Everything you need to Know About German Names

German Names arye Everywhere

A name tag saying-hello my name is
Do you know the Meaning of your Name?. winhorse, e+, getty-images

Names always Matter

In the Goethe B1 model exam there is one article about name-giving in Germany. One question asks whether names are losing their meaning nowadays. And there are quite a few students who believe that this is actually the case which surprises me each time, because I personally am always interested in the meaning of a name and would have never given my child a name that has no meaning. I understand that not every couple might be aware of the meaning of their child's name nor would that meaning necessarily be the main factor in naming one's child. Nevertheless, German names do not look like they are losing significance. Just try to call someone you don't know that well a different form of his or her name. You might get some pretty angry reactions. So, even if the name doesn't have a deeper sense by origin (like Apple or ABCDE -not kidding), our names are dear to most of us.

In Germany we have certain restrictions regarding a child's first name. The first name e.g.

  • needs to be recognizable as name
  • should not be associated with evil, like "Satan" or "Judas"
  • shall not hurt religious feelings, like e.g. "Christus" (earlier also "Jesus" was forbidden)
  • can't be a brand name or name of a place
  • doesn't have to clearly identify the sex of the child

A child can have several first names. Back in my time those were usually taken from the godfathers. That's why my ID shows Michael Johannes Harald Schmitz. While in my youth I wasn't too proud to carry such really old names, nowadays I am proud to be a living memory to these honest and hard working men without whom I wouldn't be writing these words.

[source wikipedia, see links below]

The Germans are Strong in the US

According to Wikipedia (the US Census link they cite is not available anymore), German-Americans were the largest single ethnic group in the United States with about 17,7 percent of the US population.

In this article I will take a look at popular German first names (Vornamen), their meanings, and their origins. And you'll notice that many "German" first names are not really German at all.

If you are a genealogical beginner interested in tracing your German roots, see the article: German and Genealogy.)

Like most likely anywhere else on this planet, children's names have always been subject to tradition, name popularity, sports figure and movie star names. In Germany names need to be officially approved by the local office of vital statistics (Standesamt). I find it always interesting to compare different decades in many regards. Below you'll find two tables with the top 5 first names in Germany


The Top 5 German Girls and Boys Names 2000/2014

Below are two lists of the top five names for boys and girls in Germany in 2000 and in 2012 to illustrate the change names underwent in this millennium. If you follow the source-link below you'll find more elaborate lists for many more years.

Boys Girls
1. Lukas 1. Anna
2. Jan 2. Lea
3. Tim 3. Sarah
4. Finn 4. Hanna
5. Leon 5. Michelle
Top 5 Children's Names in Germany 2000
Boys Girls
1. Ben 1. Emma
2. Luis 2. Mia
3. Paul 3. Hannah
4. Lukas 4. Sofia
5. Jonas 5. Emilia
Top 5 Children's Names in Germany 2014

Source of data for both tables: beliebte-vornamen.de  

Such name hitlists vary quite significantly depending on their source. For a comparison check out the "Gesellschaft für Deutsche Sprache.


What Could they Mean?

My predecessors have put a lot of effort into creating a list with German names and their meaning here so forgive me if I keep this chapter short.  Another, searchable resource is this page: behindthename.

Übrigens: Do you know the meaning of your name?

One last Thing: "Du" or "Sie"?

One last thing. When a German-speaker inquires about your Name (speak: NAH-muh), he or she is asking about your LAST name, not your first. It takes time to get on a first name (per du) basis but our Sie und du. might help you with it.


Michael, Where Art Thou?

PS: I really find this site interesting. You just enter a first or family name, like e.g. "Michael" and it shows you where in Germany "all" the Michaels are living. Try some names typical for the US. You'll be surprised how many people in Germany have "US-names".

Original article by: Hyde Flippo

Edited on June 13th 2015 by: Michael Schmitz

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Schmitz, Michael. "Everything you need to Know About German Names." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-to-know-about-german-names-1444327. Schmitz, Michael. (2020, August 27). Everything you need to Know About German Names. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-to-know-about-german-names-1444327 Schmitz, Michael. "Everything you need to Know About German Names." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-to-know-about-german-names-1444327 (accessed March 23, 2023).