The importance of those two small dots

+20 votes

The dots of an umlaut in German (like many other additions to letters in other languages) are important. Unfortunately they are handled quite cavalierly by many WikiTreers. I'm coming across many names of people and places where they are simply omitted. German orthography allows the use for vowel + e (ae for ä for example) to substitute for an umlaut in case the medium or the font used does not allow for or contain an umlaut. That does not apply to WikiTree which is quite capable to accept umlauts.

Examples where this happens are German and Austrian passports where the written name is with the umlaut but the machine readable zone uses vowel + e. Some Austrian passport contain an explanation in German, English, and French (for example 'ö' entspricht / is equal to / correspond à „OE“).

However, it is never ever just the simple vowel alone! If you search for a small, less well known town in a German speaking area using vowel + e may but not necessarily does deliver the place with umlaut, using the simple vowel most often will not.

If you want to change your name in Germany from let's say Götz to Goetz it requires an official act as a "Namensänderung" (change of name) for which you have to give a non-trivial reason. Until 1980 the above mentioned name change was denied and it took a decision by the Federal Administrative Court of Germany in that year to accept the risk of misspellings in electronic media as a sufficient reason to allow such a name change.

So please don't just drop those two dots!

in Policy and Style by Helmut Jungschaffer G2G6 Pilot (555k points)

It gets even more fun in Hungarian, with its long umlauts, which don't have Windows alt-number shortcuts and cannot be typed on Mac/Apple devices. This means that Rőczey and Szűcs often get entered digitally as Röczey and Szücs, and then records fail to show up in searches because the algorithm is too strict, or you get tons of irrelevant results, because the algorithm is too loose.

(Luckily those names don't create anything particularly unfortunate if the diacritic is omitted or changed. Mészáros "butcher" is a different question: szaros is "sh!tty".)

(I don't know of a name example where length of umlauted vowel makes a lexical difference, but in regular words, there's öröm "joy" versus őröm "my guard".)

I am not familiar with Mac/Apples, but do they have a way to enter unicode characters? ű = U+0171, ő = U+0151.
I don't know how to turn Unicode numbers into typed characters on any system. All I know is that the normally-pretty-straightforward character entry method on the iPad doesn't have the long umlauts anywhere. I'd have to ask the spouse about how/if they're doable on the Mac.

4 Answers

+5 votes

I am thinking, Helmut, that your essay on the umlat needs to be also seen on Help:Name Fields

by Susan Smith G2G6 Pilot (590k points)
Good idea, Susan. I was trying to see if keyboard shortcuts worked for special characters here on WikiTree G2G and I only succeeded in doing something frightening to the display on my own laptop (which, thankfully, was not permanent.) So, now I don't want to try it on a profile page. Does anyone know if keyboard shortcuts work in edit on profile pages?

I know how to pull up my character map to copy/paste from there, but, if keyboard shortcuts work, that would be great for those special characters which someone uses (or should use) frequently.

Nelda: For me at least the keyboard shortcuts work. For example, on I used Alt-0246 on my Windows PC (with the 0246 on the numeric keyboard) to produce the ö.

Yes, Windows alt-number combinations work in all places in WikiTree.
Ö - okay, it worked this time without blowing up my display. Thanks, J.
ä = Alt-132

ö = Alt-148

ü = Alt-129
It would be convenient to have these on the font display on the edit page, as opposed to trying to remember them or where the instruction are whilst in the midst of entering text.
Fascinating, Helmut - so there are both 3-digit and 4-digit ALT codes for the Umlaute. I had not realized that (when you Google for the codes, most of them give just the 4-digit ones).

Lois, I'm not sure it would be feasible to have all the special characters in the font display because there are so many, but perhaps a link to a page which had the keyboard shortcuts listed might be possible. I had such a list in a word document on one of my old computers which I referred to when I used to participate on a teachers' chatboard many years ago. Here's a link to a reference for Windows users.

One problem with an alt-num list (which most web lists ignore) is that the Windows shortcuts depend on your keyboard layout. If I switch to, say, "Hungarian 101-key", then alt-0230 is ć, whereas if I switch back to English, it's æ.
+5 votes

Hi Helmut,

You're absolutely right. But we might need more context to understand what you're seeing.

There have been many, many German immigrants to the United States over several centuries. I can guarantee you that I have seen families, in the 18th, 19th, and even 20th centuries, just drop the umlaut when the names get anglicized. For example, I've seen Müsser get changed directly to Musser, and not to the correct Muesser. Many people couldn't read that well in the 18th and 19th centuries, and there weren't standard spellings either. I've seen some interesting spelling changes when families have come from Germany to the United States over the years. It accounts for some wide variety of family names here.

As a side note, I have this interesting article bookmarked:

Types of German Surname Changes in America

But are you referring to something else? Are you referring to modern naming conventions? Or specifically German profiles where the umlaut should be kept?

by Eric Weddington G2G6 Pilot (409k points)
Absolutely, nothing I wrote should apply to whatever happened to those names after emigration.
+5 votes

Helmut, I couldn't agree more about the importance of getting the name right, with the umlauts when that is the correct name.

Unfortunately, I have very too often had problems determining which way was correct and it is not only because I am a non-German speaker.  There are differences seen in the records when they have been indexed or transcribed and published on sites like familysearch, ancestry, etc.  In fact, I have even seen differences on yad vashem's site, which I would expect to be correct.  I hated having to do it, but several times I ended up having to make LNAB changes and at least a couple of times, when working on Holocaust profiles, I even had to change it and then change it back again.  I took to putting all possible spellings in the Other Last Names fields in order to ensure that the profile will show up no matter how someone searches for it.

by Gaile Connolly G2G Astronaut (1.0m points)
+3 votes
This is a great post. Thank you. My ancestor who came to Australia changed his spelling from Häse to Haese, so his profile is Häse (and Haese in other surnames field) as LNAB and his children onwards down the tree are Haese, which is what all the records have.

I think that this would be the appropriate way to handle this in this situation? I am interested to know what you think...
by Kylie Haese G2G6 Mach 7 (79.7k points)
I would actually put Haese in the Current Last Name field.
That's what I do, too, for the emigrant. Swedish birth name in LNAB and anglophone "death name" in Current Last Name.

Often there are a few in-between names to put in the Other Last Names as well, since many of our emigrants were born in the patronymic system, adopted a surname like Bäcklund shortly before emigration and then became Backlund. In this case just dropping the dots.

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