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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Naming Patterns In Germany - Part 1

At this point in my genealogical search for my family, I must pause to find out more about Germany and German naming patterns.  From my standpoint, I definitely need a geography lesson for Germany and am working on that.  For, now I have some naming information to share. has been a reference for me on this one.

More than 200 years ago Germany was a rather "un"-united country.  Despite the fact that it only a slight size smaller than the state of Montana, the customs throughout the country varied depending on where you lived and when.

The central and south area of Germany used the name Johann before a second given name which was generally used as the name of the child.  Yes, I most certainly find this in my Vienop Family.  How about those Johann Heinrich's?  There are several.   The Johann naming method was popular during the 1700s.  I can attest to the fact that it continued in my family line well into the 1800s too.  The only exception to using the second name, or middle name, to address the child would be in the instance of Johannes.  If that was your first name, that's what you were called.

The daughters' names followed the same type of naming pattern in this part of Germany using Maria or Anna as the first name.  I too find this naming pattern in my Vienops.   The precursor to Johann for the males was Hans.  I do find it interesting though that my Vienops appear to be in the northwestern part of Germany by the mid-1800s.  This is where a geography and history lesson might be good for Germany.  Let me continue to remind myself that Germany is not very big relative to the USA.

In the north and north eastern part of Germany, which includes what was Prussia, parents gave their children 3-5 names that followed the nobility in the area.  This was a practice in the mid-1800s.  I do find this in my family but more so once they were stateside.  My great-grandma was Maria Luise Katharine Vienop.  She was born in the U.S.A.  Her sister was Anna Christina Minna Vienop.  I am assuming it might have become difficult to keep tract of the full names of each child going back in the family line. 

When I look at my family circa 1800s, I see some first and middle names but that's about it.  I must admit that as a child, I did not know that my great grandma's name was as such.  She was Mary Borchers for all that I knew.  I knew here maiden name was Vienop.  I must note here that the 3-5 names that were given to the children might be misordered on a birth certificate or marriage record.  The minister would underline the preferred name on the actual record or document.

Surnames in Germany did not take on their so called "permanent" names until around the 1500s but some were earlier than that.  It was not unheard of for Germans in Switzerland and southern Germany to change their surname over generations.  I must admit that this does not seem unusual to me but could make tracing your German Family back to the 1500s rather challenging.  In Ireland, surnames were anglicized to comply more with the British rule.  Stateside in the U.S., surnames were altered at the port of immigration because of language barriers and misinterpretations of the name.

There are three other German Territories with very different naming patterns.  These territories are Schleswig, Ostfriesland, and Westfalen.  I will discuss them in my next post.

To be continued...................

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