This article is part of the series “Are your German ancestors playing hide-and-seek?” about various reasons why you might not have found your ancestors yet. One of the possible reasons could be that your ancestors’ names were written down in a different language.
That’s a bit like “name variations”. But no, I’m not talking about Elisabeth in Germany being written Elizabeth in the States. I’m talking about such mouthfuls of graecizing, latinizing, germanizing or other -izings. Dreadful monster words, I agree. But what do they mean? Did different languages really affect our ancestors’ names?
Even in former times there always have been fashion languages which were mainly spoken by the nobles as well as the wealthy and learned people. And of course one of the consequences was that names were altered, given names as well as surnames. Probably to be different from other people, who knows, really…
- The male Greek name “Theophil” (“he who loves god” or “he who is loved by god”) has the German counterpart “Gottlieb” (“he who loves god” or “he who is loved by god”) and also a Latin counterpart “Amadeus” (now guess what…? yups… “he who loves god” or “he who is loved by god”) as well as “Amédée” in French and “Amadeo” in Italian.
- A German boy who’d be called Karl at home might have been baptized as Carolus.
- Same problem with surnames. A simple “Müller” (Miller) surname often was changed to “Molitor” which means miller in Latin.
- Your immigrant ancestor’s surname was “Faber” and you can’t find him? Try “Schmied” or “Schmitz” or any of the German variations instead, which is the German translation of the Latin word faber…
Pardon the French…
During the French period in Europe (1798-1814), the French brought their way of jurisdiction and administration with them.
They introduced civil registers and made church register duplicates mandatory. And of course the administrational language was heavily influenced by French. I won’t go into detail here but that also influenced given names in civil registers, sometimes even in church registers.
You might know your ancestor, born 1808 in the Rhineland, by the name of Billy or Willi because that’s what he had been called all of his life ever since he was a little toddler. But in reality his given name was “Guillaume”… – the French version of “Wilhelm”. “Être bête comme chou” (= easy peasy) to find that connection, eh? And don’t come to think I can speak French: I can’t, so praise be to the online dictionaries… 😉 I just hope I picked the right idiom.
So… depending on the time and area you should always consider a foreign version of the name you’re looking for. The website “Behind the Name” is a wonderful help.
Have you considered and checked foreign alternatives for your ancestors’ names? Which websites can you recommend as well?