German surnames

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The German family names have gradually gained acceptance in German-speaking countries since the 12th century. It was not until 1875 that the registry offices were introduced in the German Reich and the existing names were established. Since then every German has a first name , possibly an intermediate name and the family name , in this order. In some German dialects , the family name comes first before the first name.

Historical development

A family name was inherited for the first time in Venice in the 9th century . This custom spread from there to northern Italy and southern France in the 10th century . In the 11th century the custom found its way to Catalonia and northern France, and in the 12th century to England and Switzerland . After that, the use of a permanent family name became common in the western and southern German cities. At the beginning of the 15th century, family names were found everywhere in the German- speaking area , but not consistently. The family name could still change, for example when moving away or because of a new job. While the nobility had been using fixed family names since the fiefs were inherited in 1037 in order to be able to assert their inheritance claims, the patricians and townspeople only followed later . Rural areas got by without a fixed family name until the 17th or 18th century, in Friesland it was legally introduced in the 19th century.

Until the 12th century, sources only contain single-part personal names. However, there were already ways of expressing family relationships, such as naming the father, the allotted rhyme, the variation of the first name members as in the Hildebrand song : Hildebrand, Heribrandes son. Another way of describing people in more detail are individual surnames that allude to a special characteristic of the person who carries the name. This method is found sporadically in the early sources. In the 12th century the naming system changed and two name elements - first name and family name - were used more and more frequently. In contrast to the current system, these early family names are not yet inheritable and their appearance can be changed. The reasons for this change in the system include the population density at that time. In the cities in particular, the same name was repeated by many people, and the number of written documents and contracts also increased. This made it necessary to be able to identify a person more specifically by their name.

Until around 1800, changes in the family name by changing the spelling , by reshaping and by shortening or expanding the name or replacing it with a completely different name were not uncommon and they still occur today. The possibilities for changing the name are far more diverse than they result from the different spellings of the phonetic alphabet and one of the main causes of dead spots in genealogical research. As a rule, family names already existed in the 16th century, but not as persistent as in the modern sense. Fixed and hereditary family names are characterized by the fact that a professional name can be in contrast to the person's actual occupation , the fathers and their sons each have the same name and distinctions are used such as "the older" and "the younger". However, arbitrary name changes were only prohibited by law in Saxony, for example, in 1662. But even after that there are still changes, for example through the Germanization of foreign-sounding names, through adoption , legitimation and declaration of marital status of illegitimate children, marriage , divorce , ennobling , denomination change (conversion from Judaism ), naming of foundlings , through the formation of double names such as "Schulz- Blochwitz ”in the case of names that are too frequent, by adopting artist names and, in addition, still fluctuating spelling in many cases.

In the 16th century (especially in the first half), less so in the 17th century and rarely in the 18th century, the following changes were common in the Central German- speaking area: An epithet that denotes the profession ( Jorge, "the stonemason"), the Origin (Hans von Pyrna; but by no means noble!), The place of residence (see house name ) ( Hans An gen End, Hans am End> Amend = "Hans who lives in the house at the end of the village") or certain characteristics (Hans der Lange) replaced the already existing family name, particularly clearly with names such as: "Hans Sternkopf otherwise called steel", which later appeared only as "Hans Stahl". The custom of naming people after their place of residence was also known in East Westphalia in the 16th century. The name "Henrich tho Wevelincktorp" (Heinrich zu Wengeringdorf) can be found, with the "zu" also not denoting a nobility.

Often the variability is underestimated beyond a mere change in the spelling. A Ruhdorff, later Rudroff and Rudolph, could become Rother and Ruther, even Röther and Röder. Names could be extended (for example by contraction with the paternal surname) or shortened (Schummann to Schumm), and in the case of educated people they could also be Latinized . If a name bearer with a rare name appeared in a place, the name was often adjusted to already known names (Preterman zu Brettner, Kreynitz zu Grentz), whereby the changes are profound and concern vowels (Jahn zu John), also as the first letter could.

In 1875 the registry offices were introduced and the names were written down, but this did not rule out negligent or unauthorized transcription errors. Since January 5, 1938, the law on the change of surnames and first names has been possible again for an important reason. See under naming rights .

Feminine ending

Colloquially, especially in the southern German-speaking area, women’s surnames are sometimes extended by adding the ending -in , for example Bernauerin. This suffix was registered in official documents such as church registers until the 18th century , Müller zu Müller in . The ending -in can still be heard in Bavarian as well as -e in Swabian or -i in Alemannic , the ending -n in the Vogtland dialect (the Müller n ).

Well-known examples are " Die Karschin ", " Die Neuberin " and " Die Lutherin " or Luise Millerin from Friedrich Schiller's drama Kabale und Liebe .

Origin of the German family names

Most surnames are derived from:

It is not uncommon for an identical ( homonymous ) family name to belong to several categories. For example, the name Beck can be a professional name ("a baker"), but also a home name ("someone who lives by a stream").


Family names according to occupation, office and class : With this group of names, many cultural-historical aspects of the Middle Ages can be traced, the variety of official activities or the strong development of the craft. Many of these professions and activities no longer exist, such as Riemenschneider, Sattler and Wagner.

Among the 50 most common German family names, professional names make up the majority (30 names), and the first 14 are professional titles. These include Huber / Hofer ( farmer ), Müller , Schmidt (blacksmith), Schneider , Fischer , Meyer (tenant, fiefdom holder of a larger property, large farmer), Weber , Wagner (wagon builder), Becker (baker), Schäfer and Schulz (from the sovereign appointed local official, law enforcement officer, mayor).

The frequency of the name Müller shows, for example, the socially important role of this profession. This group also includes names such as shoemaker or blacksmith (in all variants). Some professional names only appeared in certain geographical regions, Rebmann, Vintner, Raftsman. These names could only arise where these professions were also possible, where climatic or landscape conditions were given. Some surnames related to an occupation did not arise directly from the occupational title. The designation can indirectly refer to a thing or an abnormality that had to do with the profession. For example in the case of assumed names: Nabholz for a Wagner, Stoiber or Stauber for a miller, Hartnagel for a (nail) blacksmith .

First names of the father, the mother

In the case of surnames from given names, a relationship between the first name bearer and another person was used when giving the name. Often it is about patronymics (father names) but also metronymics (mother names ). The latter are particularly common when the mother has a higher position or is more well known. Examples are names like Albrecht, Dietrich, Konrad , also modifications, Petermann or Peters . The large scope of this group results from these many different name forms that can arise from a given name. Originally, this was widely used in many languages. The patronymic form was particularly pronounced in Scandinavia and Northern Germany. By adding the ending -sen or -son , the typical and frequent family names such as Hansen , Peterson were created .

Names derived from the mother are much less common, for example Tilgner von Ottilie, Trienes von Trina (= Catharina) or Merkens von Merken (= Maria). Over the centuries, the ending disappeared outside of Northern Germany; only the first name remained as a family name (like Claus, Johann or Otto). The most common German family names of this type are Hartmann , Werner , Herrmann , Walter , Friedrich and Günther .

Examples of father names that are formed with a Latin genitive (“from the family of Paul” or “Paul's son”) are Pauli, Jakobi, Petri, Ruperti or Caspari. The diversity of German dialects and the practice of shortening or changing common first names mean that names such as Wetzel (variant of Werner), Jahn (from Johannes), Vick (= Friedrich) or Bentele (from Pantaleon) are no longer the original patronyms are recognizable. Especially originally -old and -hard ending name end with a strong genitive eg , those -z with the ending -s or a vowel ending end with -en (Otten Otto).


Nicknames are usually chosen after a person's personal abnormalities. Are eponymous


Names of origin indicate where the person or family originally came from or where they lived for a long time. These names came about at a time when there was heavy internal migration and the rural population moved to the resurgent cities. Newcomers were often named after their homeland, for example "Klaus [from] Brandenburg ". This resulted in names of origin according to countries and peoples (Unger, "the Hungarian"), according to tribes ( Bayer ) and according to regions (Bergstrasse). The most common names of origin are: Frank (e) (from Franconia), Böhm (e) (from Böhmen), Hess (e) (from Hesse), Pohl (from Poland or relationship to Poland, but also place and place of residence names).

Many names of origin go back to place names , for example Basler ("from Basel") or Adenauer ("from Adenau "). Such family names often have the endings of places: -bach, -berg, -burg, -dorf, -feld, -hagen, -hausen, -heim, -stein, -thal, -wald (for example Lindenberg , Frankenstein , Grünewald ) . The ending -ow (German: -au) refers to Slavic places . Allocation to a specific place based on a specific name is not always possible, as there are often several places with the same name, and when moving, personal names go through a much more diverse and far-reaching - and also different - sound change than the names of the places themselves, so that Names of origin can be distorted beyond recognition.


Residence names are based on a characteristic of the residence. This can be, for example, the shape of the terrain, Ebner (dwelling in flat terrain), Berger (on the mountain), Kuhlmann (in a recess). Frequent names of this kind are: Becker and Beck (living by the stream; also professional name), Stein , Horn , Busch and Bergmann (also professional name).

There are always identical place and home names, which makes the name interpretation difficult. For example, Bühl ( mhd. Bühel "hill") can be a name of origin (the first name bearer came from a place called Bühl), but also a place of residence (the first name bearer lived on a hill). With Roth there are three possibilities: takeover name for the color red (the name bearer was red-haired), name of origin (he came from a place called Roth), name of residence (he lived in a cleared place).

Also, house names and their derivatives are on the edge in this category. For example, the name Sonderegger means : “living in Hof Sonderegg” or “coming from Hof ​​Sonderegg”. The " -er " formation is typically Upper German . Such names are similar to the names of origin, they refer (originally) to a single dwelling in the neighborhood. In rural areas, the tradition of using the farm name or house name like a family name (or next to it) was preserved for a long time (see named name ).

On the emergence of the nobility predicate "von"

The early forms of names of origin and residence include formations such as Walther von der Vogelweide (after a field name ) and Dietrich von Bern ("from Verona ", whose old German name is Bern). This corresponds roughly to a Dutch Anthonis van Dyck (“living on the dike”), an English Anselm of Canterbury or a Jörg uff der Flüe in Switzerland. The indications of origin arise in the end of the period of unity, are fixed to family names and later often lose that of .

Before the 16th century, the preposition was rarely an addition to the name of the nobility, but became part of many family names as an indication of origin, such as von Flüe . Landowning families also stated this using the small word of , e.g. B. "von Habsburg " for the owners of the Habsburgs . Only with the gradual disappearance of the preposition from in the names of the bourgeoisie in the 17th century could the function of the little word from develop as a predicate of nobility. However, there are names of origin with the preposition of , without this indicating a previous membership of the aristocratic class.

Humanist names

In the early modern period, scholars often used Latinized forms of their family names. Sometimes the German name was translated ( Sagittarius from Schütz , Praetorius or Scultetus from Schulz or Schultheiß , Agricola from Bauer , Mercator from Kaufmann), sometimes just a Latin ending was added ( Schwarzbegius or Nicolaus Copernicus from “Koppernigk”). Translations using the place of birth occurred ( Regiomontanus for Königsberger ). In some families, the Latin form was retained as a family name. Graecised names were also used less frequently . The most famous example is Melanchthon ("Schwartzerdt"). After the pastor Joachim Neander , German Neumann , the Neandertal and consequently the prehistoric man Neanderthal was named.

The humanist names are not strictly about the origin of the name. Rather, existing names were translated into the languages ​​of the scholars.

Animal names

Family names that go back to animal names do not form an independent category of origin. They are often nicknames that refer to a characteristic of the animal. The background of the naming can be an activity that had to do with the animal. Or the name was taken from a house on which an animal was depicted. In addition, a family name can sound like an animal name, but originated in a completely different context.

Fox is the most common animal name among family names. Perhaps one of the first namesake got this name because of his cunning - or because he was red-haired. A professional relationship with foxes as a hunter, fur trader or furrier may also have been the motif of the name.

Hahn is the second most common name of this species. This name is not always derived from the animal either. Among other things, a name of origin comes into consideration (cf. the place names Hahn and Hagen ). It can be a short form of the nickname Johannes .

The family name Wolf ( Wolff , Wulf , Wulff ) can be derived as a nickname from the dangerousness or ferocity of the wolf. It can be a short form of a nickname like Wolfgang.

Family names from other language areas

Family names from other language areas were created in the same way as the above names from the German language area, i.e. as professional names, patronyms.

Slavic origin

Many German family names are of Slavic origin. Examples: Hannak, Hanika, Horak, Nowak, Noack, Krahl and Kroll, Kralik, Kafka, Juskowiak, Szepan, Kuzorra, Sobotka . Some Slavic names are Germanized, such as Koller for slav. kolar (German Wagner, English carpenter from Latin carpentum) or Kretschmer and Kretschmar .

French origin

Around 1680, 44,000 to 50,000 French Protestants fled to Germany from political and religious persecution. They received asylum from Protestant princes and were resettled, where they subsequently assimilated more and more. Some of the Huguenot family names were preserved. Similar to the Slavic names, they have changed a lot, so that the French origin is not always understandable. Examples: Maizière , Wibeau , Dumont , Mangin / Mengin, Chabrié, Gorenflo or Sarrazin . As a result of immigration from Lorraine and Wallonia, French surnames are also found more frequently in Saarland and the Trier area , such as Lafontaine, Villeroy, Boch.

Baltic origin

Family names on -eit mostly go back to Lithuanian names . Ancestors of bearers of this name often come from the border area of East Prussia and Lithuania (for example from Memelland ), such as Wowereit , Karusseit , Willumeit , Bertuleit .

Jewish origin

Others not of German origin

Due to the immigration of guest workers to the Federal Republic of Germany since the 1950s, Italian, Spanish, Yugoslav, Greek , Portuguese and especially Turkish and Kurdish family names are common in Germany. Vietnamese names, especially Nguyen , are represented in Germany by guest workers in the GDR and refugees during the Vietnam War .

Nobility title

The titles of nobility, which were abolished in the republican German Empire after the First World War , have since been used as part of the family name . The previous title is therefore not placed in front of the first name, but appears after the first name, Carl Prinz zu Wied. In Austria the titles of nobility were abolished in 1919 by the Nobility Repeal Act and the use of titles in public as well as purely social intercourse was made a criminal offense.

Spelling and phonetic variants

In the individual German-speaking areas, there are many spelling variants of family names and often several sound variants next to each other. For the most part into the 19th century, there was a traditional, but only limited, general, supra-regional, and in some cases not even local, regulation of the spelling. The form of written fixation chosen by the respective writer was not entirely arbitrary, but tolerances must be proven in the reproduction of certain sounds and sound combinations. When the family names were recorded in writing, the very diverse sound variants used in the individual language areas and in the entire German-speaking area due to the dialect and colloquial conditions were recorded. The family names that came to us from foreign languages ​​had to be more or less appropriately adapted to the German phoneme and grapheme system.

The recording of the family names and the development of a final, then no longer changeable written form took place at different times, so that several stages of the phonetic development and also the written reproduction of this development had an effect.

Names with special characters

People with umlauts and ß in their names often have problems, as many electronic systems cannot process these characters and you have to use paraphrases (ae, oe, ue, ss). Especially in identity cards and passports , the name is written in two ways, once correctly and in the machine readable zone (MRZ) with transcription of special characters (eg. As Schr ö the / WRITE OE THE Wei ß / WHITE SS ), which especially in the Causes confusion and suspicion of document forgery abroad. Austrian identification documents can (but do not have to) contain an explanation of the German special characters (in German, English and French, e.g. 'ö' corresponds to / is equal to / correspond à 'OE').

The German name right (no. 38 NamÄndVwV) also recognizes special characters in the family name as a reason for a name change (even a mere change of spelling such Schr ö to be Schr oe of or Wei ß to Wei ss , is considered as such) . On October 1, 1980, the Federal Administrative Court ruled once again that the incorrect reproduction of special characters on electronic systems for technical reasons could be an important reason for changing the family name (the plaintiff wanted to change the spelling of his name from G Ö TZ to G OE TZ , but initially failed at the registry office; file number: 7 C 21/78).

Legal basis

In Germany, only the “surname” of a person is referred to as a “family name” in the legal sense. This individual last name can be completely different from the last name of the family of origin, the last name of the spouse or the last name of the children. With the term “married name”, the legislator defines the surname that parents want to give their children in § 1355 BGB. In other words: "Family name" is the own surname, "Married name" is the surname of the children.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, the civil provisions on names are only applied to ethnic Germans . Federal German authorities and courts apply to a foreigner the law of the state to which the foreigner belongs or comes from. Insofar as federal German regulations are applicable, names are assigned by:

  1. birth
  2. adoption
  3. through redefinition in the case of a minor within narrow limits (e.g. in the event of changes in custody )
  4. Marriage and divorce

The bearer of a name can prohibit an unauthorized person from using his name and, if he is concerned about further unauthorized use, can make a claim against him. The same applies if the authorized person's right to use the name is disputed. Furthermore, the name holder can demand compensation if he has suffered damage as a result of the unauthorized use. The unauthorized person has to surrender to the authorized person what he has obtained as a result of the unlawful use of the name. These claims apply to names that are used in advertising (someone has items of clothing made with this imprinted name without Boris Becker's consent ), or to the assignment of domain addresses (someone registers a domain address under his or her name or under a name that is notorious well-known company ) a role.

Under public law, a name change can be made for an important reason.

See also



  • Adolf Bach : German onomatology I. The German personal names. Volumes 1 and 2. 2nd, greatly expanded edition. Carl Winter, Heidelberg 1952, 1953.
  • Konrad Kunze: dtv-Atlas onomastics. First and last names in the German-speaking area. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1998 (with new editions), ISBN 3-423-03266-9 .
  • Damaris Nübling , Fabian Fahlbusch, Rita Heusler: Names. An introduction to onomastics. Narr Francke Attempto, Tübingen 2012, ISBN 978-3-8233-6685-0 , pp. 144-168.
  • Ernst Schwarz : German name research. tape 1 : Call and family names . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1949.

Surname lexicons, general

  • Hans Bahlow : Deutsches Namenlexikon (=  Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch . No. 65 ). 16th edition. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1972, ISBN 3-518-36565-7 .
  • Alfred Bähnisch: The German personal names (=  From nature and spirit world . No. 296 ). Teubner, Leipzig 1910.
  • Josef Karlmann Brechenmacher : Etymological dictionary of German family names. 2nd, completely revised edition of the "German family names". Starke, Limburg ad Lahn 1986, ISBN 3-7980-0355-6 .
  • Rosa Kohlheim, Volker Kohlheim: family names. Origin and meaning of 20,000 surnames . 2nd completely revised edition. Duden, Mannheim et al. 2005, ISBN 3-411-70852-2 (first edition: 2000).
  • Albert Heintze, Paul Cascorbi: The German family names. Historically, geographically, linguistically . 7th very improved and increased edition. Olms, Hildesheim 2004 (first edition: Berlin 1933, 3rd reprint of this edition).
  • Horst Naumann: The big book of family names. Age, origin, meaning . Bassermann, Niedernhausen 1999, ISBN 3-8094-0729-1 (also: licensed edition. Weltbild, Augsburg 2005, ISBN 3-8289-1955-3 ).
  • Jürgen Udolph , Sebastian Fitzek : Professor Udolph's book of names. Where do they come from - what they mean . Bertelsmann, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-570-00879-7 .

Lexicons, regional

  • Maria Hornung : Lexicon of Austrian surnames. öbv and hpt, Vienna 2002, ISBN 3-209-03791-4 .
  • Max Mechow: German family names of Prussian origin . In: Tolkemita texts . 2nd Edition. No. 36 . Tolkemita, 1991, ZDB -ID 228934-9 .
  • Swiss Association of Civil Servants (ed.): Family Name Book of Switzerland . tape 1-4, 1968-1970 . Polygraphischer Verlag, Zurich ( ).
  • Reinhold Trautmann : The old Prussian personal names . In: Journal for comparative linguistic research in the field of Indo-European languages. 2nd unchanged edition. Supplementary booklet 2. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1974, ISBN 3-525-27302-9 (first edition: 1925, reprint).

Web links

Wiktionary: Family name  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Jürgen Mischke: Family names in medieval Basel. Cultural-historical studies on their origins and contemporary significance . Schwabe, Basel, p. 369 ff .
  2. See Duden: Family names. Origin and meaning of 20,000 surnames. 2nd, completely revised edition, Mannheim 2005, ISBN 3-411-70852-2 .
  3. ^ Signs of nobility and nobility - Institute for German Aristocracy Research
  4. Duden: family names. Origin and meaning. Edited by Rosa and Volker Kohlheim. 2nd edition, Dudenverlag, Mannheim 2005, ISBN 3-411-70852-2 , p. 262.
  5. Duden: family names. Origin and meaning. Edited by Rosa and Volker Kohlheim. 2nd edition, Dudenverlag, Mannheim 2005, ISBN 3-411-70852-2 , p. 303.
  6. Duden: family names. Origin and meaning. Edited by Rosa and Volker Kohlheim. 2nd edition, Dudenverlag, Mannheim 2005, ISBN 3-411-70852-2 , p. 731.