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Germany Project Name Field Guidelines

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Surnames/tags: Germany german_roots name_fields
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This page is a part of the Germany Project
See also: Germany Project Name Field Guidelines (Nobility and Medieval)
WIkiTree Guidance on Name Fields


Germany Project Name Field Guidelines

WikiTree guidelines say "use their convention, not ours". We aim to use the names that people themselves would have used and that would have been recognized in their own time and place.

If in doubt, collaborate: post a comment on the profile, consult in the Germany Project Google Group, or post to G2G (tagged with Germany, the name or names of the profiles involved, and the question topic, i.e.: LNAB or Prefix). WikiTree Help pages for each field are linked in each section below.

Please remember the following:

  • Information in any datafield should be supported in the profile's text (with a source, if available)
  • Use capitalization as appropriate (i.e.: McClellan instead of Mcclellan)
  • It is never appropriate to use ALL CAPS in a datafield
  • NO punctuation should be used in name fields except Other Nicknames and Other Last Names, where commas can be used as separators
  • Use umlauts (ä, ö, ü) and ß where these are appear in the original record, especially in the LNAB field (see below).
  • Enter names in the language used by the person. Do not enter the Latin forms of names in data fields. eg The orginal record may show Henrici (the Latin form for Heinrich). Enter Heinrich in the data fields, not Henrici etc.

German Orthography

The German alphabet consists of the twenty-six letters of the ISO basic Latin alphabet plus four special letters. Whenever possible, try to use following special letters in the name fields. If you don't have a German keyboard layout, you can insert them by entering a number code with the number pad on the right side of your keyboard while having the ALT key pressed. Of course you can also just copy and paste the characters from here.
The codes are as follows:
ß or ALT+225
ä or ALT+132
Ä or ALT+0196
ö or ALT+148
Ö or ALT+0214
ü or ALT+129
Ü or ALT+0220
There are also some characters in old German documents like church books, that should not be entered in data fields:
  • y at the end of a name is a short hand form for "us", e.g. "Christiany" means Christianus. However, latinised forms should not be entered in data fields. Therefore, you would enter "Christian" in the data field, NOT "Christiany" or "Christianus".
  • ŭ (the letter u with a curved line above) represents the letter u in Kurrent and was used to distinguish the letter u from similar looking letters. Note: This loop, sometimes called U-Bogen in German, may appear either directly above the u or above the next letter to the right. If the record shows "ŭ", you should enter "u" in the data fields. NOTE: The u-loop is sometimes confused with an umlaut (ü) although the umlaut is usually straighter and more jagged. You should use the umlaut "ü" in data fields if it is used in the source.
  • m̅, n̅ are shorthand notations for double "mm" and "nn" respectively. The "m" or "n" are written only once with a straight line drawn above the letter. If the record shows "m̅", you should enter "mm" in the data fields; if the record shows "n̅", you should enter "nn" in the data fields.



In Germany, titles for professions and military ranks are generally not used. Prefixes are limited to 10 characters and should include no punctuation. If a prefix is used frequently in public records, use the prefix field for such titles as Dr med, Dr phil, Dr rer nat, Prof, etc. It can also be used for religious titles such as Kardinal. Although the prefix field is appropriate for modern titles, it is not used with aristocratic titles. Do not use this field for titles of nobility. Titles such as Graf/Count, Herzog/Duke, Prinz or Fürst/Prince, etc. belong in the Other Nicknames field.

Proper First Name

The Proper First Name field could also be called Formal Name, Given Name or Name at Birth. This is the formal given name(s) that would appear in official documents at birth in the person's native language. If the name is not known, use Unknown (not NN, Unk, UNKNOWN, wife of X, possibly Y, etc.) and mark the radio button uncertain.
All given names should be entered in the Proper First Name field in the order listed on the birth document. It is common in Germany for a person to have multiple given names - the German culture does not have the concept of middle names. All given names are considered equal and it is up to the individual which one to use as preferred name. If the person has more than one first name, the first name by which the person is mainly addressed, often called the "call name", belongs in the Preferred First Name field, see below.
First names, especially pre-1500, are found spelled in a variety of ways and standard genealogical and historical works often use a modern and easily recognizable form. Seek advice if you are uncertain what is best.
Example: the names Margarethe, Margret and Greta are found in different documents with alternate spellings throughout a particular woman's life, but everyone called her "Mags". The name "Margarethe" is used on her birth record. You would add Margarethe to the Proper First Name field. Margret, Greta and Mags, and the various spellings of those names, do not belong in this field. NOTE: if one of those variations was her "call name", it would be entered in the Preferred Name field, see below.
If the first name is documented with different spelling variations, choose the most often found (sourced) spelling option for the Proper First Name field. Alternate spellings of a name should only be included in the text of the profile's biography, i.e.: Margarethe is also found as Margaretha, Margareetha, Margaret, Margretta, etc. - those alternate spellings should not be in the name fields, but can/should be added to the biography.
Roman Catholic church books often use Latin forms of first names. However, the Latinised names were only used in written records. Enter the name in the form used by the person, in their native language. For example, you might enter Heinrich for Henrici, Georg for Georgius, Lorenz for Laurentius etc. It might be useful, however, to include the Latin form in the biography section.
Please resolve abbreviations, like Joes or Jois for Johann (mostly), Johannes or Joannes (and be aware that Hans might have been used as synonym for this name) as well.
For information in German first name development in specific eras, over time, see: German First Names.

Preferred First Name

The Preferred First Name is the name used in everyday life. This would also be the name they were known by at their death. This field could also be called Informal First Name, Call Name, Display Name, Colloquial Name, Current First Name or First Name at Death. This may also be the linguistic adaptation of their first name upon emigration.
For someone with multiple first names, it can be difficult to establish which was the preferred name/s. Sometimes, the preferred name is not one of the given names at birth, particularly when people emigrated.
Many German genealogies and some family histories have used things like underlining, all caps, or bold fonts to denote the preferred or commonly used names: we would add those names to the "Preferred Name" field.
Example: Using the example above, Margarethe/Margret/Greta/Mags's birth record calls her Margarethe. She was called Greta in childhood and early adulthood, and used Margret for the remainder of her life. Her friends and family called her Mags. Margret is the first name that appears on her death record. Margarethe would be used in the Proper First Name field and Margret would be added to the Preferred Name field.
NOTE: Unless the person chose to use it as their preferred name, a Catholic confirmation name can be addressed in the biography field.
If you're unsure of the Preferred First Name, use the Proper First Name.

Middle Name

Middle Names are not commonly used in Germany; most often you will use multiple first names. If there is no middle name, select the "No middle name" radio button.
Currently the only legal middle names in Germany are the patronymics of the Frisian minority. Example: Hinrich Peters Müller means "Hinrich Müller, Peter's son." These names are often included in the Proper First Name field as they would most commonly appear on a birth or baptismal record.
TIP: If you enter two names in a First Name field, e.g. "Maria Elizabetha", you will see a warning that asks if one is a middle name. There is a setting that enables you to suppress this warning if you work in a culture that does not ordinarily use middle names.

Other Nicknames

The Other Nicknames field could also be called Other First Names, Also Known As or Aliases. This and the "Other Last Names" field are the only ones that can include multiple names, which should be separated with commas. Do NOT include quotation marks in this field.
Example: Using the example above, Margarethe/Margret/Greta/Mags's birth record calls her Margarethe, she was called Greta in childhood and early adulthood in school records, her family and friends called her Mags, and the first name Margret appears on her death record. Margarethe would be used in the Proper First Name field, Margret would be added to the Preferred Name field, and Greta, Mags would be added to the Other Nicknames field.
Example 2: Proper First Name: Manfred Albrecht, Preferred Name: Manfred, Other Nicknames: The Red Baron.
Name variants (e.g., linguistic adaptation of name upon emigration) may be entered in the Other Nicknames field if the person did NOT use the variant as their preferred name. However, this field should not be used for different spellings of a first name - those should be highlighted in the text of the biography.
Generally, the Germany Project does not include job titles in name fields. Include job titles/offices held in the biography text only.
Lands held/residences should also be noted in the biography and do NOT belong in the Other Nicknames field. Someone should not be described as being "of such-and-such a place" in the Other Nicknames field. This information belongs in the biography. There are certain exceptions, but those usually occur in early medieval profiles.
The Other Nicknames field is most commonly used for Titles of Nobility and represent what people were called during their lifetime. Titles should also be set out in the text of the biography. If in doubt, ask in a profile comment or on G2G (with the tag Germany). For more information, see: Germany Project Name Field Guidelines (Nobility and Medieval).

Last Name at Birth

The Last Name at Birth (LNAB) is the last name a person was born with, in their native language. Again, WikiTree's guideline is to "use their convention, not ours". This is not always easy to determine, especially when contemporary, original sources are not available or are inconsistent. Please do NOT create new profiles until you are certain the LNAB is correct and always search for alternate spellings and possible duplicates before creating a new German profile. Always remember to add umlats (ä, ö, ü) and ß where appropriate, especially in this field, as only profile managers can edit LNABs.
The LNAB is significant on WikiTree as it is used to create the WikiTree ID and the URL for the profile. When a LNAB is changed, in the background WikiTree creates a new profile and merges the existing profile into it. A LNAB should never be changed unless you have a high degree of confidence that the name you're changing it to is correct. If you are uncertain whether the current LNAB is correct (e.g. you think that "Schmidt" is probably wrong but you don't know what it should be), explain your uncertainty (noted in the profile's biography text, as a research note, or in a profile comment) and leave the LNAB as-is. If the last LNAB is unknown, add "Unknown" - not the region where they lived, or son of XYZ, or their title, etc.
In medieval times, when LNABs were not commonly used, refer to the guidance on Germany Project Name Field Guidelines (Nobility and Medieval).
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. However, in some rural areas of Germany, last names were not used until the 19th century, when they were introduced by law. Be aware that last name spellings for many families were not firmly established until the mid-1800s, and that people may have their name spelled in several different ways in different records and sources. Add the variants in the Other Last Names field.
Note re: inflection of German surnames. Sometimes people will see a surname with an additional ending of -in, -(e)n, or–(e)s. These are not necessarily part of the surname but merely indicate case or gender. And it’s not always easy to tell, even for those familiar with the language, because sometimes what appears to be an inflection is (or becomes) a permanent part of the name. Example: The daughter of Johann Müller would likely be recorded as Barbara Müllerin or as Barbara, des Johann Müllers Tochter (Johann Müller’s daughter) or Tochter des Johann Müllers (daughter of Johann Müller). The LNAB of both father and daughter is Müller.
Special care must be exercised to ensure surnames that use a particle, prefix, or preposition, such as Le, La, De, Du, Van, Van Der, Den, Ten, Zum, etc. correctly reflect the spacing used in the individual's name when they were alive. Example: "van den Berg" as compared with "Vandenberg". As with any other change of name, in the generation(s) where the rendering of the name changes, the version used at birth should be entered as the Last Name at Birth (LNAB), and the version used later should be reflected as the Current Last Name or in the Other Last Names field as appropriate.
See German Family Names for detailed information on the development of last names in Germany and how they were derived. See this page for a list of proper spellings to use for certain German "house" names.

Current Last Name

The Current Last Name is the name the person was using at the time of their death per WikiTree guidelines. This field could be called Preferred Last Name, Last Name at Death or Married Name. NOTE: It is not uncommon in Germany for a man to take his wife's last name.
We often reflexively use a husband's family name for women after their marriage, and in most situations that may be correct, however you should ensure there is documentary proof of this. A person's married last name belongs in this field ONLY if they chose to change their name at marriage. Add the married name in the Current Last Name field if you are sure it is the name the person used in everyday life. Otherwise add the married name in the Other Last Names field. If the person married multiple times and was using the last spouse's surname at the time of death, that name is their Current Last Name, even if the person might be better known with another surname.
It should also be noted that, in older times, people in the villages were known by their profession or by the name of the farm they worked. The oldest son often took over his father's farm and there was no issue with the family name. But younger sons often married a daughter of a farmer without male heir and took over that farm - and the name that went along with it. If they did well they might have bought a bigger farm and took that name. Family names could change three or four times that way. The name the person used at death should appear in this field and the other last names used would appear in "Other Last Names", see below.

Other Last Names

The Other Last Names field could be called Alternate Last Names or Last Name Variations. These are different than LNAB or Current Last Name.
This field could be used for alternative spellings that appear in the records or, if a person married more than once, you would add the last names of the spouse(s) here. Note that inclusion of variant spellings as Other Last Names is important for averting creation of new duplicate profiles.
This and the "Other Nicknames" field are the ones that can include multiple names. Separate these with commas.


The Suffix field is limited to ten characters. The Suffix will appear in every name display on WikiTree, even when a Prefix, Middle Name, or Current Last Name do not appear. Therefore, it is generally reserved for suffixes that are an essential part of the person's name: i.e., suffixes that were documented in vital records and/or were commonly used by that person during their lifetime.
If the person had multiple suffixes, it should generally only be the most important one for identification purposes. Others should be described in the biography. If a Prefix could substitute for a Suffix, that is recommended.
Suffixes such as "der Jüngere, "der Mittlere", "Ältere", "I", "II", or similar, may be entered in the "Suffix" field only if the suffix is supported by a reliable source. As there is a 10 character limit, the suffix may not fit in this field. If this happens, make sure to include the suffix in the biography and/or you can add it to the "Other Nicknames" field (again, ONLY if it is an essential part of the person's name). Alternatively, abbreviations such as d.J. or d.Ä are permitted in this field.
The suffix MD is not used for doctors in Germany. Use the appropriate prefix instead.
DO NOT use Jr., Sr. or I, II, III etc., if added by genealogists for convenience. As the WikiTree guidelines say: "It should never be a suffix acquired after death or a suffix the person themselves would not have used."


This is an active Germany Project page with up-to-date information.
Created : Thiessen-117 6 May 2021
Last updated by Traci Thiessen: 20 Jul 2021
Translated by: name/date

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Comments: 14

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It can be a difficult call. all my grandparents/great grandparents were born in Germany but after immigrating in the US they changed their surnames. i.e. The surname of my maternal grandfather's family changed two times while in Germany, then again in the US. I use the surname last recorded here in the US. If they were naturalized it would be that.
posted by Daniel Brown
Is there a way to make an individual show up in searches for multiple spellings of a last name? For example, today I created a profile for Johann Gottfried Eigenberg. It looks that that was the spelling that was used at around the time of his birth in the 18th century, but later the name was standardized (I guess??) as Eichenberg. I put Eichenberg as an alternate last name, but when I do a search with that spelling, he doesn't show up.

So, always pick the more standard modern spelling of a name and put the older spelling in the alternate name slot? Or is there another way to get someone to show up in a search for multiple spellings?

Thanks in advance for your suggestions!

posted by Alexandra Moellmann
I think the problem with finding different spellings of surnames is not only applicable for German names but a general problem of the WikiTree search engine. This means it is nothing we as Project can tackle but has to be done in the back office, of the technicians and programmers of the site. This would be an excellent suggestion for the - surely upcoming - thread: "What is your wish for WikiTree in 2023?" It should come around Christmas.
posted by Jelena Eckstädt
Yes, it's certainly not just a German name issue. I have noticed that if I put in Eichenberg with his first names, he does come up with the older spelling. So, that's good to know. But I'd still like him (and any other people with alternate spellings) to appear if someone just searches for the last name. I'll keep an eye out for the Wishing Thread :-)

Thanks, Jelena!

posted by Alexandra Moellmann
May it be a matter of delay? When searching for Johann Eichenberg he shows up for me.
posted by Florian Straub
Yeah, I noticed that too, after posting. But I think he still doesn't come up among the Eichenbergs if you just search for the last name.
posted by Alexandra Moellmann
Thank you for these guidelines. I have a question about the anglicising of german names. In my example, the surname for those children born in Germany was written with an umlaut (Häfner) in the Familienregister. For the later children of the same parents that were born in Australia, it was written as Hafner. All of them used Hafner in Australia. If I follow the LNAB rules, this means different family names. Is this correct? So the father would be Häfner and some of the children Hafner?
posted by Anonymous Franklin
I would say yes, since the name on earliest available record of the person counts. I also have relatives with different surnames, see Guth-480 vs. his brother Gut-181, which in my point of view is acceptable. Make sure you add Hafner as "preferred" or "other" surname, though.
posted by Florian Straub
Yes, this is correct. Thanks for asking!
posted by Traci Thiessen
This is helpful. I have a question regarding "Herr," though. I know that today it's just a normal polite title to use, but with 17th and 18th century Germans it would be more meaningful. Should I be putting it in Prefix when I see it used in (for example) baptismal records from that period?
posted by Karla Huebner
No. "Herr" was also at that time only a polite form of address for higher-ranking personalities. An exception is the "Herr von"; then it is a noble title for the lower untitled nobility. In this case, the specifications of the medieval project must be observed.
posted by Dieter Lewerenz
Thanks! What about the one who is also listed as "Ritter- und Freysaß in Brücken"? It's my understanding that a Ritter is a knight. He isn't shown with a prefix other than Herr. This is from a 1709 baptism (we have more on him, but it's not sorted out and handy yet).
posted by Karla Huebner
Ritter is a knight and in England knights have the title Sir, but in Germany there is no title for Ritter. Herr is only a polite form of address for higher ranking people.

There is no prefix Herr in Germany. Knight in modern times - the period in question here - was a lower nobleman in southern Germany and Austria. (Different knight in the Middle Ages).

posted by Dieter Lewerenz
Excellent. It is good to clarify this subject for many of us who are not familiar with German customs.

It is very useful to write all the forenames in Wikitree. It helps distinguish between all the Johann Schmidt in a long list.

posted by Steve Thomas