German Immigrant Ancestors
in Syracuse and Onondaga County, New York


This article originally appeared in the Missouri State Genealogical Association Journal, (Vol. 25, No. 3, 2005, pp. 172-177), and includes information adapted by the author from The Encyclopedia of German-American Genealogical Research (see Notes at the bottom of this page). Our sincerest thanks go to Ms. Baker and to the Journal’s editor, Bob Doerr, for allowing this article to be reprinted here, as well as to Pete Pierce for bringing it to our attention and for beautifully converting the complicated text.




Internal Dialectical Clues in German Surnames


by Theola Walden Baker



A distinctive feature of many German family names is the existence of internal clues as to their origins—the prefixes, suffixes, and occasionally the internal vowel shifts and consonant combinations. Listed hereinafter are such clues. They should be used with caution, as they do not invariably apply, but in general they will help the researcher to make hypotheses as to the regions of origin of families being researched. Surname particles are presented in alphabetic order with relevant information.  Places are underscored to aid the reader.


1     -a:  In East Friesland, and only there, some surnames end in the genitive plural--e.g., Wiarda, Ebbinga, Reemsta, Ukena, Beninga, Bojunga, Mennega, Thedinga. Note, however, that -a and -ma suffixes are entirely missing from surnames of the Jeverland region of East Friesland.


2     Accent Marks:  See under Frenchified German Surnames.


3     -ack:  A particle in Wendisch (Sorbic) surnames; thus, Noack.


4     -aff or -laff:  A suffix of Wendisch (Sorbic) surnames; thus, Mitzlaff. Also commonly encountered in Slavic names, as in Bogislaw, transcribed Boguslaff.


5     -ai, -ay:  In Hessen-Darmstadt the internal particles -ai and -ay often replace the normal -ei; thus, Mayer instead of Meyer, Hainz instead of Heinz. In Swabian and Bavarian areas, the -ai also frequently replaces -ei; thus, Aichelle, Sailer, Stainer, Schnaithmann, Crailsheim, Waiblingen.


6     -aitis, -atis, -at, -eit:  Lithuanian suffixes which are found in Germany among families formerly in the Memel, Tilsit, and Heidekrug administrative districts of East Prussia. In Germany, these suffixes are usually shortened to the -at or -eit form; thus, Petschulat, Josupeit.


7     -atz:  A suffix found in Wendisch (Slavic) surnames; thus, Glabbatz.


8     Auf dem:  Prepositional particles found in Westphalian surnames; thus, auf dem Braucke.


9     -bach, -bacher:  A frequent suffix (-bach, meaning *pond* in Southwestern German place names [that is, names derived from places]; thus, Sulzbach, Auerbach, Amorbach.  When used in personal names, it very ordinarily becomes -bacher; thus, Sulzbacher, Auerbacher.


10   -beck:  A Westphalian particle and spelling variation of -bach; thus Möllenbeck.


11   -bek:  Similar to -beck but found mainly in Schleswig-Holstein; thus, Reinbek.


12   -berg, -berger:  A place name suffix (meaning *hill* in Southern Germany, particularly.  When used in personal names, it becomes -berger; thus Miltenberg becomes Miltenberger.  In Southwestern Germany, two-thirds of all surnames in some areas have -berger suffixes.


13   -borg:  In the Oldenburg lowlands, this suffix often replaces the usual -burg.


14   -bostel:  A Westphalian suffix in place names; thus, Fallingbostel, Rodenbostel.  It may occasionally occur in personal names.


15   Brink-, -brink, -brinker:  A Westphalian and Eastphalian particle (meaning *grassy place* or *pasture*); thus, Hasenbrink, Steinbrinker.


16   Brock-, -brock:  A Westphalian and Eastphalian particle (meaning *bridge*); thus, Uhlenbrock, Brockmeyer.


17   -brugger:  A Swabian suffix; thus Moosbrugger.


18   -burg, burger:  This suffix (meaning *fortress* occurs frequently in place names throughout Germany.  When used in surnames, the -burger form is used; thus Hamburg becomes Hamburger; Coburg becomes Coburger.


19   -diek:  A Westphalian particle (meaning *pond*); thus, Buddendiek, Griesediek.


20   -ecke:  See -icke.


21   -eder, öder/oeder:  Bavarian personal name suffixes; thus, Hocheder, Ameisöder/Ameisoeder.


22   -egg, -egger:  Swabian personal name suffixes; thus, Konigsegg, Danegger.


23   -eit:  See -aitis.


24   -ek:  A Wendisch surname particle; thus, Peschek.  Found frequently in Upper Silesia; thus, Adamek.


25   -el:  A diminutive personal name suffix often found in Southern Saxony; thus Hähnel/Haehnel, Seidel, Siegel, Weigel, Barthel, Jäckel/Jaeckel.


26   -en:  See Patronymics.


27   English Surnames in Germany:  Since the end of the 17th century there have been some Scottish surnames in East Prussia; thus, Douglas, Forster, Hobson, Kant, Motherby, Oldsloe, Pickering.


28   -er:  A very frequent Southern German surname ending to place names.  It is also found accompanied by an; thus, Strassburger, Weinsberger, Dillinger, and Dörrenbecher/Doerrenbecher, Oppenhäuser/Oppenhaeuser, Lichtenthäler/Lichtenthaeler.


29   -et, -eth:  In Switzerland the German suffixes -hard and -hart are often abbreviated to -et; thus, Bernhard becomes Bernet; Ehrhart becomes Ehret.


30   Frenchified German Surnames:  Examples of transliterations: Solger = Saulier; Nagler = Naguilliar; Witzel = Ficelle; Kleeman = Clément; Vogler = Fouclair.  The affectation of Frenchified surnames was especially prevalent in Thuringia. Examples of added accent marks to preserve the original pronunciations: Nestle = Nestlé; Kothe = Kothé; Nägele/Naegele = Nägelé/Naegelé.  This became necessary in places where local dialects tended to omit the final endings. In America, the same purpose was accomplished by adding -ey or -y; thus, Kothé became Coty.


31   French Surnames in Germany:  Families with French surnames were frequently encountered in the Eupen and Malmedy districts, Luxemburg and Alsace and Lorraine; thus Dieudonné and Dollibois.  Usually these surnames have retained their original French form, though the German pronunciations of them may leave something to be desired. [sic]  In the cities of Germany there were also many Huguenot families originally from France.


32   -gard:  A German variation of the Slavic -gorod (meaning *fortress*).


33   -gen:  A Lower Rheinland diminutive suffix, prevalent in Franconian dialects.


34   -halter:  An exclusively Swabian suffix; thus, Winterhalter.


35   -hammer:  A Bavarian variation of the more normal -heimer; thus Niethammer, Esterhammer (for Oesterheimer).


36   -hard, -hart:  A frequent High German suffix.  See also -et and -eth.


37   -haus:  A Westphalian suffix (meaning *house*).


38   -heim, -heimer:  A common place name suffix in Southwestern Germany, becoming -heimer in personal names; thus, Flörsheim/Floersheim becomes Flörsheimer/Floersheimer; Heppenheim becomes Heppenheimer.


39   -hövel/hoevel:  A Westphalian suffix (meaning *hill*); thus, Windhövel/Windhoevel; van den Hövel or van den Hoevel.


40   -hofer, -höfer/hoefer:  A South German suffix; -hofer is decidedly more frequent than is -höfer/hoefer.


41   -hof, -hoff:  A Westphalian particle (meaning a farmstead).  In Muenster and the northern parts of Minden and Arnsberg administration districts, where farmsteads are solitary rather then collected in villages, there are many names, both geographic and personal, containing this particle; thus, Lohoff.


42   -holt:  A Westphalian particle (meaning *woods*); thus, Eicholt.


43   -horn:  A Westphalian suffix in place names; thus, Ehrhorn, Gifhorn.


44   -horst, -hörster/hoerster:  A Westphalian and Eastphalian suffix; thus, Behrhorst becomes Behrhörster/Behrhoerster in the surname form.


45   -hues:  A particle found in Muensterland (Westphalia) substituting for the more usual one, -haus; thus Grothues.


46   Hungarianized German surnames:  The practice was common only in Austria. Bamberger = Vambéry; Hundsdörfer/Hundsdoerfer = Hunfalvy; Benkert = Kertbeny [notice the transposed syllables].


47   -husen:  A Low (Northern) German place name particle; the equivalent of -hausen in High German; thus Kellinghusen.


48   -i, -y:  A diminutive particle, typically Swiss; thus, Erni, Bläsi/Blaesi, Rudy.


49   -iak:  Frequently encountered in Silesia; thus, Stepaniak.


50   -ich, -nich:  A place name particle, particularly north of the Mosel River in the Lower Rheinland.


51   -ick:  A Wendisch surname particle; thus, Petrick, Nowick.


52   -icke, ecke:  A diminutive particle found especially in Hessen and Thuringia; thus, Heinicke, Meinecke, Fricke.


53   -iecki:  A Slavic surname suffix; thus, Lisiecki (pronounced Lisiëzki).


54   -ien:  Wendisch surname suffix.


55   -in:  This is a feminine ending on any surname. Particularly common in 18th-century documents are names such as Müllerin, Schmidtin, Meyerin, etc. indicating that a woman, usually married, was referred to.  [Note: I have seen this form used for unmarried women when the context is “daughter of.”]   Genealogists should eliminate or ignore this ending, equating such names as Müller, Schmidt, and Meyer in modern terms.  The suffix also occurs in Wendisch place names and in surnames stemming from them.


56   -ing:  In the Pappenburg administrative district of Hannover, the -ing suffix appears in about 50% of all surnames. It becomes less frequent the further southward one goes and disappears near the Saale River.


57   -ingen, inger:  A Swabian place name suffix typical of Wuerttemberg and Baden.  It becomes -inger when used in personal names; thus, Zähringen/Zaeringen becomes Zähringer/Zaeringer.


58   -inski:  Frequently encountered in Upper Silesia; thus, Lipinski.


59   Italianized German Surnames:  Occasionally German singers have Italianized their otherwise ordinary German surnames; thus, Stiegele became Stighelli, Crüwell/Cruewell became Cruvelli, Röder/Roeder became Rodani.  Such modifications are not to be confused with real Italian surnames which are to be found in Germany, usually among descendants of Italian trading families, such as von Brentano.


60   -itz:  A Wendisch surname suffix; thus, Wiebelitz.


61   -ius:  See Latinized German Surnames.


62   -je:  An East Frisian diminutive suffix.


63   -kamp, -kämper/kaemper:  A Westphalian and Eastphalian suffix; thus, Bornkamp, Roggenkämper/Roggenkaemper.


64   -ke:  A Westphalian and Eastphalian diminutive suffix, particularly prevalent in the eastern-most areas near the lands of the Wends and Altmark; thus, Lemke, Wilke, Jahnke.  See also the following suffixes: -schke, -ske, -ski, -zke.


65   -ken:  A Lower Rhenish diminutive suffix.


66   -kk:  Sometimes appears within surnames in East Friesland; thus, Dekker for Decker.


67   Kötter/Koetter, -kötter/koetter:  A Westphalian particle (meaning *cottage dweller*).


68   -kofer:  A Bavarian personal name suffix; thus, Hüttenkofer/Huettenkofer.


69   -1:  A diminutive particle to be found in many areas of Germany, even in the German Northeast, but typical of Bavaria and Austria.  Its occurrence in northeastern Germany is due entirely to the forced migration of protestant Salzburgers. Thus, Märkl/Maerkl, Simmerl, Hocherl.


70   -laff:  See -aff.


71   Latinized German Surnames:  During the periods in which Latin was an important means of communication, a number of German surnames were Latinized; so, for example, Pastorius, of fame in early-day Pennsylvania, probably stems from the common German surname Schafer/Schaefer (meaning *shepherd*).


72   -le:  In Baden the diminutive form is typical; thus, Merkle, Bürkle/Buerkle, Enderle, Eberle. The suffix is also used in 75% of the Wurttemberg/Wuerttemberg and Hohenzollern personal names; thus, Bäuerle/Baeuerle, Mayerle, Schwämmle/Schaemmele.


73   -leb:  In Hessen the Saxon and Thuringian suffix -leben is usually abbreviated; thus, Witzleben becomes Witzleb.


74   -leben:  Common in Saxony and Thuringia.


75   -lein:  A diminutive suffix, especially in Thuringia; thus, Henlein, Gäbelein/Gaebelein.


76   Leiter, Leitner, Leutner:  Bavarian derivations from Leite (meaning a *cliff*).  Stands alone or as a suffix.


77   -ler:  A Bavarian suffix; thus, Hitler, Bichler.


78   -li:  A diminutive particle, typically Swiss; thus, Merkli.


79   -lin:  A diminutive particle in the Upper Rhenish districts and westward, especially in the Palatinate; thus, Bürklin/Buerklin, Bundlin, Sütterlin/Suetterlin, Oberlin, Köchlin/Koechlin.


80   Loh-, -loh:  A Westphalian particle (meaning a *thicket*); thus, Lohoff.


81   -ma:  Only found in East Friesland. See also -a.


82   Maier-, -maier, -mayer:  A frequent prefix and suffix in Bavaria and Württemberg and always spelled with an -a; thus, Steinmaier, Katzenmaier, Stegmayer.


83   -mann:  A German surname suffix so widespread as to give no clue to geographic origin.


84   Meyer-, -meyer:  This particle is very widely encountered in (-meyer) Westphalian and (Meyer-) Eastphalian surnames; thus, Brinkmeyer, Meyerhoff.


85   Möller/Moeller:  This spelling of the surname Müller/Mueller frequently occurs in Hessen.


86   -moos, -mooser, -moser:  A Bavarian place-name suffix that becomes -mooser or -moser in personal names; thus, Entmoos becomes Entmooser.


87   -ner:  A Bavarian and Austrian personal name suffix; thus, Hubner, Löschner/Loeschner, Mautner.


88   -nich:  See -ich.


89   -nick:  A suffix found in Wendisch (Slavic) surnames; thus, Bausnick.


90   -o, -o-:  An ancient Germanic particle which survives most frequently in Westphalia; thus, Teuto, Danco, Otto. In Low (Northern) German -o- often replaces another vowel in High German; thus, Soltwedel instead of Salzwedel; Moller and Möller/Moeller instead of Müller/Mueller. See also Möller/Moeller.


91   -ou-:  In East Prussia an -ou- often replaces an -au; thus, Wildebour instead of Wildebauer.


92   -ow:  Frequently encountered place name suffix in Dannenberg district having a Wendisch (Slavic) origin; also found further eastward in areas contested with the Slavs; thus, Flotow, Grabow, Vangerow.


93   -owski:  A Polish surname suffix. See also Polishized German Surnames.  Note, however, that there are many thousands of Germans with real Polish surnames, particularly in Upper Silesia, a mining area. Many Silesian miners then migrated to the Ruhr mining and smelting region of Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries.


94   P-, -p:  In Bavaria, P- often replaces B- in “customary in other areas” [sic]; thus Brücker/Bruecker becomes Prücker/Pruecker and Pannebecher becomes Pannepecher.


95   Patronymics:  Particularly prevalent in the genitive form (with -s, -en, or -sen) in East Friesland and Jeverland; over half the surnames in Aurich and Emden regions and about one-third of those in the Leer region are so formed; thus, Reiners, Gerdes, Gerjets, Dirks, Focken, Rippen, Tjaden, Ufken, Bennens, Dudden, Habben, Hayen, Heeren, Jansen, Mommen, Onken, Popken, Folkers, Gerels, Harms, Sybolts.  In Stadeland and Bütjadingen/Buetjadingen: Lübsen/Luebsen, Siebsen, Tanzen.  In Osterstade and Wührden/Wuerden: Betken, Campsen, Hancken, Pecksen.  In Land Würsten/Wuersten: Adickes, Camps, Frers, Johanns, Lubs, Pecks. In North Friesland: Andresen, Christiansen, Claussen, Janssen, Johansen, Lützen/Luetzen  [I notice -zen here.] Mommsen, Paulsen, Petersen, Thomsen, Todsen.  Note that in Jeverland, patronymics ending in -en and -sen account for 80% of all surnames, but that -a and -ma endings are entirely [sic; remember that we are warned about absolute terms] absent.  In Schleswig -sen endings are found on 90% of all surnames, but in neighboring Eckenförde/Eckenfoerde they disappear almost entirely. Patronymics with -s endings are extremely important also in the Koblenz and Trier governmental regions; thus, Heinrichs, Reichartz, Caspers, Eckes.  They are also very common in Oldenburg; thus, Redlefs, Oltmanns, Rienitz  (or Rienits).


96   Place Names as Surnames:  In Hessen place names are used as surnames without any endings; thus, Henneberg, Sonnefeld.


97   Polishized German Surnames:  Reflecting the propinquity of Germans and Poles in Prussia and Silesia, many German surnames have been spelled according to Polish orthography.  Thus, Schulz = Szulc; Schumann = Szuman; Schreiber = Szraiber.  Another method of Polishizing German surnames was to add the -owski suffix to the German root; thus, Feldmann = Feldmanowski; Krautshofer = Krauthofski.


98   Professonal Names:  Although common, in one form or another, in all parts of Germany, Westphalians were apt to be more descriptive or specific; thus, Bowenschulte, Brankschröder/Brankschroeder; Oberste-Kampmann.


99   -r:  In Southern German dialects the normal -er suffix is sometimes elided to -r, or dropped entirely; thus, Pfarrer becomes Pfarr, Bräuer/Braeuer becomes Bräu/Braeu.


100  -rath:  A place name particle, especially north of the Mosel River in the Lower Rhineland.


101  -reuth, -reuther, -reut:  A Bavarian place name suffix becoming -reuther in personal names; thus, Bayreuth, Hütschenreuther/Huetschenreuther.


102  -ried, rieder:  A Bavarian and Swabian place name suffix that becomes -rieder in surnames; thus Bernried becomes Bernrieder.


103  -roth:  A place name suffix, that replaces -rath in the Cologne district of the Lower Rhineland and eastward to Thuringia.


104  -s:  See Patronymics.


105  -scheid:  A place name suffix, especially north of the Mosel River in the Lower Rhineland.


106  -schke:  Frequently occurs in Eastern Pomerania (Pommern) where it substitutes for the Polish -ski ending; thus, Paaschke.


107  Schmid:  This is the common form of the *Smith* surname in Wuerttemberg.


108 Schmidt:  Frequently encountered in Hessen.


109  -sen:  Mainly a patronymic suffix but also a Westphalian particle in place names (an abbreviation of -heim); thus, Bellersen (Bellersheim), Wennigsen (Wennigsheim).  [Such -heim words are frequently mispronounced.  Some say Sin-sheim and Heim-sheim, splitting the syllables incorrectly, instead of Sins-heim and Heims-heim.  The rule of thumb (rule of tongue?) seems to be that when -sh appears in a word, the -s ends a syllable and the -h begins one. Alles klar?  Finally, heim means *home*; that may help one remember the correct pronunciation.]


110  -ske, -zke:  In Eastern Pomerania, often substitutes for the Polish -ski particle.


111  -ski, -sky:  A Polish surname suffix, often written in German as -sky; thus, Kaminsky, Loschitzky. Frequently used with a patronymic to denote “son of’; thus, Adamski, Jakubsky, Janski.


112  Sm-:  In East Friesland, Sch- becomes Sm-; thus Smidt for Schmidt.


113  Ten-:  A prepositional particle found in Westphalian surnames; thus, Tenberge.


114  Ter-:  A prepositional particle found in Westphalian surnames, thus, Terbeck.


115  -tj-:  In East Friesland a -tj sometimes appears in a surname; thus, Tjark for Tiark; Warntjes for Warnties, Luitjens for Lütgens/Luetgens.


116  -tsch:  A diminutive suffix similar to -z found mainly in Electoral Hessen; thus Fritsch and Götsch/Goetsch replacing Fritze and Götze/Goetze.


117  Tzsch-, -tzsch:  See Zsch-.


118  -üsch/uesch:  A suffix found in Wendisch (Slavic) surnames; thus, Gramüsch/Gramuesch.


119  -ui:  In East Friesland, an -ui particle often substitutes for the more normal -ü or ue; thus, Luitjens instead of Lütgen/Luetgen.


120  -uo:  In Southern Germany -uo occasionally replaces -u. Thus, Ruof and Schraishuon.  Rare.


121  van:  A prepositional prefix frequently found in Westphalian and Dutch surnames.  Thus, van den Berg (Westphalian) and van Hoogstraten (Dutch).


122  von:  A prepositional prefix in nearly all noble surnames.  However, it is not exclusively of noble usage.  When found in lists of the nobility (or in muster rolls) it is nearly always abbreviated; thus, v. Kleist-Retzow.  When written out in muster rolls, it may refer to a commoner; thus Von der Aa.


123  -wangen, -wanger, -wänger/waenger:  An exclusively Swabian place-name suffix that becomes -wanger or -wänger/waenger in surnames; thus, Ellwangen, the town, and Ellwanger, the person; Naiswangen and Naiswanger.


124  -z, -ze:  A diminutive form found in both High and Low (Northern) German dialects; thus, Barz and Kunz.  Sometimes the diminutive is doubled, as in Neitzke, Neitzel, and Wetzel.


125  -zke:  See -ske.


126  Zsch-, -zsch, -tsch:  Found in Saxon personal names showing the Slavic influence; thus, Fritsche, Klotzsche, Zschweigert, Zschinsky, Tschucke, Tzschackel.





This article originally appeared in the Missouri State Genealogical Association Journal, Vol. XXV, No. 3, 2005, pp. 172-177 and is reprinted here with permission.


This article was adapted from Smith, Clifford Neal & Anna Piszczan-Czaja Smith. “Internal Dialectical Clues in German Surnames.” Encyclopedia of German-American Genealogical Research. New York: R.R. Bowker Co., 1976, pp .93-98.


The author, Theola Walden Baker, may be emailed at <>.


Dieter Joos, Überlingen am Bodensee, Germany, <>, located this material for the Editor of the Journal.