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German Family Name Etymology

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German family name etymology
In etymology, German family names were introduced during the late Middle Ages in the German language area. 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 references (including references to named buildings). Also, many family names display characteristic features of the dialect of the region they originated in.

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. With many of the early city records written in latin, occasionally the latin genitive plural -i was used such as in Jakobi or Alberti or (written as -'y') in Mendelssohn Bartholdy
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; akin to Mayor), Schulze (constable), Fischer (fisherman), Schneider (tailor), Maurer (mason), Bauer (farmer), Metzger or Fleischer (butcher), Töpfer or Toepfer (potter).
Bodily attribute names are family names such as Krause (curly), Schwarzkopf (black head), Klein (small), Gross (tall).
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 (from Kissingen), Schwarzenegger (from Schwarzenegg), Busch (bush), Bayer (from Bavaria, German Bayern). Böhm indicates that a family originated in Bohemia.
A special case of geographical names were those derived from a building or landmark. Before the advent of street names and numbers, even for long times afterwards, many important buildings like inns, mills and farmsteads had names. Such a place was often better known than the people living in it; the people would get their 'family' name from the building. This name could be combined with a profession: Rosenbauer (rose-farmer, from a farmstead called 'the rose'); Kindlmüller (child's miller, from a mill named 'the christmas child', 'the prodigal child' or 'the king's child'). The name of the building could also be used as is: Bär (Bear); Engels (from Engel, angel).
Immigration, often sponsored by local authorities, also brought foreign family names into the German speaking regions. Depending on regional history, geography and economics, many family names have French, Dutch, Italian, Hungarian or Slavic origins. Sometimes they survived in their original form; in other cases, the spelling would be adapted to German (the Slavic ending ic becoming the German -itz or -itsch). Over time, the spelling often changed to reflect native German pronunciation (Sloothaak for the Dutch Sloothaag); but some names, such as those of French Huguenots settling in Prussia, retained their spelling but with the pronunciation that would come naturally to a German reading the name: Marquard, pronounced marcar in French, ended up being pronounced Markwart as it would as a German word.
The preposition von ("of") was used to distinguish Nobility; 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 had 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. In some areas, such as Switzerland, von is also used in geographical names that are not noble, as in von Däniken.

German-speaking Jews did not adopt family names until the 18th and 19th centuries. Some were allowed to choose their names, often creating two-part names containing well-sounding words. Examples: Goldblum (gold flower), Rosenthal (rose valley), Rothschild (red shield), Schwarzschild (black shield), Silberschatz (silver treasure), Stein (stone). Others had names assigned to them at the discretion of the administration, which picked in some cases even derogatory names. Yet others adopted traditional German names in order to blend in, most famously Meyer or Loewe, which could refer to the German 'Löwe' (Lion) as well as to the Jewish tribe of Levi.

With family names originating locally, many names display particular characteristics of the local dialects, such as the south German, Austrian and Swiss diminutive endings -l -el, '-erl, -le or -li as in Kleibl, Schäuble or Nägeli (from 'Nagel', nail)

Many family names have no obvious connection with a community, occupation, or station in life. One of these is Geier, which connotes a bird, a town or an oral history of peasant origin pertaining to a myth that human babies were stolen from a village by gigantic birds who gave up their captives only after the villagers attacked and destroyed their nests.

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Common Questions

Q. What's the difference between a Coat of Arms & Family Crest?
A. A coat of arms technically refers to the cloth covering worn by knights over their armor to display their arms. Arms are the correct term used to describe what we call today a Coat of Arms or Family Crest, with a Crest being the charge (symbol) over the helmet, so both terms coat of arms and family crest are the same thing.

Q. Why is the Surname History Origin and Coat of Arms Origin different?
A. The history reflects certain information about the surname, but as people move around and names change Coats of Arms may be granted in different countries, but we may have other origins available (see question below).

Q. I want a different Coat of Arms origin than that displayed do you have any more origins for this surname?
A. Yes it is possible we would advise you order via our main website Family-crests.com

Q. I can't find my surname on your database, what should I do?
A. This database is not a complete listing for every surname we have a coat of arms for, if you contact us, we will do a search on your surname to see what we have available.

Q. I need to see the Coat of Arms before I order?
A. As we draw each coat of arms on a per customer basis, we are unable to send samples or display all our coats of arms on our database.


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When searching for a coat of arms from countries other than England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, they are reffered to by different names, in

Germany: Wappen, Familienwappen, Blasonierung, Heraldik, Wappenschablonen
Netherlands: Wapen, Wapenschid, Heraldiek, Familiewapen
Sweden: Slaktvapen, Heraldik
Denmark: Familievaben
Poland: Herby, Herb, Herbu, Herbarz
France: Armoiries
Spain: Heraldica de Apellidos, Escudo, Heraldaria

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