Definitions

Geier

Geier

Geier is a German word for vulture. Geier is also a notable surname and less frequently is seen as a place name.

Usages and Meanings of Geier

The disputed etymological origins of the word Geier have confounded ornithological usage of the term in poetry, literature, biblical scholarship, and English-language dictionary and encyclopedia entries, while spawning several literary and philological misunderstandings and controversies. The surname Geier also has different and somewhat inconsistent origins, traditions and meanings, and the heraldry associated with the surname likewise is confused.

Ornithological Meanings of "Geier"

The modern German term Geier generally is recognized as referring to two distinct families of carrion-eating bird whose range includes the whole of Europe and the western part of Asia. Geier refers both to birds from the genus Old World vulture (Aegypiinae) and the family New World vulture (Cathartidae).

In English usage, the word Geier has been associated with both the Gyrfalcon and the Lammergeier although neither is synonymous with “Geier”. For example, "gyrfalcon" is thought to come from French gerfaucon, which is written in mediaeval Latin as gyrofalco, but the first part of the word also is said to come from Old High German gîr (now Geier), as in "vulture". * The modifier, "Gyr", “Gier” or "Geier" preceding the word "falcon" is now thought to be a reference to the large size of the bird rather than to its genus or family * , but it has not always been so regarded.

Earlier inaccurate and misleading conflations of these disparate terms resulted from reliance on imprecise Biblical translations and metaphorical impressions rather than on direct anatomical or behavioral observations of the bird species themselves. In the King James Version of the Bible, in Leviticus xi, 13; Deuteronomy xiv, 17), the term "Gyrfalcon" referred to an unclean bird, most likely an Egyptian vulture, rather than to the modern Gyrfalcon, and did not refer to a falcon or an eagle. These Biblical references to "Gyrfalcon" (or sometimes "Gierfalcon") probably were a misinterpretation of a Hebrew term more properly translated either as Egyptian vulture or Lammergeier, the latter also known as the "lamb-vulture" or the "bone-breaker vulture", or historically as the "bone crusher" or Ossifrage). See * and *

This etymological confusion has produced taxonomic confusion, as well. Some authorities actually proclaimed uncertainty whether the Geier is a vulture or an eagle, and older dictionaries used the terms “Geier”, “Gyrfalcon” and “Lammergeier”, almost interchangeably, e.g. Webster's 1913 Dictionary, * ). Poets and others often assumed that the term Geier refers to a form of eagle or falcon, rather than a vulture, a matter that was commented upon in the article by Harriet C. Stanton, Poets and Birds: a Criticism, The Atlantic monthly. / Volume 52, Issue 311, September 1883. * Even some encyclopedia writers adopted the view that the Lammergeier "is more closely allied with the eagles than with the vultures", as in the 11th Edition of Encyclopædia Britannica. *

Taxonomic confusion may have resulted from the physical appearance of the Lammergeier. Because the head of the Lammergeier, unlike most other vultures, is feathered rather than naked, it bears a resemblance to the eagle or condor. “Gyrfalcon” is also sometimes rendered as "Geir eagle", as in * ), although in modern usage a Gyrfalcon is a member of the falcon family and is not an eagle. The Indian Vulture, another true vulture species recently recategorized as critically endangered, also was described as having a distinctly "eagle-like bearing" in contrast to most other vulture species. *

The modern taxonomic distinction between the families of eagles or falcons and the families of vultures should eliminate any uncertainty over the respective meanings of the term Geier. The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and the Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) are true carrion-eating vultures. The term "Geier" should not be applied to the modern Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus); the Gyrfalcon is a distinct species of falcon (the largest of the falcon family), and is not a vulture.

"Geier" as a Surname

Geier is a common surname in Germany and somewhat less common among German-American people. It is also found as a French surname, and as Russian surname. The latter probably is associated with German emigration to Russia in the 17th and 18th centuries. The surname Geier is often considered to be interchangeable with Geyer, although some sources ascribe a different origin and meaning to the two surnames.

Many using the surname Geier share an oral history attributing its origins to a heroic band of peasant villagers who climbed high to an aerie and clubbed to death a gigantic raptor (a "Geier") who had been stealing and eating human babies from their village. See *

Like the surname with its normal German spelling "Geier", the surname "Geyer" is primarily associated with the word "vulture". This is often used in a pejorative sense, however (as in "nickname for a greedy or rapacious person, from Middle High and Middle Low German gir(e) as in ‘large bird of prey’, ‘vulture’"). When affixed to a Jewish family, the surname "Geier" is thought by some to have a slightly different meaning. The Yiddish word "Geyer" means "peddler", and it is assumed that when last names became mandatory in Europe, the surname Geier was imposed upon Jewish peasants as a deprecatory label connoting a scheming merchant who takes advantage of the cupidity of others, i.e., a "vulture". See * Ironically, the word "Geier" more recently has evolved as a "derogatory term for persons from the Middle East." *

A significant number of African American people with the surname Geier are found in Washington D.C. and across the Southern States, the European antecedents of which are unknown. As with the surnames of many African American families (See Dunaway, Wilma A., The African American Family in Slavery and Emancipation (Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 259-60), it is likely that the names were adopted from a European American slaveowner by the name of "Geier", but none has been identified to date.

Geier Coats of Arms

The etymological confusion associated with ornithological use of the term "Geier" also has affected family coats of arms and traditions concerning family origins of those bearing the Geier surname. Some oral traditions and family histories associate the Geier surname with the eagle (as in the "Eagle's Nest" coat of arms) and with a peasant legend concerning a baby-stealing bird of prey in a medieval Swabian or Saxon village. * Others associate the surname with the carrion-eating, bone-crushing variety of vulture. * See also * In modern times, it is not unusual for the vulture in family coats of arms or logos to be rendered as a comical caricature of a slumping and sad-sack buzzard rather than a lammergeier or gyrfalcon with "the bearing of an eagle." See, e.g., *

Geier as a Place Name

The word Geier spelled "Geyer" is a place name for a village in Saxony by that name. * An Austrian town known as "Geiersberg im Innkreis" * follows the preferred spelling of Geier and sometimes is associated with the place of origin of the surname Geier, as well. The castle of Florian Geier, in Giebelstadt, * has been used to stage dramas commemorating its famous first occupant, but has not otherwise conferred place name recognition on the Swabian region south of Würtburg where it is located.

"Geier" in Literary History"

The ornithological and etymological confusions posed by the name or word "Geier" have led to some interesting and sometimes comical confusions in literary uses of the term, as well.

Sir Walter Scott

The setting of the romantic novel by Sir Walter Scott, Anne of Geierstein, or The Maiden Of The Mist, * set in Saxony, is more likely the Swiss mountain known as "Geierstein", rather than the Saxon village Geyer typically associated with the origins of the name Geier or Geyer. See * , and for a summary of the novel, see * The Austrian town of Geiersberg im Innkreis * bears a similar name, but most of the novel takes place in Switzerland rather than Austria.

Sigmund Freud

A celebrated episode in the history of psychoanalytic theory has been attributed to Sigmund Freud's misreading of the Italian word for "kite" as "vulture", mistranslating it as the German word "Geier" and building upon it a somewhat pornographic interpretation of one of Leonardo Da Vinci's dreams. * See *[Coco, J.M. (2002). Freud, Leonardo Da Vinci, and The Vulture's Tail: A Refreshing Look At Leonardo's Sexuality. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 50:1375-1383 See also Schroter, M., Two Empirical Notes on Freud's Leonardo, Int J Psychoanal. 1994Feb;75 (Pt 1):87-100.

Florian Geier

The most common references to the word Geier in literary history have been associated with Florian Geyer, also known as Florian Geier, as discussed in the next section. Aside from his prominent place in Frederick Engels, The Peasant War in Germany (1850), Florian Geier was also the problematic hero of one of Gerhart Hauptmann's major plays, the historical drama entitled Florian Geyer, also known as Florian Geier, published in 1896. * The German folk anthem, "Wir sind des Geyers schwarzer Haufen" ("We are the Black Band of Geyer") is now a radical union hymn in the United States and Australia. *

Franz Kafka

Kafka's tale "Der Geier", in English "The Vulture", may derive symbolic meaning from many of these connotations. It was published after Freud's 1910 publication on Leonardo and the vulture, but before the 1926 revelation that Leonardo's dream had been mistranslated in Freud's interpretation.

Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner

The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, famously suggested that the archetypically Aryan and anti-Semitic composer, Richard Wagner, was of Jewish ancestry, and Wagner himself may have believed this. In a footnote to his essay, Der Fall Wagner, entitled Nachtschrift, published as a foreword to Wagner's autobiography, Nietzsche made the comment, "Ein Geyer ist beinahe schon ein Adler" ("A vulture is almost an eagle"), essentially asserting that Wagner's biological father was actually his mother's second husband, the presumptively Jewish actor and playwright, Ludwig Geyer, rather than his putative and presumptively Aryan father, Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Wagner. This example of the Jewish connotations of the name in its alternate spelling as Geyer is discussed by Roger Hollinrake in The Title-Page of Wagner's 'Mein Leben', published in Music & Letters, Vol. 51, No. 4 (Oct., 1970), pp. 415-422. See also Silk, M.S. & Stern, J.P., Nietzsche on Tragedy (Cambridge University Press, 1981), p.202.

William Butler Yeats

The famous opening lines of William Butler Yeats' Poem The Second Coming (1921)
"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...."
should not be associated with the word Geier, despite the images of falconry included in the verse. In this context, as in his postumously published poem, The Gyres, the term "gyre" refers to Yeats' geometric conception of time and history as represented by concentric vortices or spirals, such as those inscribed by a circling bird, rather than to the Old High German root for the first sylable of "Gyrfalcon", gîr (= modern German Geier). See *

Notable Persons and Usages of “Geier”

Florian Geier

The most notorious historical personage bearing the name Geier was Florian Geier, commonly known as Florian Geyer, a Franconian nobleman who sided with the peasants in the Peasants War in the early 1500s and led the ill-fated Black Company of song and fable. See Friedrich Engels, The Peasant War in Germany, passim. Several generations of the family of Florian Geyer lived in the village of Giebelstadt, where the Geyer castle is located, but the family is thought to have died off and become extinct in the early 1700s. The heraldic coat of arms of the Geyer family in Giebelstadt was not a vulture or an eagle; instead, it originally was a horse, and later became a ram in the latter part of the 17th century. See N. Shmitt, A Short Giebelstadt History (2000), at *

Baseball: Phil Geier

One professional baseball player bearing the Geier surname is recorded--Phil Geier, aka "Little Phil", who played for several major league teams between 1896 and 1904 and won the American Association batting title in 1903. * ; *

Legal History

Two significant cases in United States jurisprudence have involved litigants with the name "Geier". In one of these, Geier v. American Honda Motor Co. (98-1811) 529 U.S. 861 (2000) * , the United States Supreme Court held that the federal legislation requiring passive restraints in motor vehicles sold in the United States pre-empted state tort law. The plaintiff was a child named Alexis Geier who had been seriously injured in an accident while riding with her parents in a Honda passenger vehicle equipped with seat belts but not airbags. The Supreme Court held that Ms. Geier could not sue Honda for failing to install airbags in a vehicle sold in 1987 because at that time, only seatbelts were required by federal law.

The other case, commonly known as the "Geier Case", involved an African American teacher named Rita Sanders at what was then Tennessee State College, now the Tennessee State University, who sued on behalf of herself and others in a class action to compel the State of Tennessee to end its de facto operation of a dual post-secondary education system for white and non-white students. This litigation was initiated by Ms. Sanders in 1968. Ms. Sanders later married and became known as Rita Sanders Geier. The case had a tortuous history as the United States Government and a number of other plaintiffs joined in support of her position, and involved at least a dozen reported appellate court decisions, including Geier v. Sundquist, 94 F.3d 644 (6th Cir. 1996); Geier v. Richardson, 871 F. 2d 1310 (6th Cir. 1989); Geier v. Alexander, 801 F.2d 799 (6th Cir. 1986); Geier v. Alexander, 593 F. Supp. 1263 (M.D. Tenn. 1984); Geier v. University of Tennessee, 597 F.2d 1056 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 886 (1979); Geier v. Blanton, 427 F. Supp. 644 (M.D. Tenn. 1977); Geier v. Dunn, 337 F. Supp. 573 (M.D. Tenn. 1972); and Sanders v. Ellington, 288 F. Supp. 937 (M.D. Tenn. 1968). The case was "resolved" 38 years later by a consent decree or settlement agreement in 2001, which imposed a 5-year period for implementation of various programmatic measures (colloquially known as Geier programs) to unwind 200 years of segregation and discrimination in the system of public higher education in Tennessee. * The final confirmation of the Consent Decree was approved in September 2006. As stated in the Joint Statement in Support of the Consent Decree, "The Geier case stands first in terms of time and precedent in a line of cases devoted to the removal of a variety of vestiges of segregation from systems of public higher education." *

Ship Names

Several ships of German registry have borne the name Geier. These included: 1. The Geier, 1916-1917, a captured British freighter named St. Theodore, which was scuttled by the Germans near the end of World War I. * 2. The SMS Geier, a German sloop which put into the supposedly neutral United States port at Honolulu, Hawaii, at the onset of World War I, but was there taken by the United States cruiser USS St. Louis, and after a protracted international legal dispute, re-commissioned in the United States Navy as the USS Schurz and eventually sunk following a collision off the coast of North Carolina. * 3. The Geier, a German patrol boat carrying a crew of 40, currently in the 7th Fast Patrol Boat (FPB) Squadron and scheduled to be sold to the Tunisian Navy. *

Other Usages

Hols der Geier Card Game:The word Geier is associated with the German card game "Hols der Geier" (literally "Vulture take it!" or "Confound it!" *

Geier Hitch: The name Geier is also associated with a notorious and arguably inhumane method of animal husbandry known as the Geier Hitch. See * Geier Indians: A small group of Indians known as the Geiers is supposed to have been encamped "under the name Papuliquier, which is a fusion of two group names, Pacpul and Geier" in the years 1675-1707 in Frio County, Texas. See Campbell, The Geier Indians, in The Handbook of Texas Online. * The origins of the tribal label "Geier" are obscure if not apocryphal. In this context, the word "Geier" may be a mistranscription of the Spanish word Quier (a form of Eng. want), or it may be a mistranscription or transliteration of the Spanish word Guiar (Sp. for "guide" or "lead"), rather than an accurate phonetic rendition of the tribal name from its own language.

Geier is also the name of a bakery chain in Vienna, Austria.

Prominent Authors with the Surname Geier

  • Albert J. Geier, Exploring Basic Accounting.
  • Alfred Geier, Plato's Erotic Thought: The Tree of the Unknown.
  • Arnold Geier, Life insurance: how to get your money's worth.
  • Arnold Geier (Preface by), T. G. Friedman (Illustrator), Abraham H. Foxman (Introduction by), Heroes of the Holocaust.
  • Bonnie Geier, But I Never Said I'd Be a Farmer!: I Said, "You Could Be a Farmer, But I Never Said I'd Be a Farmer!"
  • Catherine Geier, Carol Brown, Cafe Flora Cookbook.
  • Cathy Geier, Watercolor Landscape Quilts: Quick No-Fuss Fold & Sew Technique
  • Clarence R. Geier, The Kimberlin Site : The Ecology of a Late Woodland Population
  • Clarence R. Geier (Editor), Stephen R. Potter (Editor), Jim Lehrer (Foreword by), Archaeological, Perspectives on the American Civil War.
  • Clarence R. Geier (Editor), Susan E. Winter (Editor), Look to the Earth: Historical Archaeology and the American Civil War.
  • David Geier, John Bothwell, Score! Power Up Your Game, Business and Life by Harnessing the Power of Emotional Intelligence.
  • Florian Geier, Jens Timmer, Christian Fleck, Reconstructing Gene-Regulatory Networks from Time Series, Knock-Out Data, and Prior Knowledge.
  • Frederic M Geier, Individual Differences in Emotionality,: Hypothesis Formation, Vicarious Trial and Error, and Visual Discrimination Learning in Rats.
  • Gabriele Geier, Food Security Policy in Africa Between Disaster Relief and Structural Adjustment: Reflections on the Conception and Effectiveness of Policies the case of Tanzania.
  • Hans T. Geier, Economic aspects of federal livestock grazing policy: A regional economic analysis for the Okanogan-Ferry area in Washington.
  • Hans T. Geier, Community and economic profile for the villages of Grayling, Anvik, Shageluk, and Holy Cross.
  • Hans T. Geier, Feasibility study of irrigation in Alaska.
  • James T. Geier, Eric Geier, Geeks on Call.
  • James T. Geier, Eric Geier, Wireless Networking: 5-Minute Fixes.
  • Jim Geier, Wireless Networks First-Step.
  • J. E. Geier, Water-jet-assisted drag bit cutting in medium-strength rock (SuDoc I 28.27:9164)
  • Joel Geier, Vietnam: The Soldier's Revolt, International Socialist Review Issue 9, August-September 2000
  • John G. Geier, Dorothy E. Downey, Energetics of Personality: Defining a Self.
  • Karl E. Geier, Agricultural Districts and Zoning: A State-Local Approach to a National Problem, 8 Ecology L.Q. 655 (1980)
  • Manfred Geier, Das Sprachspiel der Philosophen : von Parmenides bis Wittgenstein.
  • Manfred Geier, Kants Welt.
  • Marguerita Geier, San Buenaventura: Serra's Last Mission.
  • Martin Geier, Music in the Service of the Church: The Funeral Sermon for Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672).
  • Mary Alice Geier, Cancer, What's It Doing in My Life?: A Personal Journal of the First Two Years of Chemotherapy in the Career of a Cancer Patient.
  • Max G. Geier, Forest science research and scientific communities in Alaska : a history of the origins and evolution of USDA Forest Service Research in Juneau, Fairbanks, and Anchorage, (Pacific Northwest Research Station).
  • Max G. Geier, Necessary Work: Discovering Old Forests, New Outlooks, and Community on the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, 1948-2000.
  • Ted Geier, Make Your Events Special: How to Produce Successful Special Events for Nonprofit Organization.

Prominent American Persons Named "Geier"

Well known representatives of the Geier surname include the Geier Glove Company (* ) and the Geier Sausage Company (* ), neither of which have any necessary connection with each other or any other American bearer of the Geier surname.

Another well-known representative of the Geier name was the founder of the Cincinnati Milling Machine Corporation (originally the Cincinnati Screw and Tap Company), Frederick V. Geier,* whose company is still controlled by the Geier family (but now known as Cincinnati Milacron, Inc. * ). This branch of the Geier family has been prominent in Cincinnati civic and social affairs since the early 1900s, and has endowed the Geier Collections and Research Center of the Museum of Natural History and Science in Cincinnati. * Frederick V. Geier was quoted in a Time Magazine article on rearmnament in 1951. *

The infamous Mark Geier and his misguided son, David Geier, have established an unenviable and unsavory reputation for themselves and besmirched the name Geier by touting an untenable and fallacious concoction of unprincipled, fabricated "research" results designed to undermine the validity of stem cell research. They have been largely discredited as a result. *

Geiers in Minnesota

Two predominating families with the surname Geier are found in Southern and Central Minnesota. The family associated with Lynn Township in McLeod County and with Boon Lake Township and other parts of Renville County is entirely descended from a single immigrant from Woldegk, Germany, by the name of Ferdinand Theodore Geier, a/k/a Ted Geier, who arrived in Minnesota in 1880 after spending 10 years as a wheelwright and truck farmer in Chicago, Illinois and nearby Cicero, Illinois. The other family, near Ortonville in Big Stone County is unrelated so far as is known. A small contingent of the Renville County Geiers settled for a brief time in Badger Township in Polk County before scattering to the winds in the latter part of the 20th Century. The current president of the Minnesota Medical Association, G. Richard Geier, Jr., MD, of Rochester, Minnesota, is a native of Evansville, Indiana and not a member of either of these two Minnesota Geier families.

Other Persons Named "Geier"

A number of academics, scholars, musicians and musical groups, businesses and professionals in the United States also bear the name "Geier".

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