Wednesday, June 18, 2014

World-Wide Wednesday: German Baby Names

Moritzburg Castle, Germany
Featured German Names:
Alaric & Lorelei
This month's World-Wide Wednesday features baby naming customs from Germany.

Prior to the late 19th century, Germany was a vast territory that saw major differences in the way baby names were given across the land and in different time periods. Traditionally, most boys in central and southern Germany in the 1700s were named Johann or Johannes. (Hans was big in the 1600s). Sometimes they would go by a middle name to differentiate between them. Similarly, girls tended to be named Maria or Anna.

In the north and northeast, children in the mid-1800s received anywhere from three to five given names. This was a sign of nobility. The more names a person had, the more important they would appear. In records, ministers would often underline the preferred name, and sometimes marriage licenses would have the names in a slightly different order than what was on the birth record. They may have even been simplified or spelled differently.  Surnames weren't regularly used until the 1500s.

Up near Denmark in a place called Schelswig and a place called the duchy of Holstein, it was popular tradition to use patronymic names through to the 18th century. This means that most children were named for their fathers or grandfathers. For example, if a father was named Peter, his sons and daugthers would use the surname Petersen (and occasionally girls who were very near Denmark would follow those traditions and use Petersdatter as a surname instead). It wasn't until 1771 that this got to be rather confusing and a law was passed that required children to take a set surname, usually the same one their father had instead of basing a new one on his first name.

In Ostfriesland, which is in the northwestern corner of modern Germany, people followed a patronymic pattern that was very similar to that of their Dutch neighbors to the west. Instead of adding -sen or -datter to their father's name, boys and girls would simply add an -s. The confusing part about this tradition is that back in Schleswig most wives would take their husband's name and add -s to it. Depending on where you lived, your name would indicate whether you were the wife of Peter (in Schleswig and Denmark) or the daughter of Peter (in Ostfriesland).

As you can see, different areas had different customs that drew great influence from neighboring countries. Another example is that of the people of Westfalen which borders Hannover, Rheinland. Since medieval times, they had an entirely different naming method.  Surnames were called Hofname or "farm-names". The family living on that particular farm would take that particular surname. If a daughter inherited the farm and married, her husband would change his name to that of her farm. His old name would be listed with his new surname with a phrase such as genannt, vulgo, modo, sive, or alias listed between them meaning he had one surname but was called by another.

Today, there are still some faint remnants of these patronymic systems but they don't tend to form a child's official name. Names consist of one or several usually gender-specific given names and a set surname. Women traditionally adopt their husband's surname and hyphenate it with their own.

Most first names in the past were very traditionally Germanic, or they were biblical. Examples include:

Boys:                                      
Carl
Karl
Wilhelm
Otto
Heinrich
Friedrich
Paul
Hans
Gustav
Max
Walter
Walther
Hermann
Ernst
Werner
Heinz
Curt
Kurt
Günter
Günther
Herbert
Gerhard
Helmuth
Peter
Claus
Klaus
Uwe
Jürgen
Dieter
Horst
Manfred
Wolfgang
Bernd
Andreas
Frank
Stefan
Jörg
Torsten
Girls:
Anna
Martha
Frieda
Bertha
Emma
Maria
Margarethe
Erna
Elsa
Gertrud
Hertha
Käthe
Elisabeth
Hildegard
Ilse
Irmgard
Gerda
Lieselotte
Elfriede
Ursula
Edith
Helga
Gisela
Inge
Ingrid
Ingeborg
Karin
Renate
Elke
Monika
Brigitte
Angelika
Sabine
Martina
Ute
Keike
Petra
Birgit
Anja
It is only since the 1970s or so that Germans have adopted more Westernized names such as:


Boys:                                      
Thomas
Michael
Marcus
Christian
Oliver
Matthias
Sebastian
Daniel
Martin
Dennis
Alexander
Tobias
Patrick
Marcel
Philipp
Lucas
Ben
Finn
Jonas
Maximilian
Felix
Leon
Louis
Girls:
Nicole
Claudia
Stephanie
Andrea
Susanne
Julia
Melanie
Sandra
Nadine
Christina
Sabrina
Sarah
Jennifer
Lisa
Katharina
Jessica
Laura
Leah
Hannah
Michelle
Lara
Lena
Mia
Sophia
Leonie
There was a bit of a pattern that many parents followed in order to properly honor saints and relatives in their children's names. Take a look at this chart for an example:

Source
If there were duplicate names in the pattern, they'd usually skip to the next name in the pattern. If a child were to die in infancy, their name would be reused for the next child of the same gender.

When the children were baptized, they were most often given one first name that was a spiritual name honoring that special saint or relative, and they'd receive a middle name or a "call name." They would go by this call name most often. Often, children were all given the same first name such as the very popular Johann. Three brothers might have the following names:

Johann Heinrich Schmidt
Johann Wilhelm Schmidt
Johann Gustav Schmidt

They would be known as Heinrich, Wilhelm and Gustav. Girls would have a similar situation but most commonly with the first name Anna or Maria. This occurrence did not always happen though. It did depend on the family and when and where they lived.

There is no official statistics for baby names in Germany but Knud Bielefeld (publisher of firstnamesgermany.com) has analysed approximately 182,300 German birth notifications and compiled a list of the most popular baby names in 2013. Borrowing graciously from him, here are the Top 10:


1. Ben                                        
2. Luca / Luka
3. Paul
4. Jonas
5. Finn / Fynn
6. Leon
7. Luis / Louis
8. Lukas / Lucas
9. Maximilian
10. Felix
1. Mia
2. Emma
3. Hannah / Hanna
4. Sofia / Sophia
5. Anna
6. Lea / Leah
7. Emilia
8. Marie
9. Lena
10. Leonie
What do you think of the baby naming customs of Germany? Do you have any German relatives with names like these? Which traditionally German name is your favorite? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below or on our Facebook page!

Source | Source | Source | Source

[Note: I do have German blood but I've never been to Germany and don't speak German. If any of this information seems incorrect, please let me know so I can fix it!]

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