Names, along with dates, are a genealogist’s treasure. Yes, they are the key to filling in our family trees, but they are also much more than that. Names are windows to the past, providing us with hints of the person our ancestor could have been, offering us a small glimpse into his or her life. But alas, as with many things in German genealogy, these names are often written in the old German script – and thus hard to decipher.
In cases like these, it often helps to be familiar with what kind of names you may come across. Our German ancestors weren’t always the most creative in naming their children – names were supposed to have meaning, after all – and thus the same names tend to pop up again and again in German genealogical documents. If you are familiar with what these common names are, deciphering your ancestor’s name becomes that much easier. Below, I’ve compiled tables for you of the ten most common boys’ names and ten most common girls’ names in German genealogy (in my translating experience). I’ve also included real-life samples of how these names could look – but remember, everyone’s handwriting was different, so your ancestor’s name may be a slight variation on the name provided below. And finally, make sure to read to the bottom for three more tips about names!
Three More Tips
- Names were sometimes written in the “normal” Latin script (the script we use) instead of the old German handwriting. You may have a document that’s written entirely in the old German script, but with your ancestor’s name written in a script that looks like our modern cursive. In that case, deciphering it should be no problem – as long as you’re older than ten years old (I’ve heard they’ve stopped teaching cursive in schools! Will our cursive become a thing of the past as well?)
- If you see a name underlined in your document, that means that this name was the Rufname, or the name your ancestor was called. Below, the child listed is “Johann Gottfried”. As “Gottfried” is underlined, this would have been the name his family called him.
- If there is a straight line above an “n” or an “m”, this means that you should double that letter. For example, the name below is written “Johan Gottfried”, with a straight line above the “n”. Since the straight line means that you should double the “n”, the name is therefore “Johann Gottfried.”
Do you have a favorite name in German genealogy? I’d love to here. Let us know in the comments below.