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
Schmidt/Schmid – – – Blacksmith
Huber – – – Farmer
Müller – – – Miller
Koch – – – Cook
Krüger – – – 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.
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