While there are some German names which have been changed, altered, or lost over time, many are still quite recognizable if you know the meaning of a few German words. German surnames describe the looks, professions, or place/ patriarch of a family. The names that your ancestors brought with them can say a lot about where you came from and what job your family was known for centuries ago!

Via/ Library of Congress

Physical Descriptors

Some German surnames come from physical descriptions that your ancestors had, either family traits that many family members all shared or distinctive traits of the patriarch. These traits would have been one of the family’s hallmarks and thus they became known by them.

Braun = brown (as in brown hair)

Gross = big

Kahler = bald

Klein = small

Krause = curly

Schwartzkopf = black haired

Weiss = white (as is pale skin or hair)

Via/ Flickr

Patronymic Names

Many German names use “sen/ son/ sohn” to denote that someone is a descendant of a patriarch. Other times “s” on the end of a given name would serve the same purpose and compose a new surname. Some given names were used as surnames with little or no change in the spelling, such as Buchard or Fritz.

Via/ Library of Congress




“In” was sometimes added as an alternate suffix to denote a female of the family line.




Via/ Flickr

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