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The Origin of German Surnames

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The origin of German Names

I have a very long German name: Wilhelm Leuchtenmueller. Many times I have been asked about my name, about it's meaning. Because I have met many people from all around the globe, I have learned that most, if not all names have some sort of origin, and or meaning. German names are sometimes very long, the reason being that in the German language one can put words together. Just like my name is of two parts, 'Leuchten' and 'mueller'. Many of you may know the name 'Arnold Schwarzenegger', which again is of two parts, namely 'Schwarz' and 'egger' (though in this name, the letters 'en' were added). But I have also learned, that putting together words is not unique to the German language. This is also done in the Thai language; the name 'Chularat' is of two parts, the first being 'Chula= a kite', and 'Rat= magic glass', and together has the meaning of 'magic mirror'.

German speaking people did not have Surnames, they were called by their first names, like 'Wilhelm', 'Gerlinde', 'Gerhard', 'Ingrid'. These names were of germanic origin. But because of the rapid expansion of Christianity in Central Europe, many biblical names such as Johann, or Maria, became very common. In addition, many names of slavic origin found their way to Germany. It was not until the Reign of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, (1740 - 1786) who demanded that all common people must have a Surname. Though there was one important other demand: people of non- germanic origin would be given specific Surnames, as was this the case with people of Jewish origin. And for people of nobel origin: they are not required to have a Surname. People of nobility are until today only known by the origin of their reign, such as "from the House of Habsburg" or "from the House of Windsor". In the German language it is easy to recognize if a person is of nobel origin. His/her name will always have the word 'von' as part of the name, like 'Maria Theresia von Habsburg' Empress of Austria. This word 'von' should never be mistaken by the Dutch word 'van', which does not have the same meaning!

By now many of you readers may like to know the meaning of first names like 'Wilhelm', Gerlinde', 'Gerhard', and 'Ingrid'. These names are of germanic origin. 'Wilhelm' means something like 'the leader of a group', any name starting with 'Ger' means 'Spear', hence 'Gerlinde' means 'Lindenspear' (Linde is a tree), 'Gerhard' meaning 'a strong spear', and 'Ingrid' means 'daughter'. But what about the other names, like my name 'Leuchtenmueller'. As I have pointed out, most people were known by their first name only. Hence, there was a Wilhelm who used to own a mill. And that mill happened to be on a little creek called 'Leuchten'. So, his name became Wilhelm Leuchtenbachmueller, where the word 'Bach' in German means creek. But as time went on, the part 'bach' was left out, and the name became 'Leuchtenmueller'. And with the origin of Arnold's Surname, it is not so very different. His ancestors must have been farming; the earth where they were farming must have been rather black. And one of his ancestor's duties must have been to harrow the fields. And so his name became Schwarzenegger. 'Schwarz' meaning black, and 'egge' meaning harrow, together 'the person who harrows black fields'.

German Surnames are easily recognized: Most, if not all, end with the letters 'er', like in 'Mueller= Miller', 'Berger= Mountain', 'Bauer= Farmer'. And if you ever look in a German phone-book, you find many 'Berger', 'Bauer', and many more 'Mueller'. The reason being, that so many Germans used to be farmers (Bauer), or millers (Mueller), or used to live near or on mountains (Berger). In order to distinguish between one 'Mueller' and the other, the place or the name of a creek where the mill was located, was added. Like in my name, the creek's name was 'Leuchtenbach' (which again has a meaning: 'Leuchten' may have been spelled 'Leichten'= 'small', and 'bach'= 'creek', hence 'a small creek'). The same was done with other names, like 'Berger'. There was now a 'Hinterberger', a person who lived way back in the mountains ('Hinter= behind something'), or 'Grossbauer', a farmer with a big farm, 'Gross' meaning 'big'.
The German language is spoken in Germany and Austria. Surnames of these two countries are not always of germanic origin. It is said, that from three people in Austria's capital city of Vienna (Wien), one has a German name like 'Berger', the other a slavic name like 'Janiceck' which is of Czechoslovakian origin), or a Hungarian name like 'Hrvatz'. Today, Central Europe has become a meltingpot af many people. Some people who migrated to Germany or Austria have changed their names to make them look like German names, but it is usually quite easy to recognice a 'true' germanic' name. Though it is my true believe, it does not matter where one's name comes from; it's the person who carried his/her name who makes that name his/her part of life.

Written by: Wilhelm Leuchtenmueller

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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).

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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.

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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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