Origin Of German Names

Interested in the Origin Of German Names? Learn more about the German ancestors and the origin of German names…

The Germans started using surnames around the early 15th century. The occupational names are perhaps the most common names on record, but nicknames as well as location-based names also found.

Since most of the villagers had similar trade practices they took similar surnames, but were not related. Today the spellings have changed for many German names due to migration to America and Canada where the names are difficult to pronounce.  As an example the word for a tenant farmer is the German name Meyer spelt as Mayer, Maier or Meier. Apart from this there are many suffixes which give away the occupational German name.

Locations Identified in German Surnames

These include -er which means ‘one who’, -hauer which means ‘cutter’, and -macher which means ‘maker’. However it is a common fallacy that these indicate a noble origin. The nobility did have ‘an’ and ‘von’ as the prefix which showed the castle that they belong to. However, it was later on used as a surname with this prefix to define which town a basic citizen of Germany belonged to. Some of the German surnames adopted the place where the person came from. For example German names containing the words -berg which means ‘mountain’, -bruck meaning ‘bridge’, -furt meaning ‘ford’ and -wald meaning woods or the forest signify the location of the region.

Other names have suffixes which take the cue from an ancient ancestral village. Some of the common German surnames which are still present in most parts of the world include Bader, Bayer, Bauer, Becker, Braun and Berger among others. German names like Brinker, Eisenhower and Bruder along with Fischer and Fleischman are commonly noted in different parts of the world, especially amongst the German immigrants in USA.

Jewish German Surnames

Another category of German names are those adopted by the Jews. When the ‘Edifice of Tolerance’ was passed in the 18th century, the Jewish citizens were amalgamated as subjects of the state. As one of the clauses pertaining to this edifice, they were required to change all of their given names and surnames to German standing names. This resulted in the elimination of all Jewish names. Out of the 2000 names submitted to the authorities, only 156 were acceptable. All across Germany the Jews ended up changing their names. Even though most of them were not related to each other, they started sharing a common family name. Most of the names chosen by the Jews tried to retain their actual name by phonetically altering it to a German version. However this became increasingly difficult as the choices were very limited.

The German Jewish community actually got rid of most of these records because no one wanted to be traced back. The records would have been preserved or destroyed as per the requirement of the Jewish community. However, the countryside Jews were on record with single names only. The word Jew was often written as Jude and the German records show many of people listed with Jude as their surname. In fact the legislation was misunderstood and people had to change even the acceptable surnames which resulted in the families shifting to phonetically similar surnames to their previous name.

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