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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.


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:
Arzt - doctor; Bader - barber: Bauer - farmer; Bauman(n) - builder; Becker - baker; Brenner - distiller; Brauer, Breuer - brewer, brower, brewster; Eisenhauer, Eisenhower - iron cutter, miner; Farber - painter; Fischer - fisher; Fleischer - butcher; Gebauer - peasant or tiller of the field; Gerber - tanner; Kellerman - worker or dweller in a wine cellar or tavern; Kessler - coppersmith, own who sold or made cettles; Kramer - merchant; Krieg, Krieger - war, warrior, in Yiddish could mean tavern keeper; Kuster (Kuester) - sexton, Kunstler - artist or skilled artisan; Lederer, Lederman(n) - leather maker, tanner; Lehrer - teacher; Lesser - custodian of a forest, game keeper; Lichtermann - one who lit lamps, lamplighter; Lichtman - candle maker; Maurer - stone mason; Mehler (Mahler) - painter; Mehlinger, Mehlman(n), Melman - one who works with flour; Metzger - butcher; Muller - miller; Nachtman(n) - night watchman; Pfannnenschmidt - maker of pots and pans; Postman(n) - postal worker, (also a person from Postau); Puttkam(m)er - person who cleans rooms; Rader - wheelwright, one who makes wheels; or a person from Raden (moor, reedy place), one who thatched with reed; Reifsneider, Reifsnyder - one who made barrel hops; Reiter - horseman, also one who cleared land for tilling; Richter - judge or magistrate; Saltz, Saltzman(n) - one who processed and sold salt; Sandler - one who carts sand, repairs shoes, a cobbler; Schafer (German with Umlaut) was a sheperd; Schenker - one who kept a public house; Scherer - one who shaved others, a barber; Schlosser - lock smith; Schluter (Schlueter, Schluter with Umlaut) - the keeper of supplies; Schmidt - smith; Schmuker, Schmu(c)kler - one who decorates, ornaments; Schneider and Schroeder - tailor; Schultz, Schultheis - village mayor; Schreiber - secretary or scribe; Schreiner - cabinet maker; Schubert - one who made or sold shoes; Schulman(n) - school or synagogue man; Schumacher, Schu(h)man(n), Schuster - shoe maker, cobbler; Steinhauer - one who cuts and breaks stone; Studebaker - one who prepared or sold pastries; Wagner - wagoner, wagon maker; Weber - weaver; Wechsler - money changer.

Names derived from location of homestead:
Zumwald - at the forest; Kaltenbach - cold creek; Waldschmidt - smith at/in the woods. Meer - from the sea, ocean; Borg (northern German) or Burg - from or near a fortified castle; Bullwinkel - corner where bulls were kept; Adler (zum Adler) - eagle, may have derived from a house name; Rabe - crow.

The place a person came from:
Cullen from Koeln/Cologne; Dannenberg, town of Dannenberg - pine tree covered mountain, three places in Germany; Dresdner from Dresden; Halpern or Halperin - one who came from Heilbronn in Wurttemberg; Mel(t)zer - can be a brewer or a person who came from Meltz; Berlin, Klutz and Lowenthal - place names in Germany; Silberg - two place names in Germany; Stein - numerous villages in German-speaking countries; stone, rock, marker; Sternberg - name of ten places in Germany; Shapiro, Shapira, Shapero, Shapera - one from Spyer, in the middle ages spelled Spira, and by Jews spelled Shapira; Pollack - one who came from Poland; Frank - from Franconia; Rockower, Rockow - ow is frequent and only in the low lands of Germany; Schlesinger - one who came from Silesia or Schleusingen in Thuringia; Schwei(t)zer - person from Switzerland, but also a dairyman.

First names of first bearer:
Friedrich, Fritz, Albrecht (Albright), Dietrich, Dietz, Eberhard(t), Georg(e), Heinrich, Heinz, Hinz, Konrad, Kunz, Ludwig, Lutz, Ott(o), Paul(us), Reinhard, Werner.

Names derived from a physical or other characteristic of first bearer:
Altmann - old man; Hellmann - light man; Dick - fat person; Klein - short; Lange - the long one; Kurz - the short one. Lustig - happy person; Grossmann - the big one; Rot(h)bart - red beard; Weiss - white appearance; Schwar(t)z - black appearance; Schwarzkopf - black haired; Sus(s)man - affectionate person; Unruh - agitator or trouble maker; Schatz - treasure; Stamm, Stump - trunk (as of a tree); Stammler - stutterer; Stock - stick, tree trunk.

Dating back to the old Germanic world:
Albrecht (Albright), Die(d)trich, Gu(81)nther, Hagen, Hildebrandt, Hillenbrand, Oswald, Siegfried (Seyfried). Short forms: Konrad-Kunz, Heinrich-Hinz.

Names of saints:
Lukas, Matthias, Matthaeus, Paulus, Ruprecht and Nikolaus, which became family names.

After days of the week: Montag, Freitag, Sonntag; or Month: May.

Relating to objects/materials:
Hammer - hammer; Nagel - nail; Knopf - button, Stahl - steel; Eisen - iron; Erzberger - ore mountain; Gold - gold; Silber - silver; Baum - tree; Holz - wood; Stroh - straw; Keller - cellar, food storage space.

Regional differences:
Diminutives (-chen, -lein, -lin) can indicate regional origin. Examples: Buechlein, Boeglin.

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


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and was last updated on 07/26/01