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German Names

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This page is intended to give an overview of German names and German naming law and, as a consequence, explain how to enter them into the appropriate fields on WikiTree.

Deutsche Version



German family names have gradually been established in German-speaking countries since the 12th century. It was not until 1875 that registry offices were introduced in the German Empire and the existing names were fixed. Since then, every German bears names in the following order: a first name, possibly a middle name and the family name.

A person's first name is the part of the name that does not express membership in a family, but identifies them individually. A person may have several first names, but must have at least one. If more than one first name is used, the first name by which the person is mainly addressed is called the "call name". The order of first names does not represent a ranking. The name bearer is free to choose between his officially registered first names.

A middle name is another name that is used between the first name and the family name. However, a middle name is not used if a person has more than one first name or family name. In Germany, middle names are usually patronyms from the father's first name with the usual ending for "-sohn" or "-tochter" in the respective national language or dialect. Example: Hinrich Peters Müller means "Hinrich Müller, Peter's son." This name formation is permissible in Germany today only in East Frisian, except for immigrants from other states. Until the 19th century, patronyms with the most diverse endings were common throughout the German-speaking world. If the name refers to the mother, it is a metronym.

The family name expresses the affiliation of the name bearer to a family, it is also called surname, last name or gender name. The original family name acquired by descent is the birth name (for married women also maiden name) and expresses the affiliation to the parental family. The birth name can change through adoption, officially initiated name change or renaming. A person's surname can change in the course of life, for example through marriage, divorce, adoption or an official name change. Arbitrary adjustments are also possible, such as the adoption of a new spouse's name by the premarital children of one of the partners so that the new family can appear as a single entity in social and official dealings. The marriage name is the name that the spouses decide on at the time of marriage to use as each spouse's own surname during their marriage. Birth and marriage names may also be used as a double name. Artistic names can also be used as family names without any relationship.

German first names

First names have been in use since early times. Until the Middle Ages in the German-speaking world, only one name was common. At most, there was an additional personal name given to a person to describe or identify them more precisely. The English language term for these names is “nickname,” however, the German language defines four different distinctive types of these additional names:

Beiname – typically derive from patronymics, origin, residence, or professional groups. • Jacob Peterson – Jacob son of Peter. The patronymic name could change with each succeeding generation. For example, Jacob Peterson’s son Hans would take his father’s name: Hans Jacobson. • Anton Marburger – Anton from, or of, the city of Marburg • Heinrich der Seefahrer – Henry the Navigator • Hans Schmidt – John the Blacksmith

Hausname – a complication of names derived from residence is the house name (or farm name) which is on the one hand the name of a group of people and on the other hand a name for a house or a farm. Before the introduction of streets and house numbers, they were the only clear identification of a property. In Germany, the traditional house names are still in use in almost all rural regions, especially in the older districts. The residents of a property are not referred to colloquially by their family name, but with their house name, which is placed in front of the first name.  For example, if Rita Bender lives on the property or farm called Growener, she is called Growener Rita, where Growener is the house name and Rita remains the first name. The Hausname is automatically transferred to new residents (e.g. spouses who have married in) or new owners of houses that have been sold. Übername – derived from physical, mental, or character traits of a person, from events his life story, etc. • Karl der Kühne – Charles the Bold • Pippin der Kleine – Pepin the Little • Karl der Große – Charles the Great; Charlemagne

Spitzname – a Spitzname is typically a substitute for the real name of a person or thing. They are rarely self-bestowed and are usually bestowed by others, possibly with good or bad intentions. It can be a term of endearment (Anna Engel – Anna the Angel), an epithet highlighting a perceived imperfection or negative characteristic (Karl der Kahle – Charles the Bald; Heinrich der Zänker – Henry the Brawler), derived from occupation or function (Sven Alarm for a fireman), or just designations that arise accidentally and resonate (Die Große Weiße Bär - The Great White Bear, a name given to a certain teacher by her students, who was large, stern and had snow white hair).

Eventually, today's inherited family surnames often emerged from and reflected these nicknames. In practice, for a significant period of time surnames often changed due to changes in circumstance such as relocation, changing occupation, or marriage, but sometimes they were just arbitrarily changed.

Germanic times

Until the 4th century, Germanic call names were built on the principle of combining two name members in a meaningful way; e.g.: Gud-run, Sieg-run (run = magic, secret), Ger-hart, Ger-not (ger = spear, hart = hard/strict). Many parts of the name could only be used unilaterally, i.e. they were in use either only as first member (e.g. man) or only as second member (e.g. run). Some of them could function both as front and back member of the compound name (e.g. her and bert as in Walt-her, Her-bert, Bert-hold). Moreover, some name members inhered only one gender, whereas others could be used for both feminine and masculine names (e.g. Sieg in Sieglinde and Siegfried). However, the initial importance of the content did not last; over time, the call name was chosen with more attention to euphony and ancestry.

Middle Ages

Non-Germanic names were only from the 7th/8th century really present; you can find in this time mainly names borrowed from the Bible; e.g. Christian, Elisabeth or Daniel. From the 8th century onwards, bynames were introduced to the call name in Germany.

In the 12th century, names from the New Testament were common, often adapted or shortened to German, e.g.:

  • Johannes → German: Johann, Hans, Hannes.
  • Magdalena → German: Magda, Lena, Leni.

Saint names also spread at this time from the west and south to the north of the present German-speaking area, although this depended on the areas of veneration, since, depending on the region, more importance was attached to certain saints; e.g.: Benedikt, Andreas, Elisabeth, Florian, Anton(ius).

Renaissance and Reformation

With the Renaissance, under the influence of humanism, Greek and Latin names from antiquity found their way into the German world of names, such as Hector, Agrippa, Claudius, Julius, Augustus. Hohenzollern princes at this time were called Albrecht Achilles, Albrecht Alcibiades, Johann Cicero. First names as well as surnames of educated people were usually Latinized as Henricus, Martinus, Joachimus. Humanists of the time were also interested in Germanic antiquity and thus spread names like Hildebrand, Hartmann or Reinhold.

The Reformation led to a general decline in the use of saints' names, and Old Testament names such as Benjamin, Jonah, Daniel, David, Rebecca or Martha were preferred until the 18th century. On the Catholic side, however, the Catechismus Romanus, first published in 1566, determined that names of saints should continue to be chosen. A similar recommendation is found in the Rituale Romanum, published in 1614. Certain names thus developed into distinctly Catholic given names such as Ignaz / Ignatius, Vincenz, Xaver, Franz, Josef, Maria. Maria also developed into a popular second first name for men.

17th and 18th century

In the 17th and 18th centuries, French given names (e.g. Charlotte, Babette) as well as English ones (e.g. Alfred, Edith) were then given, but they did not gain popularity in German-speaking countries until the 20th century.

The Calvinist preference for Old Testament names did not survive the 18th century, and during that century a preference developed there for German name formations with Christian appeal, such as Gottfried, Gotthold, Gotthelf/Gotthilf, Fürchtegott or Liebfried.

19th century

By and large, Protestantism prepared a return to Germanic names.

At the end of the 19th century, double names (also called "hyphenated names") increased in number. These were especially popular in the 1930s and 1950s: Hans-Peter, Eva-Maria, Klaus-Dieter. In the following years some of these double names existed sooner or later then also in written together form (Hanspeter 1810s, Evamaria 1880s, Klausdieter 1930s).

20th century and present

The world of first names became more and more international in the 20th century. After World War II, Germanic names tended to decline, while Hebrew, Greek and Latin names took their place; subsequently, a strong Anglo-American influence prevailed. Especially through international media such as television and radio or literature, people came into contact with many foreign-language names and adopted them into German. Borrowing from all European countries - from Scandinavia to the Balkans (Björn to Dragan) - is also common.

As a contrast to the international variety of names, a countercurrent to the preservation of the old Germanic names then developed again to some extent.

Since the 1950s, Anglophone and Romance first names such as Jennifer, Mike or Natalie and Marco have gained in importance.

When foreign names were adopted, a phonetic adaptation could be observed from time immemorial. At first, names were adapted that were compatible with traditional phonetic habits. Thus, in the Middle Ages, Johannes became Hans, Christian became Christen, and Marcus initially became Marx. Some names were also adopted in their written form, although the pronunciation was different in the regions of origin: Thus, Spanish Xavier was adopted as Xaver and not as Chabier, and Norwegian Harald as Harald and not as Harall.

German family names

Historical development

In the 9th century a family name was first inherited in Venice. This custom spread from the 10th century through northern Italy, southern France to England. From the 12th century, the use of a fixed family name became common in West and South German cities. By the beginning of the 15th century, family names were found almost everywhere in the German-speaking world. The family name could still change, for example when moving away or due to new occupation. While the nobility had fixed family names since the heredity of the fiefs in 1037, the patricians and townspeople followed only later. Rural areas managed without using fixed family names until the 17th or even 18th century, in Friesland it was introduced by law in the 19th century.

Family relationships were sometimes indicated by the naming of the father or the variation of call name members such as Hildebrand, Heribrande's son. Another way of describing persons in more detail were individual epithets, which alluded to a particular characteristic of the name bearer. In the 12th century the naming system changed and two name elements - call name and family name - were used more and more often. However, these early family names were not yet hereditary and were changeable in their appearance.

Up to 1800 changes of the family name by changed spelling, by reshaping and by shortening or extension of the name or also replacement by a completely different name were not rare and they occur up to the present. The possibilities for changing the name are far more varied than they are from the different spellings of the phonetic form of a name. As a rule, there were already fixed family names in the 16th century, but they were not necessarily permanent. Fixed and hereditary family names are characterized by the fact that an occupational name can be in contrast to the person's actual profession, the fathers and their sons each have the same name, and distinctions are used such as "the elder" and "the younger". But arbitrary name changes were forbidden by law, for example in Saxony, only in 1662. But even after that there are still changes, for example by Germanization of foreign sounding names, by adoption, legitimation and declaration of marriage of illegitimate children, marriage, divorce, nobilitization, change of denomination, bestowal of names for foundlings, by formation of double names like "Müller-Schulz" in case of too frequent names, by adoption of artist names and in addition still fluctuating spelling in many cases.

From the 16th century decreasing until the 18th century the following changes were common in the Middle German language area: An epithet that marked the profession (Jorge, "the stonemason"), the origin (Hans von Pirna; but by no means noble!), the place of residence (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) displaced the already existing family name, especially evident in names such as: "Hans Sternkopf sonst Stahl genannt", who 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 "zu" in the name also does not denote nobility.

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

In 1875 the registry offices were introduced and the names were fixed, but this did not exclude negligent or arbitrary transcription errors. (Exception: official name change)

Family names from call names

Often they are patronymics (father names) but also metronymics (mother names). These last are found especially when the mother has a higher position or greater notoriety. Examples are names like Albrecht, Dietrich, Konrad, also variations, Petermann or Peters. From these many different name forms, which can arise from a call name, the large extent of this group results. Originally this was widespread in many languages. The patronymic form was particularly pronounced in Scandinavia and northern Germany. By adding the suffix -sen or -son the typical and frequent family names like Hansen, Peterson were formed.

Much rarer are names derived from the mother, for example Tilgner from Ottilie, Trienes from Trina (= Catharina) or Merkens from Merken (= Maria). Over the centuries, outside of northern Germany, the ending disappeared; only the first name alone remained as a family name (such as Wener, Herrmann or Friedrich).

Examples of patronymics formed with a Latin genitive ("from the family of Paul" or "Paul's son") are Pauli, Jakobi, Petri or Caspari. The diversity of German dialects and the practice of abbreviating or changing common given names leads to the fact that names like Wetzel (variant of Werner), Jahn (from Johannes) or Vick (=Friedrich) are no longer recognizable as original patronyms. Especially first names originally ending in -old and -hard end with a strong genitive z, those ending in -s, -z or a vowel ending end with an -en (Otten from Otto).

Family names from names of origin

Origin names indicate where the person originally came from or where they lived for a long time. These names arose at a time when there was a great deal of internal migration, with rural populations moving into the burgeoning cities. People who moved in were often named after their homeland, for example "Klaus [from] Brandenburg". Names of origin arose according to countries and peoples (Unger, "der Ungar"), according to tribes (Bayer) and according to regions (Bergsträßer). The most common origin names are: Frank(e) (from Franconia), Böhm(e) (from Bohemia), Hess(e) (from Hesse), Pohl (from Poland or relation to Poland, but also place and residence name).

Many origin names go back to place names, for example Basler ("from Basel") or Adenauer ("from Adenau"). Such family names often carry the name endings of places: -bach, -berg, -burg, -dorf, -feld, -hagen, -hausen, -heim, -stein, -thal, -wald (for example Lindenberg, Frankenstein, Grünewald). The name ending -ow (Germanized -au) refers to Slavic places. The assignment to a certain place only on the basis of a certain name is not always possible, because often several places with the same name exist, moreover, personal names undergo a much more varied and more extensive - and also different - sound change when moving than the names of the places themselves, so that names of origin can be distorted beyond recognition.

Family names from residence names

Dwelling place names start from a characteristic of the dwelling place. This can be, for example, the shape of the terrain, Ebner (dwelling in flat terrain), Berger (on the mountain), Kuhlmann (in a depression). Common names of this type are: Becker and Beck (dwelling by the stream; also occupational name), Stein, Horn, Busch and Bergmann (also occupational name).

There are always place and dwelling names with the same name, which complicates the interpretation of the name. For example Bühl (Middle High German: bühel "hill") can be a name of origin (the first bearer of the name came from a place called Bühl), but also a place of residence (the first bearer of the name lived at a hill). With Roth there are three possibilities: Nickname to the color red (the name bearer was red-haired), origin name (he came from a place called Roth), dwelling place name (he lived at a cleared place).

House names and their derivatives also belong to this category at the margin. For example, the name Sonderegger means: "living in the Sonderegg farm" or "coming from the Sonderegg farm". The "-er" formation is typically Upper German. Such names are similar to names of origin, they (originally) refer to a single residence in the neighborhood. In rural areas the tradition of using the farm name or the house name like a family name (or beside it) remained for a long time (see also Genannt name).

Family names from occupational names

Family names by profession, office and status: The variety of this group of names reflects the official activities or the strong development of the craft. Many of these professions and occupations no longer exist, such as Riemenschneider, Sattler, and Wagner.

Among German family names, occupational names make up the majority. These include Huber/Hofer (Bauer), Müller, Schmidt (Schmied), Schneider, Fischer, Meyer (tenant farmer, leaseholder of a larger estate, large farmer), Weber, Wagner (Wagenbauer), Becker (Bäcker), Schäfer, and Schulz (local official appointed by the sovereign, enforcement officer, mayor).

This group also includes names such as Schuster or Schmied (in all variations). Some occupational names appeared only in certain geographical regions, Rebmann, Winzer, Flößer. Some family names with reference to an occupation did not originate directly from the occupational name. The naming can indirectly refer back to a thing or conspicuousness, which had to do with the occupation. For example, in occupational nicknames: Nabholz for a wainwright, Stoiber or Stauber for a miller, Hartnagel for a (nail) smith.

Family names from supernames

Supernames are usually chosen after personal conspicuousness of a person. Naming factors are:

  • the body size: Klein, Groß, Lang, Kurz
  • the hair color: Braun, schwarz; Voss, Low German for "fox" in the sense of red-haired; Kohl, black like coal; the hair form: Krause
  • other body features: Link (for a left-handed person), Fuß (for someone with a conspicuous foot).
  • character traits: Kühn, Fromm, Gut, Böse, Uebel, Froboess ("early evil", "early spoiled").
  • biographical characteristics: Neumann (for a newly arrived person).

Family names based on animal names may also belong to this category. They are often supernames referring to a characteristic of the animal. The background of the naming may 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 may sound like an animal name, but have originated in a completely different context.

Fuchs for example: Possibly a first name bearer got this name because of his shrewdness - or because he was red-haired. A professional relationship with foxes as a hunter, fur trader or furrier may also have been the motive for the naming.

Humanist names

In the early modern period scholars often used Latinized forms of their family name. Sometimes the German name was translated for this purpose (Sagittarius from Schütz, Praetorius or Scultetus from Schulz or Schultheiß, Agricola from Bauer, Mercator from Kaufmann), sometimes only a Latin suffix was added (Schwarzbegius or Nicolaus Copernicus from "Koppernigk"). Translations using the place of birth occurred (Regiomontanus for Königsberger). In some families the Latin form remained as the family name. More rarely, greekized names were used. Famous examples are Melanchthon ("Schwartzerdt"), Neumann (Neander).

Humanist names are not in the strict sense about the origin of the name. Rather, already existing names were translated into the languages of the scholars.

Family names from other linguistic areas are also present in large numbers; they originate essentially from the neighboring languages of German (especially Slavic, Lithuanian, French, Italian, Scandinavian and Dutch names. Due to the immigration of guest workers from the 1950s onwards, Italian, Spanish, Yugoslavian, Greek, Portuguese and especially Turkish and Kurdish family names as well as Vietnamese names were added. Many English or American family names originate from the time after the Second World War. Jewish names are a special case, their interpretation is often based on conjecture or on the knowledge of the former region at the time of their origin. These foreign names were partly preserved in the original, but also partly Germanized concerning the spelling (name change!). An official name change can also take place by translation into the German language.

Order names, artist names and other pseudonyms

In Germany, order names, artist names and other pseudonyms are not names in the legal sense. However, they can be used as official names and are also entered in civil status documents.

  • The religious name is the name adopted upon entry into a religious community, which takes the place of the civil name; this is particularly common in the Catholic Church as well as in Hinduism and Buddhism.
  • Artistic names are mainly used when works are performed artistically, such as actors, musicians or artists. Camouflage names are common when a person's identity is to be concealed in a particular context. Pseudonyms were historically used primarily by writers, but can be used by any private individual. There are many motives for using a pseudonym:
    • Simplification or embellishment of the name.
    • Economic advantages
    • Image cultivation
    • Avoidance of disadvantages
    • Biographical background
    • Protection of persons in the reporting of the media
    • Avoidance of confusion (clarification of identity by adding a place name (to distinguish from other bearers of the same name): Karl Schmidt → Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, August Heinrich Hoffmann → August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, in each case after the place of birth).

Pseudonyms can consist of first and last names, only a last name, or only first names (e.g. Madonna, Brother Francis).

Female endings

Colloquially, especially in the southern German language area, the surnames of women were and are sometimes extended by adding the suffix -in, for example Bernauerin. This suffix was still entered until the 18th century in official documents such as church records so, Müller to Müllerin. The suffix -in can still be heard in Bavarian as well as -e in Swabian or -i in Alemannic, the suffix -n in the Vogtland dialect (die Müllern). In the North German language area, one often encounters -sche or -sch (die Meyersche, die Rehersch) as a feminine ending.

Double names

A double name in the sense of a surname refers to the joining of two surnames. Traditionally, the surname in Germany followed the paternal line, was called "family name" or "marriage and family name" and its absence was long considered a stigma - especially as a sign of illegitimacy or lack of legitimacy. The husband's power of disposition went so far as to prohibit the continued use of the married name under certain conditions in the event of divorce. Changes:

  • From 1957, women were permitted to add their maiden name.
  • From 1976, free choice of married and family name applied, i.e. either the husband's or the wife's maiden name. If no choice was made, then the husband's birth name became the marriage and family name. The spouse whose birth name did not become the marriage and family name could also prefix the marriage name with his or her birth name or the name used at the time of the marriage.
  • As of 1991, spouses could keep their surnames, which is why a regulation for the name of legitimate children became necessary. A child could be given the name of the father or mother or a double name formed from these names.
  • As of 1994, double names for children were excluded. Those taking a married name may prefix or suffix their previous surname with a hyphen.
  • As of 2009, the number of individual names in the compound name (married double name) may not exceed two, however; previously, more were permitted (e.g. Bloch-Schmidt-Brömme-Leibnitz).

Named names

A genannt name, also vulgoname, is a name in which the household name was superimposed on or attached to a person's real name because of its attachment to a farm or, less commonly, a house. Some of the "named names" date from the time when family names were introduced. In later name formations of this type, the "named-part" often referred to the property, or the names arose as a result of adoption, with the "named-part" referring to the name of the adoptive father or, if applicable, the adoptive mother. Originally they applied to an individual, later to the whole family. Often the named part became the new, sole family name. Besides named also the name additions dictus, dicti, vero or qui et were used.

But there was also the case that in case of an adoption the original name was supposed to be the named part, but the adopted name was so dominant that in social intercourse it became not only the "actual named name", but finally only the new family name: Johann Friedrich Hilchen married a daughter of Jacob Sigismund Waitz von Eschen in 1744. His father-in-law adopted him as a child by family contract, with the obligation to use the name "Waitz von Eschen genannt Hilchen" for himself and his descendants. The grandchildren and descendants left out the addition "genannt Hilchen".

Named names were later also changed into double names: Wilhelm von Esbeck received a name union with the Rügenschen von Platen as "von Esbeck genannt von Platen" from the Prussian king in 1867. In 1904 the name was officially changed to "von Esbeck-Platen".

Originally the "genannt von" was used as an indication of origin of the nobility Echardus miles dictus de Heseler 1275 (Eckehard Ritter genannt (von dem Ort) Heßler). Later the "genannt" was lost and only the "von Heßler" remained. It happened that at nobilizations the component "genannt" was (gradually) changed into a "von": the Brunswick-Lüneburg chancellor Johann Helwig Sinolt gen. Schüz received the imperial peerage in 1674. The use of the noble name "Synold von Schüz" is today the official name of the family.

The named name had the function of an address as well as the function of a family name for agricultural families with farm property. It is in the tradition of the from-and-to names of the nobility, in which originally acquired residences displace the ancestral residences in the name (new acquisitions like collateral lines). A Genannt name can be recognized in church records or other documents by additions such as: vulgo, modo, vel, alias, or, genannt, an, auf, zu and similar, regionally varying formulations. In some regions the attachment of the name to the farm was so total that the real name of a farmer completely receded behind it and got lost without being documented in church books or other documents with one of the additions. In the Rhineland this custom ended in 1798 with the introduction of the civil registers by the French. Here, only the name that had been entered in the church register at birth was allowed to be used. In Prussia, this applied from 1816 onwards. In the case of temporary tenancies, it could even happen that a person bore several named names. Those who trace their family name back to a farm with a named name are therefore not necessarily related to bearers of the same name. They are not connected by descent, but only by the (former) residence. In Westphalia the Genanntnamen were regulated in 1822 by special legal regulations. While in other regions the Genannt name was fixed at the date of fossilization, in Westphalia it was allowed to be continued by the direct heir as a family name with the addition genannt (abbreviated: gt., gnt. or gen.).

Occasionally Genanntnamen are also found in illegitimate births or as a byname in common family names to distinguish within the village or urban community. In the Kingdom of Hanover in the 19th century, illegitimate children were given a family name along the lines of "mother's name called father's name." The names disappeared because this practice was abandoned, because women gave up the called names with marriage and men could have it officially changed.

Academic degrees

Academic degrees are degrees awarded by authorized universities on the basis of a successfully completed course of study with a university examination or on the basis of a special scientific achievement and documented by a certificate (graduation). In Germany, an academic degree is not considered to be part of a name. The doctoral degree is also not a component of the civil-legal name, but only a name suffix, which can be entered as the only academic degree in the passport and identity card. The title professor is an official or professional title, not an academic degree.

Names of Nobles

A noble predicate is an addition to the name of a noble. The addition to the name of a nobleman exists in the form of a preposition or that of a suffix.

To the early forms of the origin and residence names belong formations like Walther von der Vogelweide (after a field name) and Dietrich von Bern ("von Verona", whose old German name is Bern). The origin indications arise in the outgoing time of the single name, fix themselves to family names and lose later often that "von".

Before the 16th century, the preposition was rarely a name suffix of the nobility, but became part of many family names as an indication of origin, such as von Flüe. Also landowning families indicated this by the little word von, e.g. "von Habsburg" for the landlords of the Habsburg. Only with the gradual disappearance of the preposition von in the names of the bourgeoisie in the 17th century could the function of the little word von as a nobility predicate develop. However, origin names with the preposition von exist without indicating a former affiliation to the noble class. In Germany, mainly the nobility predicates exist: von, zu, von und zu, vom, zum, vom und zum, von der, von dem.

However, it was common in the Middle Ages that sons from un-noble connections of nobles, but also their illegitimate children, were allowed to use the name of their father as a family name. In the case of modern elevations to the nobility (nobilitization), as a rule only the "von" was placed before the civil surname, as in the case of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The name could also be changed during a nobilitization, as in the case of Karoline Friederike von Waldenburg (previously Wichmann) and Otto von Guericke (previously Otto Gericke).

With the time many names remained, but the seat of the family changed. Thus, the noble particle "zu" as opposed to "von" indicates that the family was still in possession of the name-giving site (usually the medieval castle) at the time the name was solidified (i.e., at the latest by the Weimar Imperial legislation), such as the Princes von und zu Liechtenstein. In addition, "zu" was used as a predicate above all by princes (e.g. Salm) and counts (e.g. Stolberg) who had not lost their princely dignity with the mediatization in 1803/1806, but had lost the sovereign territorial power associated with it; this distinguished them from those princes who continued to rule after 1815 and used the predicate "von".

On August 11, 1919, the Weimar Constitution abolished the prerogatives of the nobility. The former nobility predicates thus became part of the civil family name in Germany, insofar as they were not primogeniture titles. Persons who held a primogeniture title (ruler title of former ruling houses) at the time the Weimar Imperial Constitution came into force were allowed to retain it personally for life. Their descendants were no longer allowed to use it, but used the title of nobility customary in the family. New titles of nobility could no longer be conferred. According to a decision of the Imperial Chamber Court, the gender-specific variants could still be used (Graf/Gräfin, Herzog/Herzogin, etc.).

Consequences for WikiTree

  • First Names: All first names should be entered in the Proper First Name field in the order listed on the birth document.
  • Call Names: The first name chosen by the person or underlined in a document is to be entered as the call name in the "Preferred Name" field.
  • Nicknames: Nicknames and name variants used (e.g., linguistic adaptation of name upon emigration) may be entered in the "Other Nicknames" field
  • Intermediate names: Intermediate names (patronyms / metronyms) are entered in the field "Middle Name".
  • Birth Names: The last name entered in the civil status document at birth shall be entered in the "Last Name at Birth" field; if the birth name is changed by adoption, renaming, or by official order, this new birth name shall be entered in the "Other Last Names" field, unless it is listed as the current last name ("Current Last Name")
  • Marital Names, Family Names: The respective current married name or family name is entered in the "Current Last Name" field; all other (previously) officially used family names, including by adoption or name change, are entered in the "Other Last Names" field.
  • Order Names, Artist Names, and Other Pseudonyms: If artist names or pseudonyms are officially used, i.e., recorded in a personal document, they are entered in the appropriate fields as if they were family names; the actual family name is then entered in the "Other Last Names" field. If artist names or pseudonyms also include first names, these are entered in the "Preferred Name" field as long as the name is current. Artist names or pseudonyms that are no longer currently used are entered in the "Other Last Names" field or, in the case of first names, in the "Other Nicknames" field. If order names only include first names, they are entered in the "Preferred Name" field. If no last name is used for artist names or order names, use No Last Name as an exception, in accordance with WikiTree rules.
  • Feminine Endings: Although female endings were recorded in church records until the introduction of civil registries in 1875, the name without this ending should be used as the LNAB. Names with feminine endings may be entered in "Other Last Names".
  • Bynames: Bynames that are not hereditary surnames are entered in the "Other Nicknames" field.
  • Double or multiple names shall be entered as written in official documents in the appropriate surname fields
  • Named Names: Named names (for noble families see there) are to be entered as written in official documents in the appropriate surname fields. Format: surname called named name. The name in the birth/christening record belongs in the LNAB field, the current one in the CLN field, and all other surnames used in between are written in the OLN field.
  • Names preceded by prepositions: the preposition is part of the family name and must be entered in the same way (exception: noble families; see there).
  • Names of noblemen: For names of nobles the rules of the Project: European Aristocrats apply, see Name fields for European aristocrats.
  • Names of nobles after 1919: As of August 11, 1919, noble titles no longer exist in Germany. The previously held titles of nobility become part of the surname and are to be treated like any other surname. Primogeniture titles may continue to be used by the bearer for life; descendants may not use them. Gender-specific variants are permitted.
  • Academic degrees: Academic degrees are not part of the name and are not name affixes; therefore, they must be listed in the biography. The exception is the doctoral degree, as this is considered an addition to the name. It may be entered as an abbreviation without a dot "Dr", "Dr hc", "Dr med", etc. in the "Prefix" field.
  • Professional, official, and service titles belong in the biography and not in a name field.
  • Name suffixes, such as "der Jüngere, "der Mittlere", "Ältere", "I", "II", "Senior", "Junior", or similar, noted in documents may be entered in the "Suffix" field

For all entries in name fields, please follow the instructions on the page name fields.

This is an active Germany Project page with up-to-date information.
Created : Lewerenz-9 5 May 2021
Last updated by Traci Thiessen: 6 May 2021

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Comments: 5

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Dieter, I'm trying to educate myself on German names, so thanks for this page! However the English in this paragraph under the German first names heading is very, very hard for me to understand.

"First names have been in use since earlier times. Until the Middle Ages in the German-speaking world, only one name was common. At most, there was an individual byname to distinguish, from which, together with the supernames, developed today's inherited family names, which, however, could change in reality for a longer time due to changes."

The first two sentences are fine, but the last one needs work. I would suggest starting by breaking it up into 2 or 3 shorter sentences. Also, at this point I don't know what a "byname" or a "supername" is, and I'm sure "distinguish" is not the English word you're looking for, however, for the moment I don't know what is. I'll be happy to help with this, but we probably should move it to our Discord DM.

posted by Michael Kerstetter
Dieter's awesome work on this page is the basis for the project's guidelines set out here: https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:Germany_Project_Name_Field_Guidelines. The guidelines have been proposed to be added to WikiTree's Name Field Guidelines here: https://www.wikitree.com/g2g/1252379/proposal-germany-name-field-guidelines
posted by Traci Thiessen
edited by Traci Thiessen
Thanks for all this work Dieter. It is exemplary!

I'm highlighting two notes about the impact in Wikitree:

  • "First Names: All first names should be entered in the Proper First Name field in the order listed on the birth document.
  • Call Names: The first name chosen by the person or underlined in a document is to be entered as the call name in the "Preferred Name" field."

Also thanks Steven for bringing this to my attention. It is definitely worth reading and referring to.

posted by Steve Thomas
edited by Steve Thomas
This is an outstanding page and reference that I will certainly be referring to time and time again. Thank you, guys!
posted by Steven Greenwood
Thank you Steven for your kind words. It's nice to hear that the work you've done is being recognized and used by others.
posted by Dieter Lewerenz