German names: More than just a name

Marle

Updated on Jan 14 • 3 minute read

German names might strike you as odd and, truth to be told, a bit of a tongue twister for internationals; yet, there will be some German female names and male names you’ll come across more than just once. So as an expat in Germany, it’s worth checking out German names to help you memorize names better. In fact, did you know that German surnames often tell a story about family history, such as 'Schmidt'? Let us tell you all about it!

To keep you on your toes at work with new colleagues or in a get together (after covid), we've put German names for you on the spot, set their family history into context and listed the most popular names for girls and boys. We promise, once you've seen the names written down, it’ll be much easier for you to remember names you’re encountering in Germany!

Helga, Heidi, Claudia: German female names but make it fashionable

Heidi Klum and Claudia Schiffer: The greatest German top models were actually given rather typical German female names from the 40s and 60s. Besides, the German female first name Heidi translates as "of noble nature". Wondering how to pronounce this name? Like hˈa͡ɪdi! Quite easy, right?

Today, old German first names have started to make their comeback. The beauty of old German names is that they're full of history and stories. Be it historical role models ( Karl the Great, for example) or literary figures (Emma). And more than just history, German names also carry a lot of meaning: there’s Hilde, the fighter, and Friedrich, which contains the Old High German words for "peace" and "powerful". Franz is the free man, Konrad the "bold counsellor" and Luise the "lute".

Wondering which similar German female names like Heidi or Helga are out there? Here’s a list of names like Heidi:

  1. Alma
  2. Amalia
  3. Berta
  4. Charlotte
  5. Emma
  6. Eleonor
  7. Frederike
  8. Franka
  9. Frieda
  10. Hanna
  11. Henriette
  12. Irma
  13. Johanna
  14. Karla
  15. Karolina
  16. Luisa
  17. Lotte
  18. Mathilda
  19. Margarete
  20. Thea
  21. Theresa
  22. Viktoria

By the way: Often it is also the short form of a classic name that becomes more and more popular. For example, Greta instead of Margareta, or Fritz instead of Friedrich.

From old to new: popular German male names from the past

Karl, Friedrich, Otto: You'll be hearing more and more old German male first names on the playground. It's mainly these German male names from the past that made a comeback:

  1. Benno
  2. Eike
  3. Fridolin
  4. Friedrich
  5. Fritz
  6. Georg
  7. Henri
  8. Johann
  9. Karl
  10. Kaspar
  11. Konrad
  12. Leopold
  13. Maximilian
  14. Oskar
  15. Otto
  16. Richard
  17. Theodor
  18. Wilhelm

German names: These are the most popular German names for girls and boys

So which names are driving the top of the German female name rankings? Chances are you'll come across these German female names more often in your day-to-day life:

  • Emilia
  • Ella
  • Lena
  • Lina
  • Julia
  • Ida
  • Leonie
  • Lea

And those male German names:

  • Linus
  • Julian
  • Emil
  • Jonas
  • Lukas
  • Levin
  • Thomas
  • Alexander

German surnames: there's a story behind every surname.

Müller, Schmidt and Meier: there are quite a few German surnames in Germany that you'll spot in your company, at your children's school or among your university mates. Did you know that 'Müller' is the top German surname?

Around 850,000 different surnames are found in Germany, of which 700,000 are bearers of the German-surname 'Müller', followed by Schmidt (or Schmitt, Schmitz) and Meier.

Many German surnames mirror the family history, as they often trace back to occupational groups such as Müller, Schneider, Fischer, Weber and Meier (also Mayer, Meyer) or trait names Klein. Occupational names make up the largest group among German surnames.

Like Schiller, Krause and Adenauer, these names are usually an expression of a character trait: in the case of the name Krause, the bearer of the name probably boasted a splendid head of curls, whereas, in the case of Schiller, the bearer of the name was likely cross-eyed.

Fun fact: Even the name of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel tells a story and could hardly have been more fitting! Merkel is the diminutive of the Germanic name "Markwart", meaning "guardian and protector of the Mark, guardian of the border". Its equivalent in Spanish is "Marquez" or in French "Marquis", though it has no noble predicate in German.

What happens to German surnames when you get married?

So, is your wedding coming up soon? Well, when you go by tradition, the wife takes on the husband's surname when getting married in Germany. That's obviously not a must: if you want to keep your surname, you can even have a mixed surname, or the man takes the woman's name. All in one, feel free to blend the name, go with one surname or keep yours.

Children typically get the father's name, however, it's entirely up to you to decide which name they get.

German names with umlaut 'ä, ö, ü' or 'ß'

When it comes to travelling, German surnames with an umlaut or the ß are more of a curse than a blessing: Electronic systems often struggle to process the special characters, which is why surnames with an umlaut or the ß can simply be dodged with paraphrases (ae, oe, ue, ss).

These German surnames receive umlauts or ß:

  • Schäfer, Schäfler, Jäschke, Nägele
  • Göring, Stöber, Köhne or Schönborn
  • Stüber, Jünemann or Bülow
  • Weiß, Strauß

German names with 'von'

Some German surnames reveal a noble origin: a preposition 'von' in a surname is a sign of a noble origin, unlike a 'de' or 'van' in a Dutch surname, which rather refers to the place of origin.

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