Germans On Vacation

Instagram Handle: @odetogermany | @multilingual_institute

Surnames (in German "Nachnamen") came up in Germany around the 12th century. Before, they weren't needed before. People didn't travel and in a village, everyone knew that one Karl. But with growing cities, it became more important to distinguish between that one carpenter Karl and the other new Karl. So people got some additional names. Often, the additional name was due to someone's profession or a character trait, and these origins can be seen in most German last names today. So that one Karl might have become 'Carpenter Karl' and his descendants now have the surname "Zimmermann" (=carpenter).

The cover image of this blog shows the 60 most popular surnames in Germany.
The first 5 are related to professions (Müller = miller, Schmidt derives from Schmied = blacksmith, Schneider = tailor, Fischer = fisherman, Weber = weaver). Some derive from social standing like Meyer (and its many variations of spelling) (=administrator) or Schulz (from the medieval German word Schultheiß = head of a municipality). Others seem to derive from character traits, like Lange (=long/tall) or Klein (=little), some are first names (e.g. Günther, Lorenz), others hail from someone's origin or have to do with a place, among other things. But not all surnames today have a very obvious origin.

In 1875, it became an obligation to have a surname in Germany by law and until today. Surnames in Germany are inherited from parents to child, it can't be chosen. It's either the father's surname or the mother's surname - that depends on marriage status and whether a wife took her husband's name. Traditionally, children inherit the father's name because women (most often) take on the husband's last name.

In my case, that means, I as a woman have inherited the surname of my father by birth, which he got from his father and that one got from his father and so on. My brother has the same surname (inherited) and my paternal grandma has the same surname too (since marriage).

P.S.: Since 1994, a marrying couple can decide that both keep their own birth surnames. Likewise, one (but only one!) can have both names separated by a hyphen. But for their children, they have to decide on ONE surname.


📷 Photo by Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay.

Author: Moni

Aug 27, 2020