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How did German people get their names?

Many German names have their roots in the
Germanic middle ages. (1000 ad)

A name identified a specific person and later a group of persons (family name); at first through verbal usage, it was later fixed through writing. All social classes and demographic strata aided in the development of names.
The earliest are the names derived from the
area that they lived in .

Their name could be the location of their home. If a person or family migrated from one place to another, they were identified by the place they came form, such as names ending with -burg or -berg would mean by a castle.

Also the region could make a difference in the spelling.

The largest group and the most easily recognizable names are those derived from the vocation or profession of the first bearer. They tell you what the first bearer did for a living.

Some people chose names that were their profession. There were also people that chose names that had to do with a physical characteristic. Names like "Schwartzkopf" come from the person having black hair and Lustig from being a happy person. You could also be named after an object such as Nagel which means nail, a saint, like Augustine, a month or a day of the week or

IF you want to see if your last name is in the list below, then hold down the ctrl key and the f key on your computer and type your name in the box that appears.



Dating back to the old Germanic world:

Albrecht (Albright), Die(d)trich, Gunther, Hagen, Hildebrandt, Hillenbrand, Oswald, Siegfried (Seyfried). Short forms: Konrad-Kunz, Heinrich-Hinz.

First names of first bearer:

Friedric ,Fritz, Albrecht (Albright), Dietrich, Dietz, Eberhard(t), Georg(e), Heinrich, Heinz, Hinz, Konrad, Kunz, Ludwig, Lutz, Ott(o), Paul(us), Reinhard, Werner.


Names derived from location of homestead

Zumwald - at the forest;

Kaltenbach - cold creek;

Waldschmidt - smith at/in the woods.

Meer - from the sea, ocean;

Borg (northern German) or Burg - from or near a fortified castle;

Bullwinkel - corner where bulls were kept;

Adler (zum Adler) - eagle, may have derived from a house name;

Rabe - crow.

The place a person came from:

Cullen from Koeln/Cologne;

Dannenberg, town of Dannenberg - pine tree covered mountain, three places in Germany;

Dresdner from Dresden;

Halpern or Halperin - one who came from Heilbronn in Wurttemberg;

Mel(t)zer - can be a brewer or a person who came from Meltz;

Berlin, Klutz and Lowenthal - place names in Germany;

Silberg - two place names in Germany;

Stein - numerous villages in German-speaking countries; stone, rock, marker;

Sternberg - name of ten places in Germany;

Shapiro, Shapira, Shapero, Shapera - one from Spyer, in the middle ages spelled Spira, and by Jews spelled Shapira;

Pollack - one who came from Poland;

Frank - from Franconia;

Rockower, Rockow - ow is frequent and only in the low lands of Germany;

Schlesinger - one who came from Silesia or Schleusingen in Thuringia;

Schwei(t)zer - person from Switzerland, but also a dairyman.

Regional differences:

Diminutives (-chen, -lein, -lin) can indicate regional origin. Examples: Buechlein, Boeglin.


Allemanic ( Switzerland , Alsace , Baden ) endings in -li; Swabian: -le; Bavaria/Austrian: -erl; North German: -gen, -ken.


Schleswig-Holstein and Friesland share the North-European tradition of adding -sen or -so(h)n to the father's name: Hansen, Claussen, Petersen, Petersohn, Jacobsohn, T(h)omsen.


Where immigration from the northeastern provinces of Mecklenburg and Pomerania was strong, you will find names ending in -ow (but note that Polish and Russian have that ending too).




Names of saints:

Lukas, Matthias, Matthaeus, Paulus, Ruprecht and Nikolaus, which became family names.


After days of the week:

Montag, Freitag, Sonntag; or Month: May.


Relating to objects/materials:

Hammer - hammer;

Nagel - nail;

Knopf - button,

Stahl - steel;

Eisen - iron;

Erzberger - ore mountain;

Gold - gold;

Silber - silver;

Baum - tree;

Holz - wood;

Stroh - straw;

Keller - cellar, food storage space.







Links and Books

German Geneology, Names and Culture

Dictionary of German Names

German-American Names 2nd Edition

German-English Genealogical Dictionary

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Last updated June 7, 2006