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German surname origins

Understanding the Origins of German Surnames

Learn here even more about german surname origins. The use of German surnames has been in existence since the 12th century. Kaiser, Fuchs, Jung, Hahn, Wolf, and Kruger are all German Surnames. Schmidt and Petersen are both common surnames in Germany.


Some of these names are quite recognizable to people who have a little bit of knowledge about the German language. Here are some clues that may help you quickly identify whether a particular surname could have German origins.

  • Many German surnames will contain these vowel combinations "ue" or "oe". One example is the surname, "Bauer".

  • If you see "ei" in a surname it is probably one with a German origin. "Veicht" is an example of one of these German surnames.

  • Surnames that end in "mann", "stein", "thal", "dorf", "heim", "berg", "lich," or "bruck" are very likely to be German. Examples include the last names "Lehmann" and "Rosenthal".

  • German surnames frequently begin with a combination of consonants. The combinations most commonly seen include "Kn", "Pf", "Sch" "Str" and "Neu. Examples of these surnames include "Schmitz" and "Schmid".

  • More German Surname Origins

    German Jews frequently assumed surnames showing their religious occupation. Kantor meant the person was a lower priest, the last name of Levi indicated a tribe of priests, and Kohn was a surname that meant priest.

    Jewish individuals who were from wealthy families could afford to buy a more impressive sounding name like Rosenthal, which translated to rose valley, or Goldstein, which means gold stone.

    Patronymic and Matronymic German Surname Origins

    These surnames resulted from the first name of a parent, and are quite common in many parts of Europe. These types of surnames are not as widely used in Germany. The Northwest regions of Germany are the places where you will find the country's highest number of patronymic based surnames.

    Descriptive German Surnames

    Many German surnames were devised from a particular trait, or physical characteristic, of an individual. The name might refer to a beard or the color of the hair. An individual might have displayed some fast running speed and then he could have been given a surname like Hirsch, which means "deer".

    Occupational Surnames

    Occupational surnames with German origins are the most common. In fact, the number of occupational surnames is higher among Germans than any other group of people. A surname ending in "er", "hauer" or "macher" is almost certain to have occupational relevance.

    These types of names were used to describe the type of work an individual did. For instance, the name "Fischer" means "fisherman" and "Schuhmacher" meant that the person was a "shoe maker".

    Geographical Surnames

    German last names that describe locations are known as geographical surnames. This name could be the city or town where a person was born, or a place where they lived. Some of these surnames have tribal, or regional affiliations.

    Henry Kissinger has one of these geographical german surname origins. A person with the last name of Kissinger was originally someone who came from the town of Kissingen in Franconia.

    German Farm Names

    These surnames are very similar to geographic surnames. A man would use the name of the family's farm as his own last name. This practice resulted in some confusion because people were changing their names with every move to a new farm.

    In some instances, a man with a wife who inherited her family farm changed his name to that of the new farm and ended up with his wife's maiden name.

    German Surnames in America

    Many German immigrants also chose to make their names more American sounding. German names were hard for English speaking Americans to pronounce and spell. Americanizing the last name was a way that some of the German immigrants felt they could better fit in to their new American life and culture.

    Some people adopted the American equivalent of their surname. This meant that "Zimmermann" was changed to "Carpenter", and the German surname of "Klein" became "Little".

    Surnames that did not translate into English would often have the spelling changed to match the phonetic English pronunciation. An example of this would be someone who changed their German surname of "Veicht" to "Fight".

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