20th century.  In the Steyn stories recounted in the book, there is family lore about their beloved farm and the time that they were visited by a member of the English royal family; but no discussion of their role in apartheid nor on their position on the current government. Instead, the family projects images and stories of war, domination and privilege.

The dominant picture presented is a two-page spread by border war veteran Colin Steyn and his son Colin in Boer uniforms dating from the Boer War.  The spread includes President Martinus Steyn in an official portrait taken at his inauguration in 1897 and Yvonne Steyn sitting under a gigantic tree that she planted herself. The war veteran Colin Steyn then relates how participating in wars with South Africa’s neighbors in the 1980s has traumatized him. He returned from the border wars of the 1980s with terrible stories and souvenirs from the bodies of dead Africans.

Some of the Steyn women have seemed uneasy about the exalted status of their family.  Eliza Steyn, for instance, complained that she was being “swallowed up” by the reputation of the Steyns.

“They were worshipped as heroes and sometimes it bothered me.  I could not accept that the Steyns were everything and other people were nothing.”

She didn’t want her children growing up “with the notion that being a Steyn was the alpha and the omega.”

Indiana’s Stein Family.  Robert Kriebel’s 1990 biography of the prominent 19th century Stein family in Lafayette, Poets, Painters, Paupers, Fools, weaves the story of four fascinating individuals within the web of state and national history and culture at the time.

The family members included John A. Stein, the state politician who devoted years to the founding of Purdue University; the indomitable mother Virginia who pursued a career in the local library when left widowed and penniless; the talented albeit disreputable Orth Stein who was prominent as a journalist and illustrator but was also tried for murder; and the sheltered Evaleen Stein who achieved some local fame as a poet and author of children’s books.

The Stein Family Farm in California.  Charles Stein had been born in Germany and had immigrated to California in the 1880s.  He had met his wife Bertha in National City, they had married in 1891 and then had moved to Charles’s farm close to the Mexican border.

Charles, a successful farmer, was angered when his property was flooded by the construction of the Otay Dam.  Offered what he thought was a paltry amount for the loss of his property, he took the builders of the dam to court and sued for a better settlement.  Charles Stein won his suit.  With $1,000 of this money, the Steins purchased property in National City in 1900 which was to become the Stein Family Farm.

In 1992, Charles’s descendants were approached by a purchaser who wanted to tear down the structures on the Farm and build apartments there.  Public awareness of this resulted in a campaign to “Save the Farm.”  The purchaser generously sold the property back to the town of National City.

To the credit of National City’s government, the farmstead was purchased with the intent to turn it into a living history museum.  Stein’s house, barn, and buildings, along with over two acres of property – the Stein Family Farm – is now this museum.

The Life and Death of Linda Stein.  The punk-rock pioneer turned broker to the stars had stormed her way up from middle-class Riverdale to become something of a star herself.  In 1975, this New Yorker had taken one look at the Ramones, decided they were the future of rock, and helped launch their incendiary ascent.  A fixture at CBGB, the Mudd Club, and Studio 54, she leveraged her friendships in the 1980’s to become the first and greatest celebrity real-estate broker, selling to the likes of Madonna, Sting, Donna Karan, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, and Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley.

There were moments, many of them, when her personality upstaged her accomplishments:  She was a couture-clad Jewish Auntie Mame to her children, a vicious competitor to her colleagues, a heavy drinker and rampant pot-smoker with a volcanic temper she’d unleash even on her friends.  “If she doesn’t say fuck twenty times a day,” her daughter Mandy, then a teenager, said in 1991, “she’s repressed.”

However, time went by and time was passing her by. The Linda Stein of everyone’s imagination was much younger – still physically whole and in every way indomitable. “She set very high expectations for herself,” said a friend. “She felt if she didn’t do a huge deal all the time that she wasn’t living up to her own expectations.”  At 62, she appeared to be in competition with her own iconhood.

In 2007, Linda Stein had engaged a new assistant Natavia Lowery, a quiet African-American woman of 26 who had grown up in a Harlem housing project.  As a boss, Stein could be brutal and profane and she may have been particularly hard on Lowery – because, on the day before Halloween, Lowery must have snapped. Later that night Linda’s daughter Mandy discovered her mother’s body in a pool of blood in the living room of her Fifth Avenue apartment. She had been bludgeoned with a heavy object repeatedly.  Lowery was convicted of the murder in February 2010.

Stein Names

  • Gertrude Stein was an American writer who spent most of her life in France (for much of the time with her partner Alice B. Toklas).
  • Jules Stein built up his talent-agency business in the 1930’s to the mass entertainment company MCA Inc.
  • Joseph Stein was the author of the smash-hit musical Fiddler on the Roof of the 1960’s.
  • Jock Stein was the Scottish football manager who led Celtic to their European Cup triumph in 1967.
  • Herbert Stein was the Chairman of Economic Advisors under Presidents Nixon and Ford.

Stein Numbers Today

  • 2,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 25,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

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Written by Colin Shelley

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