Saxony (Sachsen) Names, Personal

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Given name[edit | edit source]

In the Middle Ages it was fashionable to give children names of saints. It was the intent of parents to have their children protected by a saint. Not only were they supposed to be protected by saints, they were also to follow their examples. “Caesarius von Heisterbach tells of a nun in 1200 who as a devoted admirer of John the Baptist urged parents to name their boys after him or name children after the parents of John the Baptist, Zacharias and Elizabeth.” (page 49 dtv-Atlas Namenkunde)

In order to protect their children, various areas and professions preferred to give children names of their particular saints, like Georg or Martin for knights, Nikolaus for seamen or merchants and so forth. The satirist Johann Fischart in 1575 was poking fun at the fact that all children named Till were from Lübeck, the Sebalds were from Nürnberg, Wenzels from Bohemia, Stanislaus from Poland, Urli from Augsburg etc. The most favorite given names in German regions were for males: Johannes, Nikolaus, Peter and Jakob, among females: Margaretha, Katharina, Elisabeth, Anna and Agnes. With the Reformation the Protestant territories started to frown on names of saints being given to their children. The trend was now to choose names from the Old and New Testaments. Preferred were Enoch, Abraham, Rebekka, Esther, Lea, Salome.
In the 1600s we find name forms to reflect the Pietistic movement. Names such as Traugott, Gotthelf, Gotthold, Christlieb, Glaubrecht became fashionable and can be found in areas of the Kingdom of Saxony. Some of these names became translations of foreign names such as Timothy = Fürchtegott, Adam=Erdmann, Amadeus=Gottlieb. For almost 200 years such names were fashionable. By 1800 they became less popular. Religious impulses were leading towards giving children the names of their godparents, signifying that the witness takes on the spiritual fatherhood, for in the German word godparent, namely “Gevatter” and “Pate” is the root “pater”, standing for father.

In the late Middle Ages it became fashionable among noble families to endow their children with several given names. Starting in Southern Germany the issuing of several given names spread to Middle and Northern Germany where it became a law. Giving children more names often resulted in double names such as Lieselotte (Elisabeth Charlotte) Hanjost (Johannes Jodokus).

Not all parents gave their children religious names but instead issuing names depicting cultural and literary trends. We find names of humanists (Marius, Maximilian) the Rococo style names (Doris, Damon), names fashionable in France, Schorsch, Emil and Eduard. When it became fashionable to read English literature, the names Edgar, Edmund, Malvine, Selma and Oskar were popular. A host of new female names deflected male names, such as Albertine, Josephine, Pauline, Ulrike Wilhelmine and Viktoria. Here the German followed the French example wanting to name the girls after their godfather. If boys were to be named after their godmothers a similar pattern was adopted: Martin for Maria, Theodor for Dorothea etc.

Source: Kunze, Konrad. dtv-Atlas Namenkunde. Vor- und Familiennamen im deutschen Sprachgebiet. Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag, München 1998

Surname[edit | edit source]

Where does your surname originate from and what does it mean?
Surnames were not always a given. Until the 12th century a given name sufficed, however, to differentiate between a father and son and at the same time showing that they were related to each other, very creative forms of given names appeared. An example is Hildebrand and his son Hadubrand from the German epic "Hildebrandslied". The father "Hildebrand" used part of his name "-brand" and combined it with a new prefix "Hadu", thus signifying that Hadubrand definitely belonged to Hildebrand. Among famous people we find an addition to the given name, such as Karl der Große, Friedrich Barbarossa etc. but among simple folks many shared the same given name, such as Heinrich, Christoph, Friedrich etc. The appearance of cities was among other developments important to give persons an additional description. Therefore, we read of Hans the blacksmith, the tall Hans, Hans from Altenburg etc. However, the new names were neither uniform nor legal and with that not guaranteed.

The reason we have such a variety of surnames stems from the fact that until the 17th century it was totally unproblematic to change ones name. Bavaria curtailed this possiblity with a decree in 1677, other parts of Germany did not. The appearance of a legal family name occurred with decree issued by Napoleon in 1811. The final step in uniformly written surnames appeared with the rise of civil registration (Standesamt), when it was no longer possible to change a name without a valid reason.

Family names usually follow these patterns:

1. given names

2. names of origin

3. names of places

4. names of professions 5. names characterizing a person (Übernamen)

When analyzing ones own name, the above mentioned categories need to be at the bottom of ones deliberations.

Family names deriving from given names such as the patronymic patterns, the influence of the church, influences from other countries, origins and professions seem easier to determine than are family names signifying Übernamen. In these cases the characterization can include parts of the body, intellectual features, peculiarities, customs, relationships, age, sex, secular and ecclesiastical dignitaries, animals and parts of animals, plants, part of plants and fruits, foods and drinks, garments, raw materials, work related products, weapons and armaments, coins, measures, weights, numbers, business, law, obligation and possession, religion, mythology and superstition, time and meteorological phenomena.

To analyze a family name is not easily done and can lead to false conclusions when attempted by non professionals. There are some professional websites such as and which will give some assistance. The website will provide name distributions in Germany and Austria.

Source: Jürgen Udolph, Sebastian Fitzek. Professor Udolphs Buch der Namen. Bertelsmann Verlag, 2005

Name distribution from the area of West Saxony: