German family name etymology
, German family names
were introduced during the late Middle Ages
, in what is now Germany
. Usually, such family names are derived from nicknames
. They are generally classified into four groups, based on the origin of a nickname: given names, job
designations, bodily attributes, and geographical
- Given names often turned into family names when people were identified by their father's name. For example, the first name Ahrend developed into the family name Ahrends by adding a genitive s-ending, as in Ahrend's son.
Examples: Ahrends, Burkhard, Wulff, Friedrich, Benz.
- Job designations are the most common form of family names; anybody who had an unusual job would have been bound to be identified by it. Examples: Schmidt (smith), Müller (miller), Meier (farm administrator), Schulze (mayor), Fischer (fisherman).
- Bodily attribute names are family names such as Krause (curly), Schwarzkopf (black head), Klein (small).
- Geographical names are derived from the name of a city or village, or the location of someone's home. They often have the '-er' postfix that signifies origin (as in English New Yorker). Examples: Kissinger, Schwarzenegger, Busch, Bayer.
The preposition von
("of") was used to distinguish noble
names; for example, if someone was baron of the village of Veltheim, his family name would be von Veltheim
. In modern times, people who were elevated to nobility often got a 'von' added to their name. For example, Johann Wolfgang Goethe
had his name changed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
. This practice ended with the abolishment of nobility in Germany and Austria in 1919.
East German Jews did not adopt family names until the 18th and 19th centuries. For this reason, their names can easily be distinguished. They usually selected two-part names containing well-sounding words such as Gold or Rose. Examples: Goldblum (gold flower), Silberschatz (silver treasure), Rosenthal (rose valley). Other names ending in 'itz' indicate a clan name.
See also: German language