What’s in a Name Revisited: (German Family Names of Prussian Origin) by Max Mechow

The first ten posts on this blog discussed -at surnames in East Prussia and Lithuania.  See

https://suwalkigermans.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/whats-in-a-name-5/ and the following nine posts.

In May 2016 I revisited this subject in the post below and the one which follows  it.


Now more than two years later, a few parts of another important source has been translated: Deutsche Famiiliennamen Prussischer Herkunft) German Family Names of Pussian Origin) by Max Mechow. Mechow is also the author many scholarly articles published in the German language genealogical Altpreussische Geschlecterkunde (Old Prussian Gender Studies)

Page 24/25

  • Development of family names in East Prussia: fixed inheritable family names were first used by the nobility, then the middle class in the towns, and later in the lower class.
  • Before then, people were generally known by only one name.
  • The Prussian and German population chose their names according to their language.
  • Germans often had a family name based on their craft. Prussians, who remained as serfs or peasants, often had their name referred to by the village they came from.

Page 26/27

  • As long as the Teutonic Order of Knights was in charge, German and Prussian villages were strictly separated.
  • This policy changed after 1500 A. D., but by this time the development of family names had been
  • In conclusion, in general, a person with a Prussian place name is a Prussian.
  • If there was a German with a Prussian place name, it had to be a person who came to a town (with a name of Prussian origin) and this person was still without a fixed family name at this moment. (It should also be noted that most towns did not accept Prussians as citizens. Only around 3% of the town’s population was of Prussian origin, the so- called ”loyal Prussians.”

Page 28/29

  • In his overview Mechow offered some explanations regarding the names.
  • In particular, Poles and Lithuanians in East Prussia are not part of the original population, but are to be considered as migrants just as the Germans are.

Page 30/31

  • After the Black Death (1345-1353) Lithuanians colonized the northeastern part of East Prussia and gave new names to former German or Prussian villages. After some time, only the newest name was in use.
  • First, the Teutonic Order of Knights and later the government of Prussia simplified the name assignment. This caused a blurring of the origin, and a lot of people think all –at, -eit, -ull, etc. names are Lithuanian.
  • However, there are a lot of names with an old Prussian root word which gained the suffix –aitis,

-at, etc. later (e.g. Lekute became Lekutat). There are also names which had already been changed to the suffix –at (from –aude, or -(i)oth) before the Lithuanian migration after the Black Plague (e. g. Bubat, Kaupat, and Sankat). There are also –eit names in the central area of East Prussia (with no Lithuanian migration and before this period) as Tuleweit from Tuleswayde and Wissigkeit from Wissegeyde, both of which can be traced to about 1350 A. D.

  • Mechow’s conclusion: -at names can be both Lithuanian or Prussian origin!

Page 32/33

  • Only in East Prussia, not in Lithuania itself, is there an adjustment of the original German or Christian names with –at, or -eit suffixes, e.g. Simoneit, Balzereit (from Balthasar) or Beckereit, or Schneidereit. Even the names of colonists from Switzerland and France have been adjusted in this way…
  • The same thing happened in the southern region of East Prussia – Masuria – by the migration of Masovians and Poles: original Prussian place names got the suffix –s(z)ki (e.g. Eybuth became Heibutzki and Sambarte became Samborzki.

Page 34/35

  • The Prussian language was mainly influenced by the German language and disappeared more or less about 1700 AD as most Prussians switched to German.
  • The High German consonant shift also influenced the German language of East Prussia. Lower Prussian German became the main dialect.
  • However, in this region there were more changes for the vowels: e.g. a became o; ay/ei became -at/-eit (!) -and aude became –at; and long i became ei (e. g. Sankite became Sankeit…).
  • There were also two consonant changes: b became p and d became t.

For this researcher, Mechow’s conclusion in 1991 is still valid today and echoes the conclusion I made in May 2016. My -at name can be either Prussian or Lithuanian.

My thanks go to my fellow researcher Ben for this translation.



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.
This entry was posted in Books, East Prussia, Ethnicities, Families, history, Names, Research and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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