View Full Version : German surnames
I have a German surname, and, like a lot of German names, it ends in "-nn".
I estimate 90% of people leave off the last "n" and I have to correct the spelling on all sorts of documents.
Does anyone here know why the Germans adopted the "-nn" for the end of most surnames, especially "-mann", while other Germanic languages, only use a single "-n"?
04-24-2000, 04:53 PM
Germans didn't adopt "nn" for surnames that end in "-mann." In German, the word for "man" is "mann" (yes, spelled with 2 n's), so its appearance in surnames is a logical extension.
My WAG is that the spelling of "-man" in surnames of other Germanic languages reflects a similar relationship for the most part. Another possibility for U.S. residents is that immigration officials in years gone by (not known for their interest in spelling furriners' names correctly) simply spelled the name the way it sounded & left off an "n" in the process.
C K Dexter Haven
04-24-2000, 04:54 PM
'cause Germanns are nnot very connsiderate of the spellinng nneeds of nnonn-Germanns?
In very early family records (early 17th century), the "-mann" ending is spelled as "-man". Then it seemed like the Germans decided to change the spelling of the word.
04-24-2000, 05:26 PM
BobT, perhaps the spelling of "mann" wasn't standardized in the early 17th century. After all, the spelling of many English words doesn't seem to have been standardized prior to the middle of the 18th century (with Samuel Johnson's dictionary in 1748; somebody corect me if I'm wrong).
BTW, BobT, why does this bother you? And what documents are you correcting? If these are legal documents of some sort, don't you think it would be better to leave the spelling alone?
04-24-2000, 05:28 PM
Of course, I meant that some one should feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.
::grumble grumble figures I'd do that in a thread related to spelling grumble grumble::
Actually banks and other legal documents tend to be right. It's just the general population. I sometimes get published in a local newspaper and it's about a 50/50 chance that they'll get my name right.
Also people will respond to e-mails I send and will type my name incorrectly in their replies even though my name shows up correctly in the body of the message and in my sig file.
Even my friends spell my name wrong and I politely tell them how my name is spelled.
Another person told me "Well, the second n is superfluous, so you should just drop it." That may be fine, but everyone else in my family was able to get by spelling the name the same way for about 350 years.
Some people also tell me that the second "n" is an affectation I picked up. If that is the case, there are a lot of Germans with a similar affectation.
04-24-2000, 05:51 PM
I'm sorry, BobT, the ol' gray cells weren't firing properly when I read the OP - I thought you were fixing the spelling of other people's names. :rolleyes: I think from now on I'll just stay home in bed on Mondays.
As for the folks that feel you should accommodate their inability to remember the correct spelling of your name, or that you added a letter to make yourself look better, well... throttling them would get you prison time, unfortunately. They're just ignorant individuals who deserve to be put in their place with a polite but pointed response.
04-24-2000, 06:19 PM
I know that a lot of spellings got severely bastardized by the immigration process when newly arrived people went through Ellis Island and the like. Bored, generally uncaring workers trying to document the people coming through would spell the surnames however they liked, and in some cases make up entirely new ones. My grandfather's family came from Sweden, and had a hard-to-pronounce last name, and so once they got to America it became "Carlson." Much easier. It's still going on-- I had a good friend in highschool named Rina Shivashankara. Shivashankara was actually her dad's first name, but wound up as the family's official last name when he came over.
I imagine many changes in spelling are due to non-English speakers (and some illiterates in any language) dealing with beauracracy.
"It says, I choo-choo-choose you. And it's got a picture of a train."
-- Ralph Wiggum
04-24-2000, 06:37 PM
I seem to recall my German prof saying that the double n is actually pronounced slightly differently. It's held a little longer than a single n.
This concept is borne out in other languages too, especially Italian (the double l comes to mind, as well as the n).
Only you can prevent solipsism.
04-25-2000, 12:27 AM
Originally posted by Fillet:
After all, the spelling of many English words doesn't seem to have been standardized prior to the middle of the 18th century (with Samuel Johnson's dictionary in 1748; somebody corect me if I'm wrong).
The standardization of English spelling is a process that has been going on for hundreds of years and is not done yet (and will never be done until English becomes a dead language).
It actually started somewhat before the invention of the printing press, although that invention gave it its biggest boost. Dictionaries contributed to the process, but their influence is usually overrated. There are many words in both Johnson's and Webster's original dictionaries that we spell differently today.
"Scissors Defeats Rock"
-- The Onion
04-25-2000, 03:43 AM
Any name with a double nn is ethnic German.
Many names with a single n are Jewish, e.g. Speidelman, Perlman. Many of them are Russian Jews. The names look German to me so I am surmising that all those folks originated in Germany but then went to live in Russia. Catherine the Great imported a lot of Germans to help build the country, many German Jews might have gone along.
04-25-2000, 09:24 AM
Brother, I feel your pain...
My German surname ends in "-burg," yet everyone insists on spelling it "-berg." To this day, the name on my voter registration is wrong. (Just in case I need to overturn any election results...)
I remember applying for a job as a teenager and spelling my name to the clerk. He shouted across the room to his buddy. "Hey, Bob, how would you spell this name?" Bob shouted back the "-berg" ending. The clerk replied, "This kid spells it '-burg'." Bob paused. "Well, that's just wrong."
I think I stayed there three days...
"The dawn of a new era is felt and not measured." Walter Lord
04-25-2000, 07:52 PM
divemaster: Then you are of the nobility. "Von" means "of". So Otto von Bismarck means Otto of Bismarck or Otto from Bismarck. Bismarck being a placename. In that case the single "n" doesn't denote Jewish ancestry.
But you are mixing up the Dutch "van". It's different from the "von". You no longer see a lot of "vons" anymore because many Germans dropped them after WWII.
"von" . . meant titled nobility . . not "heraldic" nobility . . there were many "vons" granted during the napoleonic wars . . many were granted to show that indeed there were rewards to being "enscripted" into the pruessen army.
my anscetors left prussia in 1848 and 1853
though im descended from my great-great grandfather . . "von" heinrichs . . its not a heraldic title . . (hereditary)
04-26-2000, 12:16 AM
My ancestry is Prussian (immigrated in 1647), and I get all sorts of misspellings on my surname. It does end in a single "n" (and always has); however, the "von" prefix was dropped at some point. That's probably more indicative of the Dutch influence than out-and-out German.
04-26-2000, 01:39 PM
"My German surname ends in "-burg," yet everyone insists on spelling it "-berg." "
Of course, they mean two different things. Berg is a mountain, Burg is a fortress. I went from an unspellable and unpronounceable German last name (Troester--yes, rhymes [only in English] with toaster; in German it sounds different). Then I married a Seidenberg (mountain of silk) which is just as hard to spell/pronounce. But at least I got away from that "toaster" thing.
People will accept your ideas much more readily if you tell them Benjamin Franklin said it first.
--David H. Comins (Comins' Law)
04-26-2000, 06:54 PM
My boss always adds an extra letter to my first name, and drops a n from my last name. This has gone on for over ten years, and I'm sick of correcting him.
I now spell his name wrong on most customer corespondence on purpose.
04-26-2000, 07:07 PM
I feel your pain too. Being from Switzerland, I have a french first name and a German last name. When people ask me my name over the phone, I don't even bother saying it, I always spell it out.
It's handy to get rid of telephone solicitors though, they are immediately identified by the way they butcher my name.
04-27-2000, 01:14 AM
I'm sure the "berg" and "burg" info is correct. The prolonged pronunciation of "nn" is correct. But what does "...ert" mean? There sure are a lot of German "...ert"s
04-27-2000, 01:52 PM
My grandmother's parents came from Germany and they named her Charlotte. (That's the German pronounciation, not the English.) But it didn't last very long before it was Americanized.
My married name is of German origin, but the spelling got changed in the Netherlands. (I believe that's how the story goes.) The U with the dots on top became a regular U. The K became a C. And so forth. Anyway, it is hardly EVER pronounced right and it is spelled just how it sounds! I understand not being able to spell it because you want to make it look German when it sounds so German, but why can't people pronounce something that is spelled phonetically?
Sorry. What was the question? Double n's? Haven't got a clue. Just know this, if <B>I</B> ever misspell your name, it's because I had a brain spasm and didn't notice. My (family given) nickname was misspelled my whole life, so I changed the spelling in my teens just to make it harder on people. I try very hard to spell names correctly.
04-28-2000, 12:22 AM
"-ert" doesn't mean anything in German that I can think of. Do you mean "-bert" endings?
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