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German Surnames & Their Meanings Posted by on May 16, 2018 in History, Language

If I were to ask you to think of a German surname, what would be the first one to come to mind? Schmidt, maybe? Stein? In this post I will show you some of the most popular German surnames, give you their meanings, and provide some general information about German surnames, too. Let’s get started with a few facts.

  • The German for surname is der Nachname (lit ‘surname’) or der Familienname (lit ‘family name’).
  • The German for forename is der Vorname.
  • Surnames first came about in the Mittelalter (Middle Ages), when the population started to increase and people needed to differentiate between one another.
  • The first Germans to use surnames were wealthy landowners. Then followed the townspeople, and finally the people living in rural areas.
  • The surnames given generally related to either the person’s occupation, a personal trait, or who they ‘belonged’ to (their father). An example of the latter is the surname Petersohn, which describes the son of Peter (sohn = son).
  • Some surnames go one step further from describing a personal trait and use descriptions of the person, instead. One famous example is the name Schwarzkopf – ‘black head’, to describe a dark-haired person.
  • Some surnames relate to where a person is from. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s surname means ‘A person who comes from Schwarzenegg’. Schwarzenegg is a place in Austria (and also a place in Switzerland!).

With that in mind, here are some of the most common German surnames and their meanings. 🙂

Common German Surnames & Their Meanings

Image from Pixabay

Schmidt/Schmid – – – Blacksmith
Huber – – – Farmer
Müller – – – Miller
Koch – – – Cook
Kr
üger – – – Innkeeper
Baumann – – –
Farmer or Neighbour
Bergmann – – –
Mountain man / Miner
Becker – – – Baker
Bauer – – – Farmer
Schneider – – – Tailor
Fischer – – – Fisherman
Schulz – – – Medieval sheriff /
Mayor
Meier/Maier – – –
Mayor
Weber – – Weaver
Hoffmann – – – Steward
Zimmermann – – – Carpenter

Stein – – – ‘Stone’ ‘Rock’ – someone who dwells on stony, rocky ground

Lang – – – Tall
Klein – – – Short
Kraus – – – Curly-haired
Weiß – – –
Light-haired (‘white’)
Schwarz – – –
Dark-haired (‘black’)

I hope this has been interesting! Next time you see or hear a German surname, see if you can figure out what it means.

Bis bald!

Constanze

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About the Author:Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze. I'm half English and half German. I write here because I'm passionate about my languages and my roots. I also work as a translator & group fitness instructor.


Comments:

  1. Christine Friedrichsmeier:

    This is fun! My last name is Friedrichsmeier – rare even in Germany.
    I was told once upon a time that a meier was a serf… and so that my name was for a poor tenant farmer belonging to a Landsknecht or other land baron named Friedrich. But now, according to your article, it could mean the Mayor of Friedrich (is this a town somewhere?). I like this much better 🙂

    • Constanze:

      @Christine Friedrichsmeier Hi Christine! Yes according to my notes a Meier is a mayor or a ‘self-employed farmer’, so that is probably correct, too! Perhaps the name changed over time. Friedrich is a German name meaning Frederick. Glad you found this post interesting!

  2. Rene:

    I have interest in the German language….the people and country

  3. KipPhoenix:

    This was nice. Maybe add a list of “Bergs”? Steinberg, Eisenberg, etc.. Also “Steins”? Bernstein, Einstein, etc. Cheers…

  4. Jennifer Schaper:

    My surname, Schaper, stems from the word “Schäfer” which means “shepherd”.

  5. Joyce Suchsland:

    I know what my last name means. “Seeking Land’.

  6. Constanze:

    It comes from the German Eiche (‘oak’) and Horst (‘brushy area’), so means something like, a person who lives in a rough woodland area with oak trees in it. Something like that! 🙂