'What's in a name ....' : Tips on european names.

  • What's in a name ? That which we call a rose
    By any other name would smell as sweet.

    William Shakespeare, "Romeo and Juliet", Act 2 scene 2

    Place Names:

    As in every country, there is often more than one place with this name.
    It's also possible, that the name has changed slightly, over time, or that the borders changed, and the place name used was then in another language.
    This is especially prevalent in the former eastern provinces of Germany, where every place had at least two names, one in german and one in polish, and sometimes even a third name (local dialect).

    Other "double names", in german and french, can be found in the Alsace-Lorraine / Elsass-Lothringen province,
    and on the german/dutch borders,
    and on the german/french borders,
    and on .... etc, etc.


    Every country has surname variations.
    So if you are searching for Schmidt you also have to consider Schmitt, and Schmid
    or if you are searching for Meyer, then you have to also consider Mayer, or Meier, or Maier or even Mayor ... etc.

    But you may also have another problem: If you are reading this posting, then you probably have ancestors who came from Europe. And many of them may have changed their names when they came to their new 'home land':

    • Sometimes the Immigration officials deliberately changed the name:
      "Mr Koswoschwitzky ?? nobody can spell that, from now on you're Coswitz !"
    • Sometimes the Immigration officials inadvertantly changed the name:
      "Next please, your name ?", "Schorr !", "OK, Mr. Shaw, ...." and the name was henceforth Shaw, because Schorr sounds just like Shaw to an english-trained ear.
    • Sometimes the new Immigrants just wanted to fit in better:
      "I want my children to have a better chance, and not be immediately classed as 'immigrant kids' "
    • Especially before and during the 1st. World War and the 2nd. World War there was a lot of anti-german feeling in the new english-speaking countries. Many immigrants with german-sounding names changed them to something less german-sounding, to avoid hostility and victimisation.
    • Some were "on the run" from their past lives - political persecution, family problems (maybe even a wife left behind), a criminal past, or whatever - and simply said "New country, new name !"
    • ..... And I am sure there were lots of other reasons, too.

    So now the problem is: what might the name have been ??

    Sometimes just a simple translation was used, where the name looks similar and has the same meaning
    e.g. Braun => Brown, Schmidt => Smith, Grun or Grün => Green, Müller => Miller, -feld => -field, etc:

    Or if you just lost the Umlaut (pronounced: um-lout):
    the official, alternative spellings for ä,ö, ü, ß are ae, oe, ue, ss. But on emigrating, many just dropped the umlaut => a, o, u,
    e.g. Gröbener => Groebener or => Grobener
    But: ä can be pronounced 'ay' as in Hay or 'e' as in hedge, so Bäcker might become Becker (soundex) or Baker (translation) or Backer (lose the umlaut)

    But there were no set rules, and you will often have to think creatively.

    A true story from England that I found in a family history book:

    Two brothers Frank Charles DEGENHARDT and Walter DEGENHARDT, who, at the turn of the century, decided their names (their father was a german immigrant) were TOO german:

    Walter DEGENHARDT became Walter HART, and
    Frank Charles DEGENHARDT became Frank CHARLES !!

    And a lovely line about a dynasty of welsh dentists:
    ".. Abraham ben Isaiah, otherwise known as Moses Abraham Groomsfelt, or Jones, a silversmith .."

    I found the idea of changing his name to JONES amusing. I could understand GROOMFIELD or something similar, but JONES !! :D :D