Name repetition in German families
A striking characteristic of German families — or at least my German family — is the persistence of names. From father to son to grandson, from mother to daughter to granddaughter, names tend to be repeated from generation to generation and even within generations.My third great grandfather Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Sievers was born 3 December 1820 in Bremen, Germany.1 He married Metta Huthoff on 11 December 1840.2
They had a daughter Maria Margarethe, born 5 February 1841 and baptized the next day;3 she lived one week.4
On the 15th of January 1842, Carsten and Metta had another daughter, and they named her Marie Margarethe.5 She lived to adulthood, and married Johann Nuckel in 1860.6
On 12 November 1860, Johann and Marie had their first son, whom they named Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Nuckel.7 He grew up and married Julianne Margarethe Smidt around 1888.8
On 10 April 1889, Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Sievers died in Bremen; on the 13th he was buried at Bunthenthor Cemetery there.9
Just about the same time, that Carsten’s grandson Carsten Nuckel and his wife Juliane had a son. They named him Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Nuckel, and he was two years and nine months old when he died 24 January 1892. He was buried 28 January 1892 at Reichsburg Cemetery in Bremen.10
In the meantime, in 1891, Carsten and Juliane also had a daughter, my grandmother, and they named her Marie Margarethe.11
Their next son was born on 1 July 1892, just six months after they buried their first little boy. This son too was given the name Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Nuckel. He was one year and 20 days old when he died 19 August 1893. He was buried 22 August 1893 at Bunthenthor Cemetery.12
Carsten and Juliane had yet another son in May 1897. They didn’t try naming him after his father and his brothers. Instead he was named Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Nuckel, after an uncle. He was 11 months and 12 days old when he died 22 April 1898. He was buried 26 April 1898 at Walle Cemetery.13
My great grandfather Carsten went to his grave in April 1940.14 His daughter, my grandmother Marie Margarethe, died only seven years later.15
As far as I know, there have been no more Carsten Hinrich Wilhelms and no more Marie Margarethes in our family. I haven’t been able to locate any living members of my grandmother’s family yet so I can’t be 100% certain, but the records don’t suggest any.
The fact that the names haven’t been passed down is a pity; they’re lovely names. But then again, there have been no more infant deaths in our family, either. And — while I’m not superstitious enough to suggest cause and effect — just in case, I hasten to add that’s a trade-off we’ll take any day…
- Bremen Standesamt, Zivilstandsregister 1811-1875 (Bremen city registry office, civil status registers 1811-1875), Geburten (births) 1820, p. 614, Nr. 1242 (7 Dec 1820); FHL Film 1344150, Family History Library, Salt Lake City. ↩
- Ibid., Heiraten (marriages) 1840, p. 432; FHL microfilm 1344191. ↩
- Ibid., Geburten 1841, Reg. Nr. 155 (5 Feb 1841), p. 77; FHL microfilm 134415. ↩
- Ibid., Todten (deaths) 1841, p. 72; FHL microfilm 1344222. ↩
- Ibid., Geburten 1842, Reg. Nr.75 (15 Jan 1842), p.37; FHL microfilm 1344159. ↩
- Ibid., Heiraten 1860, p. 282; FHL microilm 1344200. ↩
- Ibid., Geburten 1860, Reg. Nr. 1931 (13 Nov 1860), p. 973; FHL microfilm 1344170. ↩
- Marriage record of their daughter, Marie Margarethe Nuckel, Bescheinigung der Eheschließung (Certificate of Marriage), nr. 135 (1918), Geißler-Nuckel, Standesamt (Registry Office), Bremen. ↩
- “Die Leichenbücher der Stadtgemeinde Bremen von 1875 – 1939” (The Funerary Records of the City of Bremen, 1875-1939), book 1889, page 181; online database, Die Maus – Family History and Genealogical Society of Bremen (http://www.die-maus-bremen.de/index.php : accessed 13 Apr 2012). ↩
- Ibid., book 1892, page 59. ↩
- Bremen birth certificate, attached to visa application, Form 255, 4 December 1924, Marie Geissler; photocopy received 2004 via FOIA request by Judy G. Russell from U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (now U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). ↩
- Bremen Funerary Records, book 1893, page 451. ↩
- Ibid., book 1898, page 234. ↩
- Marginal notation, civil register of births, Geburten 1860, Reg. Nr. 1931 (13 Nov 1860), p. 973; FHL microfilm 1344170. ↩
- Illinois Department of Public Health, death certificate no. 12011, Marie Geissler, 12 Apr 1947. ↩
Germans quite commonly named newborns after children who died previously. They also passed names down through the generations. Both of these customs may be because there weren’t all that many given names in German to choose from, and for religious reasons. It was quite common to give all male children the name “Johann” and differentiate them by middle name. For example, my ancestor Johann Ludwig Berner had a brother Johann Friedrich. (The name Johann Friedrich Berner/John Frederick Benner is in current use and has been in every generation for the last 500 years or so.). Girls were often “Marie” plus middle name, but I think they had a little more variety than the boys. Regards, John in Stuttgart
Thanks, John! Tell me this, if you will: are Gerd and Gerhard two different names or is Gerd only a diminutive for Gerhard? I have one family with repeated names where I’m trying to figure out who’s who in each record. (Both young men survived to adulthood and married and both used both Gerd and Gerhard at different times.)
You’re welcome! I think you have it right, that Gerd is a nickname for Gerhard. I will ask some German genealogists today and get back to you. Regards, John
Judy, Sorry to be so long, this is spring vacation and all the German genealogists are away! I was forced to refer to http://www.beliebte-vornamen.de. It says that, indeed, Gerd/Gerdt/Gert is a shortened version of Gerhard/Gerhardt/Gerhart. The name has been falling out of popularity since the 50s. Regards, John
Thank you, John! Sure appreciate the follow-up.
When teaching a beginning genealogy class, I was asked why the same given names were used over and over. I responded that in the “old days” given names were very expensive and most families could only afford a few names that they used as much as possible. If I hadn’t cracked up, I think the class might have believed me.
LOVE that explanation! Permission to steal… uh… borrow it?
I am researching my husband’s Dutch ancestors and have found these naming traditions to exist in the Netherlands as well. The oldest two sons were named for their grandfathers and the oldest two daughters were named for their grandmothers. Names of deceased infants were recycled. Very similar to German traditions. His Alberding family actually was German, migrating to Amsterdam in the late 1700s. Every one of my husband’s direct ancestors is named Coenraad Abraham Alberding going to back to the first Alberding in his line to leave Germany for Amsterdam.
Makes it easy to trace the family… but man… trying to distinguish between generations is a beast!
The German tradition is not that different than the Scandinavian tradition. If I remember correctly, the first son was named after the mother’s father. If that son died, the next would be named the same, and so on, until a male infant survived with that name. The second son was named after the father’s father and that name was used until a male child survived. (They moved onto the mother’s grandfather and then the father’s grandfather.) If a male child died later on, after another male was born (with another name), then the deceased male child’s name was used again. So you might have a Johan, Helmer, Christian, Helmer.(My great-grandfather was a second Helmer.)The naming pattern also applied to the female children. When I go looking for records on my great-grandmother in Oslo, I suspect her mother’s name will be Rändane. My grandmother’s name was Clara Rändane. My mother named her first born–myself–after her mother (changing the spelling so it would look American). I would suggest studying the naming patterns of Scandinavians in order to understand your own family’s pattern. The tradition in at least part of Germany was not that different. Now, if I could just talk one of my children into using Rändane again. It’s a hard sell.
Love the name Rändane! How’s that pronounced?
Ron-dina. Except in Norwegian, there is a very, very heavy accent. So, you can see why I ended up with that spelling, which I have considered changing back to the original many times.
Lovely name, and I can sure understand why you’d consider changing it to that spelling. But then you’d end up with a never-ending series of people like me asking how it’s pronounced!
The “German tradition” is nothing like the Scandinavian tradition. The *German Catholic* tradition was to name the child after the same-sex baptismal sponsor. Often grandparents were the sponsors for the first-born children; hence, they were named after their grandparents. As well, oftentimes sponsors for different children had the same name. If Friedrich Schmidt was the sponsor for the first son and Friedrich Schneider was the sponsor for the second son, then both were given the name Friedrich. The reason that so many people had the first names of Johann and Maria was because it was custom to give a saint’s name as the first name. The second name was then used by the person. Sometimes this is called a “Rufname,” but Rufname has a broader meaning. It refers to the name by which someone was called, be it their second name, their nickname, or some other name. Sometimes Catholic German-Americans retained the tradition of naming their children after their baptismal sponsors, but switched the order of the names, i.e., the sponsor’s name became the child’s middle name. I cannot speak for Evangelisch naming traditions, but it would be worth your while to check the names of the children’s baptismal sponsors.
The Irish tradition is to name the oldest son after his paternal grandfather, the oldest daughter after her maternal grandmother. Second sons are named after their maternal grandfather and second daughters are named after their paternal grandmother. If there is a third son he is named after his father and a third daughter is named after her mother. Fourth and fifth children are named after an aunt or uncle depending on gender of the child. My great-great grandmother was of Irish descent and she sort of followed the rules but she veered off course just enough to be different which means some of her children’s names don’t seem to have a family connection. Very frustrating!
That’s the naming pattern I’m most familiar with, Pat, since my mother’s family is largely Scots-Irish. The naming infants after other deceased infants bit is new to me with my German side.