German Names: Part 1
German First Names (Vornamen) and Their Meanings
German names and tracing your Germanic roots
One of the most common inquiries I get concerns German names. And it's not surprising that most of these inquiries come from Americans. According to the 1990 US Census, German-Americans were the largest single ethnic group in the United States with 57,947,374 persons or 23.3 percent of the US population claiming some form of Germanic ancestryGerman, Austrian, or German Swiss.
Naming things (Namensgebung), as well as people, is a popular German pastime. While the rest of the world may name hurricanes or typhoons, the German Weather Service (Deutscher Wetterdienst) goes so far as to name ordinary high (hoch) and low (tief) pressure zones!* (Which prompted a recent debate about whether masculine or feminine names should be applied to a high or a low. Since 2000 they have alternated in even and odd years.) I suspect this naming custom originally got started because highs are so rare in Europe, but that's another story.
In this first part of our three-part name feature we look at German first names (Vornamen), their meanings, and their origins. And we shall discover that many "German" first names are not really German at all. (If you are a genealogical beginner interested in tracing your German roots, see the article: German and Genealogy.)
The popularity of German given names, just like names anywhere, varies over the years depending on fashion. What parents choose to name their child has always been subject to tradition, name popularity, sports figure and movie star names, and official approval by the local office of vital statistics (Standesamt). Boys and girls in the German-speaking world born at the end of the 1990s bear first names that are very different from earlier generations or children born even a decade earlier. Popular German names of yore (Hans, Jürgen, Edeltraut, Ursula) have given way to more "international" names today (Tim, Lukas, Sara, Emily). Below is a list of the top ten names for boys and girls in Germany in 2005. (For 2004 and previous years, see our Top 10 German Names page.)
*A reader informs me that the actual naming of pressure zones is done by das Institut für Meteorlogie at Berlin's Freie Universität.
die beliebtesten Vornamen
Most popular German first names
|1. Lukas / Lucas||1. Leonie / Leoni|
|2. Leon||2. Hanna / Hannah|
|3. Luca / Luka||3. Anna|
|4. Finn / Fynn||4. Lea / Leah|
|5. Niclas / Niklas||5. Lena|
|6. Jonas||6. Laura|
|7. Tim / Timm||7. Emily / Emilie|
|8. Luis / Louis||8. Lara|
|9. Jan||9. Sophie / Sofie|
|10. Paul||10. Marie|
More top names: Top German First Names (1997-2004)
German First Names List: Boys > Girls >
First Names Glossary with origins
Most of the name queries I receive are about the meaning (Bedeutung) and/or derivation (Ursprung) of a particular appellation (name). There are many books on this subjectmost of them with titles like Lexikon der Vornamen or Das große Buch der Vornamen. The Web also offers many sources for discovering the meaning or origin of German first names. You'll find name meanings in our own German name guide and additional resources in our collection of related links and books on our Name Links page.
Most of these books or Web pages will tell you the source (Latin, Old High German, Hebrew, Celtic, etc.) and the supposed meaning of a name: Arnold (deutsch) = kühner Herrscher ("bold leader"). Some sources will provide even more detail. "Arnold," for instance, is made up of the Old High German words arn ("eagle") and walt(an) ("to rule"), which combine to produce something like "he who rules like an eagle."
Some sources also list famous people who once bore the name or who still do. The name Arnold was spread in the Middle Ages by the blessed Arnold, a lute player in the court of Charlemagne (Karl der Große). Two Austrians are among the most famous Arnolds: composer Arnold Schönberg and actor/producer/governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. We provide similar information for the name Ludwig in the first part of our What's in a Name series.
One last thing. When a German-speaker inquires about your Name (NAH-muh), he or she is asking about your LAST name, not your first. It takes time to get on a first name (per du) basis. We discuss that in this article: Sie und du.
German Names (2)
Part Two of this article: German surnames (Nachnamen).
German Names (3)
Part Three of this article: Place Names (Ortsnamen).
Top German First Names 1997-2004
A ranked chart of the top first names for boys and girls in Germany for the years 1997-2004.
Top 10 First Names - Germany vs USA
Compare the most popular names for boys and girls in Germany and the USA from 2003 to 2004.
Name Days in April
In some places your name day is more important than your birthday.
Germanic Genealogy - Contents/Inhalt
Our genealogy starting page. Lists all the articles, glossaries and link pages for tracing your Germanic roots.
German Roots: A Personal Search
The personal story of a genealogical search for family documents in a small town in Germany. With sample documents and lessons learned.
What's in a Name? - Ludwig
Ludwig (Louis) is one of those Germanic names that have fallen out of favor, but it has a long and interesting history.
German and Genealogy
A beginner's genealogy guide with hints for tracing your Austrian, German, or Swiss roots.
A German-English name guide, with meanings and origins of German first names.
Web Links for German Names
A special collection of Web links related to names.
On the Web
beliebte-Vornamen.de - Vornamen 1890-2006
The most popular German first names for boys and girls since 1890.
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