Note: The information on this page was found on the internet at the following URL link entitled "German Names in America". I have copy and pasted the page onto this web site because many times after researching and finding interesting material I have found that the information is sometimes removed by the original web site owner.
GERMAN NAMES IN AMERICA
Here is how one teacher carried out a German-American Day project, dealing with German names in the American mainstream, and had her students participate in an essay contest at the same time.
October 6, German-American Day crept up on me this year. So I asked myself "How can I in a very short time, make this essay contest 'German Words and Names in the Hoosier Mainstream Culture' meaningful to my first year students?" As a class we watched the film "300 years of German Immigration" and identified names and places of historical significance. After that, I made a poster for the classroom, a map of Indiana in the background, and highlighted fifteen cities with German names. From the local phone book, I typed fifteen last names and added them to the poster. Finally from Indiana Tourist Information packets I had at home, I cut out pictures and information relating to some of the German communities around the state. Not on the poster, but just to have in the classroom, were German words, names and companies with German names I had cut out of only one "Indianapolis Star." Assuring the students, that German words and names are all around us, I assigned a very simple project: Find 10 German words or names and display them on a 9" x 12" piece of construction paper. Students received 15 points for the 10 words and 15 points for the display. (This is equivalent to a normal quiz score.) For extra credit, students could take the words and names they found and turn them into an essay. The small posters were super. So good, that about 75 of them went up on the wall outside of the classroom for the entire school to enjoy. The display stayed up during the month of October. Students were proud to see their posters displayed, and many non-German students came by to admire the display.
The German students were indeed surprised at
how quickly they came up with the words and names, that most of them took extra
time designing posters with color meaning, extra German/Indiana drawings,
translating names, or writing some history. From the required project, eight
students then wrote shorts essays using the words they had located. The entire
German-American unit took about 2 1/2 class days. the project created enthusiasm
and many lasting positive impressions of German-Americans.
IDENTIFYING GERMAN NAMES
Many German names have their roots in the Germanic middle ages. A name identified a specific person and later a group of persons (family name); at first through verbal usage, it was later fixed through writing. All social classes and demographic strata aided in the development of names.
The earliest are the names derived from the place of dwelling and the location of the homestead. If a person or family migrated from one place to another, they were identified by the place they came from. The largest group and the most easily recognizable names are those derived from the vocation or profession of the first bearer. They tell you what the first bearer did for a living. There is one group where the name derives from the first names of first bearer and another where the names come for a physical or other characteristic of first bearer. Finally there are names which tell you the state or region a first bearer and his family came from; the age old division in tribes and regions (low German, middle German and upper German) is often reflected in names. But for non-German speakers they are at first hard to "localize. Especially those on the Dutch border and Northern Germany sound very much like Dutch or English names.
Furthermore, if you know a little German, you
will be able to recognize names more easily; if you do not know German there are
a number of clues to look for.
Look for names which begin with sch, the consonant cluster and sound represented in English by sh, like in shoe: Schaefer, (Schafer, Schaeffer, Schaffer, Shaffer), Schlitz, Schluter, Schmid (Schmidt, Schmitt, Schmitz) Schneider, Schrader, Schroeder, Schul(t)z (Schulz, Shulz) Schumacher, Schu(h)mann, Schwar(t)z and Schneider.
Look for names with ue, oe, indicating umlauts; beginning with Kn: Knopf, Knecht, Knefler, Kno(e)del; Pf: Pflaume, Pfrommer, Pfister, Pfizer; beginning with Str: Stroh.
Names with ei are mostly German (but not all):
Reichmann, Reimann, Reimers, Eisenhower, Heilemann, Klein, Weimer, Weiss.
Neu is German for new: Neuman(n), Neuberger, Nieman(n), Nauman(n).
If a name ends in -mann, -burg, -berg, lich, -stein or t(h)al, it is a likely indication that the name is German. But in certain settlement areas, these endings could also refer to Swedish and Russian Jewish backgrounds.
There are German place names ending in -burg
(castle), -bruck (bridge); -furt (ford), -berg (mountain), -reuth, -rode
(clearing in woods).
Names derived from profession of first bearer:
Names derived from location of homestead:
The place a person came from:
First names of first bearer:
Names derived from a physical or other
characteristic of first bearer:
Dating back to the old Germanic world:
Names of saints:
After days of the week: Montag, Freitag, Sonntag; or Month: May.
Relating to objects/materials:
Allemanic (Switzerland, Alsace, Baden) endings in -li; Swabian: -le; Bavaria/Austrian: -erl; North German: -gen, -ken.
Schleswig-Holstein and Friesland share the North-European tradition of adding -sen or -so(h)n to the father's name: Hansen, Claussen, Petersen, Petersohn, Jacobsohn, T(h)omsen.
Where immigration from the northeastern
provinces of Mecklenburg and Pomerania was strong, you will find names ending in
-ow (but note that Polish and Russian have that ending too).
Hans Bahlow, Dictionary of German Names, 1993, 641 pp., $22.50, ISBN 0-924119-35-7, Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 901 University Bay Drive, Madison, WI 52705
Copyright 2001 Sherri Schäefer Bagby;
all rights reserved.