This article originally
appeared in the Missouri
Association Journal, (Vol. 25, No. 3, 2005, pp. 172-177), and
includes information adapted by the author from The Encyclopedia of
German-American Genealogical Research
(see Notes at the bottom of this page). Our sincerest thanks go to Ms. Baker
and to the Journal’s editor, Bob Doerr, for allowing this article to be
reprinted here, as well as to Pete Pierce for bringing it to our attention and
for beautifully converting the complicated text.
Internal Dialectical Clues in
Theola Walden Baker
distinctive feature of many German family names is the existence of internal
clues as to their origins—the prefixes, suffixes, and occasionally the internal
vowel shifts and consonant combinations.
Listed hereinafter are such clues.
They should be used with caution, as they do not invariably apply, but
in general they will help the researcher to make hypotheses as to the regions
of origin of families being researched.
Surname particles are presented in alphabetic order with relevant
information. Places are underscored to
aid the reader.
-a: In East Friesland, and
only there, some surnames end in the genitive plural--e.g., Wiarda, Ebbinga,
Reemsta, Ukena, Beninga, Bojunga, Mennega, Thedinga. Note, however, that -a and
-ma suffixes are entirely missing from surnames of the Jeverland region
of East Friesland.
Accent Marks: See under Frenchified
-ack: A particle in Wendisch (Sorbic)
surnames; thus, Noack.
-aff or -laff: A suffix of Wendisch
(Sorbic) surnames; thus, Mitzlaff. Also commonly encountered in Slavic
names, as in Bogislaw, transcribed Boguslaff.
-ai, -ay: In Hessen-Darmstadt the
internal particles -ai and -ay often replace the normal -ei; thus, Mayer
instead of Meyer, Hainz instead of Heinz.
In Swabian and Bavarian areas, the -ai also frequently
replaces -ei; thus, Aichelle, Sailer, Stainer, Schnaithmann, Crailsheim,
-aitis, -atis, -at, -eit: Lithuanian
suffixes which are found in Germany
among families formerly in the Memel, Tilsit, and Heidekrug
administrative districts of East
these suffixes are usually shortened to the -at or -eit form; thus, Petschulat,
-atz: A suffix found in Wendisch (Slavic)
surnames; thus, Glabbatz.
Auf dem: Prepositional particles found
in Westphalian surnames; thus, auf dem Braucke.
-bach, -bacher: A frequent suffix
(-bach, meaning *pond* in Southwestern German place names [that is,
names derived from places]; thus, Sulzbach, Auerbach, Amorbach. When used in personal names, it very
ordinarily becomes -bacher; thus, Sulzbacher, Auerbacher.
10 -beck: A Westphalian particle and spelling
variation of -bach; thus Möllenbeck.
11 -bek: Similar to -beck but found mainly in Schleswig-Holstein;
12 -berg, -berger: A place name suffix (meaning *hill* in Southern
Germany, particularly. When used
in personal names, it becomes -berger; thus Miltenberg becomes
Miltenberger. In Southwestern
Germany, two-thirds of all surnames in some areas have
13 -borg: In the Oldenburg
lowlands, this suffix often replaces the usual -burg.
14 -bostel: A Westphalian suffix in place names;
thus, Fallingbostel, Rodenbostel. It may
occasionally occur in personal names.
15 Brink-, -brink, -brinker: A Westphalian and Eastphalian
particle (meaning *grassy place* or *pasture*); thus, Hasenbrink, Steinbrinker.
16 Brock-, -brock: A Westphalian and Eastphalian
particle (meaning *bridge*); thus, Uhlenbrock, Brockmeyer.
17 -brugger: A Swabian suffix; thus Moosbrugger.
18 -burg, burger: This suffix (meaning *fortress* occurs
frequently in place names throughout Germany. When used in surnames, the -burger form is
used; thus Hamburg becomes Hamburger; Coburg becomes Coburger.
19 -diek: A Westphalian particle (meaning
*pond*); thus, Buddendiek, Griesediek.
20 -ecke: See -icke.
21 -eder, öder/oeder: Bavarian personal name suffixes; thus,
22 -egg, -egger: Swabian personal name suffixes; thus,
23 -eit: See -aitis.
24 -ek: A
Wendisch surname particle; thus, Peschek. Found frequently in Upper
Silesia; thus, Adamek.
25 -el: A
diminutive personal name suffix often found in Southern Saxony;
thus Hähnel/Haehnel, Seidel, Siegel, Weigel, Barthel, Jäckel/Jaeckel.
26 -en: See Patronymics.
27 English Surnames in Germany: Since the end of the 17th century there have
been some Scottish surnames in East Prussia; thus, Douglas,
Forster, Hobson, Kant, Motherby, Oldsloe, Pickering.
28 -er: A
very frequent Southern German surname ending to place names. It is also found accompanied by an; thus,
Strassburger, Weinsberger, Dillinger, and Dörrenbecher/Doerrenbecher, Oppenhäuser/Oppenhaeuser,
29 -et, -eth: In Switzerland the German
suffixes -hard and -hart are often abbreviated to -et; thus, Bernhard becomes
Bernet; Ehrhart becomes Ehret.
30 Frenchified German Surnames: Examples of transliterations: Solger =
Saulier; Nagler = Naguilliar; Witzel = Ficelle; Kleeman = Clément; Vogler =
Fouclair. The affectation of Frenchified
surnames was especially prevalent in Thuringia.
Examples of added accent marks to preserve the original pronunciations: Nestle
= Nestlé; Kothe = Kothé; Nägele/Naegele = Nägelé/Naegelé. This became necessary in places where local
dialects tended to omit the final endings.
the same purpose was accomplished by adding -ey or -y; thus, Kothé became Coty.
31 French Surnames in Germany: Families
with French surnames were frequently encountered in the Eupen and Malmedy
districts, Luxemburg and Alsace
thus Dieudonné and Dollibois. Usually
these surnames have retained their original French form, though the German
pronunciations of them may leave something to be desired. [sic] In the cities of Germany
there were also many Huguenot families originally from France.
32 -gard: A German variation of the Slavic -gorod
33 -gen: A Lower Rheinland diminutive
suffix, prevalent in Franconian dialects.
34 -halter: An exclusively Swabian suffix; thus,
35 -hammer: A Bavarian variation of the more normal
-heimer; thus Niethammer, Esterhammer (for Oesterheimer).
36 -hard, -hart: A frequent High German suffix. See also -et and -eth.
37 -haus: A Westphalian suffix (meaning *house*).
38 -heim, -heimer: A common place name suffix in Southwestern
Germany, becoming -heimer in personal names; thus, Flörsheim/Floersheim
becomes Flörsheimer/Floersheimer; Heppenheim becomes Heppenheimer.
39 -hövel/hoevel: A Westphalian suffix (meaning *hill*);
thus, Windhövel/Windhoevel; van den Hövel or van den Hoevel.
40 -hofer, -höfer/hoefer: A South German suffix; -hofer is
decidedly more frequent than is -höfer/hoefer.
-hoff: A Westphalian particle
(meaning a farmstead). In Muenster
and the northern parts of Minden and Arnsberg administration
districts, where farmsteads are solitary rather then collected in villages,
there are many names, both geographic and personal, containing this particle;
42 -holt: A Westphalian particle (meaning
*woods*); thus, Eicholt.
43 -horn: A Westphalian suffix in place names;
thus, Ehrhorn, Gifhorn.
44 -horst, -hörster/hoerster: A Westphalian and Eastphalian
suffix; thus, Behrhorst becomes Behrhörster/Behrhoerster in the surname form.
45 -hues: A particle found in Muensterland (Westphalia) substituting for the more usual one,
-haus; thus Grothues.
46 Hungarianized German surnames: The practice was common only in Austria.
Bamberger = Vambéry; Hundsdörfer/Hundsdoerfer = Hunfalvy; Benkert = Kertbeny
[notice the transposed syllables].
47 -husen: A Low (Northern) German
place name particle; the equivalent of -hausen in High German; thus
48 -i, -y: A diminutive particle, typically Swiss;
thus, Erni, Bläsi/Blaesi, Rudy.
49 -iak: Frequently encountered in Silesia; thus, Stepaniak.
50 -ich, -nich: A place name particle, particularly north
of the Mosel River in the Lower
51 -ick: A Wendisch surname particle; thus,
52 -icke, ecke: A diminutive particle found especially in Hessen
and Thuringia; thus, Heinicke,
53 -iecki: A Slavic surname suffix; thus, Lisiecki
54 -ien: Wendisch surname suffix.
55 -in: This
is a feminine ending on any surname.
Particularly common in 18th-century documents are names such as
Müllerin, Schmidtin, Meyerin, etc. indicating that a woman, usually married,
was referred to. [Note: I have seen this
form used for unmarried women when the context is “daughter of.”] Genealogists should eliminate or ignore this
ending, equating such names as Müller, Schmidt, and Meyer in modern terms. The suffix also occurs in Wendisch
place names and in surnames stemming from them.
56 -ing: In the Pappenburg administrative
district of Hannover, the -ing suffix appears in about 50% of all
surnames. It becomes less frequent the further southward one goes and
disappears near the Saale
57 -ingen, inger: A Swabian place name suffix typical of Wuerttemberg
and Baden. It becomes -inger when used in personal
names; thus, Zähringen/Zaeringen becomes Zähringer/Zaeringer.
58 -inski: Frequently encountered in Upper
Silesia; thus, Lipinski.
59 Italianized German Surnames: Occasionally German singers have Italianized
their otherwise ordinary German surnames; thus, Stiegele became Stighelli,
Crüwell/Cruewell became Cruvelli, Röder/Roeder became Rodani. Such modifications are not to be confused
with real Italian surnames which are to be found in Germany, usually among descendants
of Italian trading families, such as von Brentano.
60 -itz: A Wendisch surname suffix; thus, Wiebelitz.
61 -ius: See Latinized German Surnames.
62 -je: An
East Frisian diminutive suffix.
63 -kamp, -kämper/kaemper: A Westphalian and Eastphalian
suffix; thus, Bornkamp, Roggenkämper/Roggenkaemper.
64 -ke: A
Westphalian and Eastphalian
diminutive suffix, particularly prevalent in the eastern-most areas near
the lands of the Wends and Altmark; thus, Lemke, Wilke,
Jahnke. See also the following suffixes:
-schke, -ske, -ski, -zke.
65 -ken: A Lower Rhenish diminutive
66 -kk: Sometimes
appears within surnames in East Friesland; thus, Dekker for
67 Kötter/Koetter, -kötter/koetter: A Westphalian particle (meaning *cottage
68 -kofer: A Bavarian personal name suffix; thus,
69 -1: A diminutive particle to be found in many
areas of Germany, even in
the German Northeast, but typical of Bavaria
and Austria. Its occurrence in northeastern Germany is due
entirely to the forced migration of protestant Salzburgers. Thus,
Märkl/Maerkl, Simmerl, Hocherl.
70 -laff: See -aff.
71 Latinized German Surnames: During the periods in which Latin was an
important means of communication, a number of German surnames were Latinized;
so, for example, Pastorius, of fame in early-day Pennsylvania, probably stems
from the common German surname Schafer/Schaefer (meaning *shepherd*).
72 -le: In
Baden the diminutive form is typical;
thus, Merkle, Bürkle/Buerkle, Enderle, Eberle.
The suffix is also used in 75% of the Wurttemberg/Wuerttemberg
and Hohenzollern personal names; thus, Bäuerle/Baeuerle, Mayerle,
73 -leb: In Hessen the Saxon and Thuringian
suffix -leben is usually abbreviated; thus, Witzleben becomes Witzleb.
74 -leben: Common in Saxony and Thuringia.
75 -lein: A diminutive suffix, especially in Thuringia; thus, Henlein, Gäbelein/Gaebelein.
76 Leiter, Leitner, Leutner: Bavarian derivations from Leite
(meaning a *cliff*). Stands alone or as
77 -ler: A Bavarian suffix; thus, Hitler, Bichler.
78 -li: A
diminutive particle, typically Swiss; thus, Merkli.
79 -lin: A diminutive particle in the Upper Rhenish
districts and westward, especially in the Palatinate;
thus, Bürklin/Buerklin, Bundlin, Sütterlin/Suetterlin, Oberlin, Köchlin/Koechlin.
80 Loh-, -loh: A Westphalian particle (meaning a
*thicket*); thus, Lohoff.
81 -ma: Only
found in East Friesland. See
82 Maier-, -maier, -mayer: A frequent prefix and suffix in Bavaria and Württemberg
and always spelled with an -a; thus, Steinmaier, Katzenmaier, Stegmayer.
83 -mann: A German surname suffix so widespread as to
give no clue to geographic origin.
84 Meyer-, -meyer: This particle is very widely encountered in
(-meyer) Westphalian and (Meyer-) Eastphalian surnames; thus,
85 Möller/Moeller: This spelling of the surname Müller/Mueller
frequently occurs in Hessen.
86 -moos, -mooser, -moser: A Bavarian place-name suffix that
becomes -mooser or -moser in personal names; thus, Entmoos becomes Entmooser.
87 -ner: A Bavarian and Austrian personal
name suffix; thus, Hubner, Löschner/Loeschner, Mautner.
88 -nich: See -ich.
89 -nick: A suffix found in Wendisch (Slavic)
surnames; thus, Bausnick.
90 -o, -o-: An ancient Germanic particle which survives
most frequently in Westphalia; thus,
Teuto, Danco, Otto. In Low (Northern) German -o- often
replaces another vowel in High German; thus, Soltwedel instead of Salzwedel;
Moller and Möller/Moeller instead of Müller/Mueller. See also Möller/Moeller.
91 -ou-: In East
Prussia an -ou- often replaces an -au; thus,
Wildebour instead of Wildebauer.
92 -ow: Frequently
encountered place name suffix in Dannenberg district having a Wendisch
(Slavic) origin; also found further eastward in areas contested with the
Slavs; thus, Flotow, Grabow, Vangerow.
93 -owski: A Polish surname suffix. See also Polishized
German Surnames. Note, however, that
there are many thousands of Germans with real Polish surnames, particularly in Upper Silesia, a mining area. Many Silesian
miners then migrated to the Ruhr mining and smelting region of Germany
in the 19th and 20th centuries.
94 P-, -p: In Bavaria,
P- often replaces B- in “customary in other areas” [sic]; thus Brücker/Bruecker
becomes Prücker/Pruecker and Pannebecher becomes Pannepecher.
95 Patronymics: Particularly prevalent in the genitive form
(with -s, -en, or -sen) in East Friesland and Jeverland;
over half the surnames in Aurich and Emden regions and about
one-third of those in the Leer region are so formed; thus, Reiners,
Gerdes, Gerjets, Dirks, Focken, Rippen, Tjaden, Ufken, Bennens, Dudden, Habben,
Hayen, Heeren, Jansen, Mommen, Onken, Popken, Folkers, Gerels, Harms,
Sybolts. In Stadeland and Bütjadingen/Buetjadingen:
Lübsen/Luebsen, Siebsen, Tanzen. In Osterstade
and Wührden/Wuerden: Betken, Campsen, Hancken, Pecksen. In Land Würsten/Wuersten:
Adickes, Camps, Frers, Johanns, Lubs, Pecks.
In North Friesland:
Andresen, Christiansen, Claussen, Janssen, Johansen, Lützen/Luetzen [I notice -zen here.] Mommsen, Paulsen,
Petersen, Thomsen, Todsen. Note that in Jeverland,
patronymics ending in -en and -sen account for 80% of all surnames, but that -a
and -ma endings are entirely [sic; remember that we are warned about absolute
terms] absent. In Schleswig
-sen endings are found on 90% of all surnames, but in neighboring Eckenförde/Eckenfoerde
they disappear almost entirely.
Patronymics with -s endings are extremely important also in the Koblenz and Trier
governmental regions; thus, Heinrichs, Reichartz, Caspers, Eckes. They are also very common in Oldenburg; thus,
Redlefs, Oltmanns, Rienitz (or Rienits).
96 Place Names as Surnames: In Hessen place names are used as
surnames without any endings; thus, Henneberg, Sonnefeld.
97 Polishized German Surnames: Reflecting the propinquity of Germans and
Poles in Prussia and Silesia, many
German surnames have been spelled according to Polish orthography. Thus, Schulz = Szulc; Schumann = Szuman;
Schreiber = Szraiber. Another method of
Polishizing German surnames was to add the -owski suffix to the German root;
thus, Feldmann = Feldmanowski; Krautshofer = Krauthofski.
98 Professonal Names: Although common, in one form or another, in
all parts of Germany,
Westphalians were apt to be more descriptive or specific; thus,
Bowenschulte, Brankschröder/Brankschroeder; Oberste-Kampmann.
99 -r: In Southern German dialects the
normal -er suffix is sometimes elided to -r, or dropped entirely; thus, Pfarrer
becomes Pfarr, Bräuer/Braeuer becomes Bräu/Braeu.
100 -rath: A place name particle, especially north
of the Mosel River in the Lower
101 -reuth, -reuther, -reut: A Bavarian place name suffix becoming
-reuther in personal names; thus, Bayreuth,
102 -ried, rieder: A Bavarian and Swabian place
name suffix that becomes -rieder in surnames; thus Bernried becomes Bernrieder.
103 -roth: A place name suffix, that replaces -rath in
the Cologne district of the Lower Rhineland
and eastward to Thuringia.
104 -s: See
105 -scheid: A place name suffix, especially north of
the Mosel River in the Lower
106 -schke: Frequently occurs in Eastern Pomerania
(Pommern) where it substitutes for the Polish -ski ending; thus,
107 Schmid: This is the common form of the *Smith* surname
Schmidt: Frequently encountered in Hessen.
109 -sen: Mainly
a patronymic suffix but also a Westphalian particle in place names (an
abbreviation of -heim); thus, Bellersen (Bellersheim), Wennigsen
(Wennigsheim). [Such -heim words are
frequently mispronounced. Some say
Sin-sheim and Heim-sheim, splitting the syllables incorrectly, instead of
Sins-heim and Heims-heim. The rule of
thumb (rule of tongue?) seems to be that when -sh appears in a word, the -s
ends a syllable and the -h begins one.
Alles klar? Finally, heim means *home*;
that may help one remember the correct pronunciation.]
110 -ske, -zke: In Eastern Pomerania,
often substitutes for the Polish -ski particle.
111 -ski, -sky: A Polish surname suffix, often written in
German as -sky; thus, Kaminsky, Loschitzky.
Frequently used with a patronymic to denote “son of’; thus, Adamski,
112 Sm-: In
East Friesland, Sch- becomes
Sm-; thus Smidt for Schmidt.
113 Ten-: A
prepositional particle found in Westphalian surnames; thus, Tenberge.
114 Ter-: A
prepositional particle found in Westphalian surnames, thus, Terbeck.
115 -tj-: In
East Friesland a -tj sometimes appears in a surname; thus, Tjark
for Tiark; Warntjes for Warnties, Luitjens for Lütgens/Luetgens.
116 -tsch: A diminutive suffix similar to -z found mainly
in Electoral Hessen; thus Fritsch and Götsch/Goetsch replacing
Fritze and Götze/Goetze.
117 Tzsch-, -tzsch: See Zsch-.
118 -üsch/uesch: A suffix found in Wendisch (Slavic)
surnames; thus, Gramüsch/Gramuesch.
119 -ui: In
East Friesland, an -ui particle
often substitutes for the more normal -ü
or ue; thus, Luitjens instead of Lütgen/Luetgen.
120 -uo: In
Southern Germany -uo
occasionally replaces -u. Thus, Ruof and Schraishuon. Rare.
121 van: A
prepositional prefix frequently found in Westphalian and Dutch
surnames. Thus, van den Berg
(Westphalian) and van Hoogstraten (Dutch).
122 von: A
prepositional prefix in nearly all noble surnames. However, it is not exclusively of noble
usage. When found in lists of the
nobility (or in muster rolls) it is nearly always abbreviated; thus, v.
Kleist-Retzow. When written out in
muster rolls, it may refer to a commoner; thus Von der Aa.
123 -wangen, -wanger, -wänger/waenger: An exclusively Swabian place-name
suffix that becomes -wanger or -wänger/waenger in surnames; thus, Ellwangen,
the town, and Ellwanger, the person; Naiswangen and Naiswanger.
124 -z, -ze: A diminutive form found in both High
and Low (Northern) German dialects; thus, Barz and
Kunz. Sometimes the diminutive is
doubled, as in Neitzke, Neitzel, and Wetzel.
125 -zke: See
126 Zsch-, -zsch, -tsch: Found in Saxon personal names showing
the Slavic influence; thus, Fritsche, Klotzsche, Zschweigert, Zschinsky,
article originally appeared in the Missouri State Genealogical Association Journal, Vol. XXV, No. 3, 2005, pp.
172-177 and is reprinted here with permission.
article was adapted from Smith, Clifford Neal & Anna Piszczan-Czaja Smith.
“Internal Dialectical Clues in German Surnames.” Encyclopedia of German-American Genealogical Research. New York: R.R. Bowker
Co., 1976, pp .93-98.
author, Theola Walden Baker, may be emailed at <email@example.com>.
Joos, Überlingen am Bodensee,
<firstname.lastname@example.org>, located this material for the Editor of the