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How do you determine the origin of German last names?

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Quick Answer

Words relating to occupations are the most common for German last names. However, last names originating in Germany can also relate to nicknames and locales.

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Full Answer

One way to determine the origin of German last names is by looking at the suffixes. The suffix -er indicates "one who." For example, the last name Fischer means "one who fishes." The suffix -hauer means "cutter." Baumhauer means "tree cutter." The suffix -macher means "maker," so the name Schumacher indicates a shoemaker.

Some German names are related to nicknames or descriptions of ancestors. For instance, the last name "Braun" is related to the German word for "brown," indicating an ancestor had brown hair.

Some suffixes are related to geography, giving an idea of where the ancestors lived. For instance, -berg means mountain, -bruck means bridge, -burg means castle, and -furt means ford. Additionally, -holz means wood, -rode, means clearing in a woods, and -wald means forest. So, the last name Buchholz indicates a family that lived near a wood named Buch.

Other names simply indicate from where an ancestor came. For example, the surname "Meer" suggests someone who came from near the sea since "meer" means "sea" in German. Likewise, some German families took the name of their villages or towns as a surname. Names that end in -heim or -dorf usually come from such a situation.

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