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More German Surnames

Germanic Family Names and Their Meanings

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Genealogy Contents > German Surnames > More Surnames > Surnames Glossary > Top 50 German Surnames

German last names, like English and other surnames, often have a basic, original meaning. Family names in any language may reflect a personal characteristic (Klein/Small), a profession (Schmidt/Smith), a location (Bayer/Bavarian) or some other trait (Roth/Red).

Duden coverThe Duden is just one of several German name
books that you'll find on our name books page.

In an earlier feature on Germanic Surnames, I talked about English surname equivalents of German last names and famous Americans whose names were Germanic (Eisenhower, Mencken, Nimitz, Steinway, Ruth, etc.). To that list we could add General Norman Schwarzkopf ("black head"), actress Doris Kappelhoff (better known as Doris Day, whose German surname means "chapel court/estate") and Custer (Küster, "sexton") of "last stand" infamy. In the previous article we also discussed how immigrant family names are often altered, as with Eisenhauer to Eisenhower. But our Germanic Surname Lexikon is more interested in the English meaning or translations of Germanic names. Eisenhauer, for instance, originally meant "iron hewer" or "iron miner." It is an example of a surname derived from an occupation. Here are some other examples from the lexicon:

Germanic Last Names
German Surnames with English Meanings
Nachname Last Name English Meaning
Adler eagle
Bach brook
Fassbinder cooper
Fleischer butcher
Koch cook
Weber weaver
For many more names, see our Germanic Surname Lexikon. For the new Duden FAMILIENNAMEN book with the origin and meaning of 20,000 German names, plus other books on surnames, see German Name Books.

In our databank of Germanic last-names you will find many typical and not-so-typical family names and their meanings. Although the English meaning may be an equivalent last name (e.g., Schneider/Tailor or Taylor), a German last name does not always translate directly into an English name (Kaiser/emperor). In our surname glossary, we present the actual translated meaning rather than the equivalent name, though they often are the same thing.

As I have pointed out before, one should be careful about translating surnames. Not only are there often several interpretations possible for any one name (and even name linguists do not always agree), but it is often difficult to tell the true origin of surnames. Names that look German may in fact be of British (Celtic) or French origin. Or a name may have long ago been taken from another language. I'd advise you to take any surname translation (including ours) with a grain of salt. It's fun to look at name meanings, but it's not always a scientifically accurate process.

Our surname glossary is only one of many Germanic genealogy resources we offer to help you in your search for your family's Germanic roots. You can find all of our genealogy pages on the Germanic Genealogy Contents page.

NEXT > German-English Surname Glossary A-K > Glossary L-Z

MORE > Genealogy Contents > German Surnames (Part 1)
MORE > Surnames Lexikon > Top 50 German Surnames
MORE > German Name Books > German Name Links


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