What Does Your German Surname Say About You?

by Leslie Lang

There are four common types of German surnames.

German-Americans are the largest single ethnic group in the U.S. If you are one of 42 million Americans with German ancestry, your surname could yield some interesting clues to your family history.

The the most common form of German family name is occupational. It can often be identified by its ending: -er, -hauer, -macher, or man/-mann.

Illustration of chef and blacksmith with translations of occupational surnames around them.

Often a person was distinguished by a reference to his or her father. This is referred to as “patronymic.”

Illustration of two fathers and sons explaining patronymic surnames.

Many German surnames are descriptive names based on a physical characteristic, such as size or hair color.

Illustration of descriptive surnames showing several people with different physical traits such as brown hair and curly hair.

Lastly, geographical names derive from where a person lived or came from. They may stem from the name of a city or village or the location of someone’s home.

Illustration of geographic surnames showing examples of the German landscape.

What does your last name mean? Find out.