What’s in a First Name?

What about first names of those ancestors whose surname ends in -at? Do you find your ancestor’s name/s in this list from Germany?

By the 1880s name-giving changed remarkably from the earlier favored Old Testament. For example, in 1884, in Gorlitz, Germany, the following preferences were noted:

Paul                                        14.5%                                    Otto                        3.6%

Max                                         11.3                                      Arthur                     3.6

Richard                                    6.0                                     Gustav                     3.3

Carl                                          5.6                                        Fritz                        3.0

Alfred                                       4.0                                        Georg                     3.0

Bruno                                       4.0                                        Hans                      1.9

Wilhelm                                   3.6

Other masculine names used occasionally were Hermann, Curt, Ernst, Oskar, Robert, Adolf, Emil, and Hugo.

What about feminine names? The most frequently names used in Gorlitz, Germany, in the late 19th century included:

Anna                                      12.0%                                    Bertha                    4.3%

Martha                                  10.0                                        Margaretha           4.2

Emma                                      7.3                                        Helene                   4.0

Maria                                       6.5                                        Hedwig                  3.8

Clara                                        6.0                                        Ida                          3.4

Elizabeth (Elise)                     5.5

Some other popular feminine names included Gertrude, Selma, Agnes, Alma, Minna, Luise, Frida, Meta, Lina, Olga, Auguste, and Pauline. [1]

If you find ther first name/s of your –at ancestor/s in the above lists, this may be another indication that these -at families considered themselves German.

Some examples from the work of William Hoffman and George Heron:

Adolf: “adol” means “noble + wolf.” Obviously, the popularity of this name has plummeted since World War II.[2]

Pauline: feminine derivative of Paul which means “of or belonging to Paul.”[3]

 Josef: masculine from the Hebrew language which means “God will add.” This is a reference to Joseph, the son of Jacob and Rachel.[4]

 Amelia: Germanic, feminine name which is a short form of Amalberg. “Amal” means “brave, valiant, hard-working” plus a reference to the Gothic Royal Family Amala. Variations include Emalia and Emelia.[5]

William: Germanic, masculine, compound name. Will (Wil) + helmet (helm) which means strong-willed, helmeted fighter.[6]

Wilhelmina: feminine version of William (Wilhelm in German).[7]

Because the choice of names was rather limited, it is very common to find several people, even in the same immediate family, with the identical first name. To avoid confusion, researchers must carefully check the names of each parent and the birthdates of individuals with the same name to make sure that the correct lineage is being followed.

[1] Smith and Smith, Encyclopedia of German American Genealogical Research, 100.

[2] William F, Hoffman and George W. Helon, First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins and Meanings, (Chicago, Illinois: Polish Genealogical Society of America, 1998), 66.

[3] Hoffman and Helon, 279.

[4] Hoffman and Helon, 198.

[5] Hoffman and Helon, 75.

[6] Hoffman and Helon, 346.

[7] Hoffman and Helon, 347.


About suwalkigermans

I started family research in 1993. My first two books focused on my maternal grandparents. Both families came from Kreis Rosenberg, West Prussia, to Big Rapids, Michigan. I left the Spurgats from Wylkowiszki in the Russian Empire as the third book because of the difficult and challenging research it required. After I published the book in 2010, I wondered what to do next. I thought I might try to share some of my research with others and maybe at the same time, by going digital, someone would find me. When you read the comments, you will see that happened. The best part of all this is helping others.
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