On German Names
article was adapted from one written in 1996 by Tim Conrad. The
original can be found here.)
used what might be called a 'prefix' name in the 1700's and early 1800's
(and possibly earlier). The two most common prefix names were John
and Maria. These names were used at the child's baptism and some
later more formal documents, and dropped in other situations. For
example, a child baptized John Jacob Schmitt would be known simply as
Jacob Schmitt in other less formal documents. For girls, the
prefixes Mary or Maria and Anna were used much like John was for boys.
There is an interesting article on this naming convention in the Fall 1995
(Vol 16, No 1) issue of The Berks County Genealogical Society (pg 8).
Here, in an article by Elaine D. Schwar, the naming practice is called
to keep in mind about German given names:
Carolus, Charles and Carl
are all the same in German
Jurg, Georg, and George are
the same in German
Anton, Anthony, Andrew
and Andy were often used interchangeably. Duny was short for Anthony.
Blanche and Blandina were
Bastian and Bass were short
Baltzer was short for
Asimus was short for
Felty was short for
Valentine (the German 'V' can sound like an 'F’)
Fronica, and Veronica are the same in German
Frona is short for Veronica
Ottila, Matilida, and
Mathilda are often used interchangeably; nicknames are Tillie or Tilda
Margaret, etc. are the same
Elisabetha, Elisabeth, and
Elizabeth are the same
Rebecca was a nickname for
Peggy was a nickname for
Casper and Jasper were
often used interchangeably.
Lene and Lena were both
nicknames for either Magdelena or Helena.
Hanna was short for
Dinah and Tina were short
Baby and Barbary were used for Barbara
Sarah and Salome were often
Regina and Rachel were
often used interchangably
In order to
separate the many girls with similar names such as Mary and Maria apart,
teachers used various pet names: Molly, Polly, Pally, etc. They are
all equivalent to Mary, though sometimes they were given as the 'real'
In the early
middle 1800's and afterwards, a middle name like that used today was
adopted. Sometimes this was the mother's middle name. In some
cases, it seems that simply the letter was used, like Jacob S. Conrad, and
the middle name rarely shows up in print. In the late 1800's, middle
names were a little more free form and many 'wild' names were in vogue for
both first and middle names.
first and middle names were often transposed. A child baptized Henry
Clarence Smith in the 1890s might show up as "Clarence H. Smith"
in the 1900 census and "Henry C. Smith." in the 1910
It was not uncommon for parents back then to 'reuse' a name. That is, if they had
a child named Jacob Conrad who died young, they might use that name for
another child born later.
Much has been
written about spelling in records. The researcher needs to pay much less
attention to spelling in the earliest records, since many times, the
person was illiterate and the name was spelled phonetically by the writer
(e.g., the minister or census-taker). If it sounds similar, consider it, at least until
you have a chance to study if it really is a different person.
when looking up names in an index, don't just look at those pages that are
listed, but also look at other pages in the same time frame. Many times,
the transcription that you're reading has errors (did you ever translate
old German names?). So look
at the adjacent pages for people with a similar last name, but the same
first name. (i.e., looking for Theodore and Veronica Conrad and find
Theodore and Veronica Bonrad on the next page - write it down!).
vowels and vowel combinations vary widely, as do consonant pronunciations .
Here are a few rules (other than these basics, get a good book on the
German language including pronunciation):
there are no silent vowels
pronounce the second letter
with ie and ei
eu is pronounced like oy in
an ending i and y are
interchangeable (e.g., Lori and Lorey)
an umlauted vowel (2 dots
above) is often written as the vowel followed by an 'e'
the umlauts are dropped in
many transcriptions of records (no umlaut key on the typewriter?)
in many cases the vowels
are rearranged in the records; check out just about any vowels with
the consonants that you are looking for
D, T and Th are largely
interchangeable (there is no 'th' sound like in 'the' in the German
language! Remember your teacher telling you that Neanderthal Man was
pronounced Neandertal Man?)
G and K are often
interchangeable (e.g., Klock and Glock, Kramer and Gramer, Kress and
F is often pronounced V;
Felty is a nickname for Valentine
V can be pronounced W…
Harrietsville and Belle Valley were pronounced Harrietswille and Belle
Walley by German-speaking residents of Noble County, Ohio.
A at the end of a word can
be pronounced (and sometimes written) as Y. Fulda is often seen
or heard "Fuldy" and Barbara is frequently "Barbary."
often exist in two forms, English and German. The translation could depend
on either the meaning (Schmidt to Smith, Heuman to Hayman) or the phonetic
translation (Conrath to Conrad or Coonrodt). People generally either
changed the spelling to match the way they wanted it pronounced or they
changed the pronunciation and kept the traditional form. In most cases,
the number of syllables is correct. They didn't tend to leave off major
parts of long last names, despite occasional wishful thinking of
researchers. To see variations of common Fulda surnames, go to the Name