Select Epstein Surname Genealogy

The Epstein surname is Germanic in origin from a place-name - Eppstein in Hesse or Bavaria or Ebstein in the Styria region of SE Austria.  The root in each case was the High German ebur meaning “wild boar” and stein or “stone.” 

In Hesse the Lords of Eppstein were a family of German nobility in the Middle Ages.  From the 12th century onwards they ruled extensive territories in the Rhine Main region from their castle at Eppstein, northwest of Frankfurt.  However, their line became extinct in 1535 and the Eppstein name no longer featured in that area. 

Instead, the Epstein surname has had Jewish origins. 
After the Jewish exodus from Spain in 1492, a line moved to Ebstein in Styria and took the Ebstein name.  Ebstein became Eppstein and then Epstein.  During the course of the succeeding centuries the name was assumed by many Jewish people, not necessarily because of any particular line or relationship, but simply because it was a well-known surname.

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The Epstein name spread amongst the Jewish community in Europe.

Eppsteins were in Prague by the 16th century.  Meir b. Jacob ha-Levi Eppstein was a printer there in 1522 and Meir Eppstein a leader of its Jewish community in 1601.  At the beginning of the 19th century, two brothers in Prague - Israel and Ephraim Epstein – had acquired sufficient wealth from their calico printing to establish themselves in the Austrian capital.  Gustav Ritter von Epstein built his Palais Epstein in Vienna over the course of the 1860’s.  However, his family fortunes were wiped out by the Vienna stock market crash of 1873.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Epstein name also featured in places such as Brest-Litovsk, Grodno, Friedberg and Konigsberg.  Jakub Epstein was a prominent merchant and banker in Warsaw in the early 1800's.

But Epsteins, because of Russian pogroms and later Nazism, are not much seen in Europe today.  The largest number of Epsteins now are in America, followed by Israel and South Africa.  Almost all of these Epsteins are Jewish.  But some Catholic Epsteins from the Hesse area in Germany emigrated as well.

England.  The Epstein name first appeared in London in the 1860's.  Sigmund Epstein, born in Germany, was recorded as a leather merchant in the 1871 census.   Morris Epstein, a cabinet maker, arrived from Russia in the 1890's.  His sons built furniture in the Art Deco style until the 1950's. 

Meanwhile Isaac Epstein had come from Lithuania in the 1890's and settled in Liverpool.  His grandson was Brian Epstein, the ill-fated manager of the Beatles who took his own life in 1967. 

America.  Max Epstein was the name that Polish immigrant Chatskel Barnkovsky took on his arrival in New York in 1870.  His son Jacob, born on the Lower East Side in 1880, moved as a young man to England where he became the world-renowned sculptor.

Others Epsteins who came to New York were:
  • Morris and Sara Epstein who were present there in the early 1880's.  Their daughter Charlotte, born in 1884, initially trained as a stenographer but then found her metier as a swimming coach.  She coached the US women's Olympic swimming teams of the 1920's and 1930's.  
  • Ibzig and Bessie Epstein from Lithuania who came on the Rhynland in 1906 and settled in Brooklyn.  Their son Teddy became a successful New York pulp magazine publisher.
  • Rachmael (Raymond) and Krana Epstein from Minsk who arrived around 1910 and also settled in Brooklyn.  Their sons Benjamin and Samuel who came with them had successful professional careers.
  • while Louis and Della Epstein, Russian immigrants, were living in Manhattan around this time.  Their son Leopold changed his name to Lee Eastman and was the father of Linda Eastman who married Paul McCartney.
Louis Epstein, the son of a rabbi from Lithuania, came in 1904 and was a rabbi in Massachusetts, first at Roxbury and then at Brookline.  There was later a very notable Epstein family at Brookline, including:  
  • the twins Julius and Philip Epstein, screenwriters for the 1942 film Casablanca  
  • and Philip’s grandson Theo Epstein, general manager for the Boston Red Sox baseball team in the year 2004 when they won the World Series.  
Jason Epstein, born in Boston, was with his then wife Barbara the founders of The New York Review of Books in 1963.

South Africa.  Dutch-born Isador Epstein studied music in London and performed there as a concert pianist before emigrating to South Africa in 1929.  There he became the leading piano teacher in Johannesburg.

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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Sir Jacob Epstein, based in Britain, was a pioneer of modern sculpture in the first half of the 20th century. Charlotte "Eppie" Epstein coached the US Olympic swimming team in the 1920’s.  She was known as the mother of women's swimming in America. 
Brian Epstein was the Liverpool manager of the Beatles during the 1960’s.  
Jason and Barbara Epstein
 were co-founders of The New York Review of Books in 1963

Select Epsteins Today
  • 1,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 9,000 in America (most numerous in New York) 
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in South Africa)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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