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German: Naming Practices
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There are a number of common misconceptions about “German naming patterns”―including that they follow a prescribed formula in the majority of, or all, families. This may be true regionally (e.g., in a particular region of Germany and, in some cases, carried over into the country where the family emigrated to, if that happened), but there is no hard and fast rule and to expect that is potentially damaging to research. This course will examine the various types of naming patterns, name variations (for surnames and given names), regional influence on names, occupational influence on names, period influence on names (e.g., names changed from German to French during the Napoleonic years), the influence of the Church on baptismal names, the phenomenon of the “Naming Day” and its effect on the name used in a person’s adult life, and the commonality of reversing first and middle names during a person’s life. Spelling issues on documents, the use of signatures and occupations to separate people with the same name in a given community, and the phenomenon of Anglicizing names when people migrated will all be taken into account.

Course Content

Module 1
Onomastik: The Study of Names & Their Meanings

Module 2

Surnames: How were they created?
Frequent Assumptions and Confusions about Names
Surname Spelling Variations

Module 3

Where They Lived & Its Impact on the Surnamed Used
Home Sweet Home - A Way to Remember
Dialects and Linguistics - High vs. Low
Life on the Farm
Leaving “Home”
Dit Names and Surname Aliases
Odds and Ends before Moving on

Module 4

Given Names - The Basics
Naming the Child: Not an Arbitrary Event
What names were selected?
Reusing Names of Siblings and Others
Suggested Resources

Module 5

Given Names - The Church''s Role

How religion determines the names of the children as well as the names they use
  • Baptism and other event witnesses
  • The Namenstage (Naming Day)

    Latin Name Details
    How many is too many?
    What if someone goofs?

    Module 6

    Name Challenges

    Will the real Emanuel Hollaender please stand up?
  • Births/Baptisms
  • Marriages
  • Deaths/Burials
  • Emmanuel Hollaenders as Witnesses

    Why does my ancestor have different names on different records?
    Concluding Remarks


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