German family name etymologyGerman family names were introduced in the late Middle Ages. Usually, family names developed out of nicknames. They can be classified into four groups based on the origin of the nickname: given names, job designations, bodily attributes, and geographical names.
- Given names often turned into family names when people were identified by their father's name. For example, the first name Ahrend developed into the family name Ahrends by adding a genitive s-ending, as in Ahrend's son.
Examples: Ahrends, Burkhard, Wulff, Friedrich, Benz.
- Job designations are the most common form of family names; anybody who had an unusual job would have been bound to be identified by it. Examples: Schmidt (smith), Müller (miller), Meier (farm administrator), Schulze (mayor), Fischer (fisherman).
- Bodily attribute names are family names such as Krause (curly), Schwarzkopf (black head), Klein (small).
- Geographical names are derived from the name of a city or village, or the location of someone's home. They often have the '-er' postfix that signifies origin (as in English New Yorker). Examples: Kissinger, Schwarzenegger, Busch, Bayer.
East German Jews did not adopt family names until the 18th and 19th centuries. For this reason, their names can easily be distinguished. They usually selected two-part names containing well-sounding words such as Gold or Rose. Examples: Goldblum (gold flower), Silberschatz (silver treasure), Rosenthal (rose valley). Other names ending in 'itz' indicate a clan name.