Jewish, English, French, and Hungarian (Benjámin): from the Hebrew male personal name Binyamin ‘Son of the South’. In the Book of Genesis, it is treated as meaning ‘Son of the Right Hand’. The two senses are connected, since in Hebrew the south is thought of as the righthand side of a person who is facing east. Benjamin was the youngest and favorite son of Jacob and supposed progenitor of one of the twelve tribes of Israel (Genesis 35:16– 18; 42:4). It is rare as an English and French surname; the personal name was not common among Gentiles in the Middle Ages, but its use was sanctioned by virtue of having been borne by a saint martyred in Persia in about ad 424 . In some cases in medieval Europe it was also applied as a byname or nickname to the youngest (and beloved) son of a large family; this is the sense of modern French benjamin.
Dictionary of American Family Names © Patrick Hanks 2003, 2006.