Friday, April 10, 2015

German Naming Conventions

Last Saturday, I attended a webinar hosted by the Southern California Genealogical Society on the subject of common naming conventions.  The title of the presentation was She has the Same Name  Is She her Sister? Naming Conventions of our Ancestors, by Nancy Waters Lauer. Her email is She did a phenomenal job explaining the naming process of our ancestors.
This presentation resonated with me because I have been submerged in researching my German ancestors (see my last post on the Strassburgers), and discovered that in the Strassburger line, many of the children had the same first name, but a different middle name. This is typical from one generation to the next--which makes it interesting in trying to sort out who's who in looking at both civil and church records. In fact, my cousin Lynn (also a Strassburger descendent and partner extraordinaire in Strassburger research) and I have been going around and around sorting out Strassburgers this past week. So, thanks to Nancy's webinar presentation, all the naming craziness now makes sense!
The following passage was written by Nancy, to help explain naming practices. Any questions or comments about the following should be directed to Nancy, at Thank you, Nancy!!

German Naming Conventions
A good understanding of the conventions used by German families for naming children is essential to German genealogy research. This knowledge helps identify family relationships and explains multiple children with similar or, in some cases, the same name. Both Catholic and Protestant religions adopted this method of naming children. Customarily at baptism a child was given two names. The first was a religious name and the second their call (Rufnahme) name. Unlike today, people were known by their second or middle name. Johann Ludwig Steck was called Ludwig or Louis. However, he can be located in various records as Johann, John, Ludwig, and Louis. Families often used the same saint’s name for most or all their children’s first names. Mary or Maria were popular for girls and St. John and St. George were popular for boys. Consequently, 12 Georges in the same family! 

Male and female children were named in a pattern that held true for generations. This naming scheme is defined below:
1st son after the father’s father
2nd son after the mother’s father
3rd son after the father
4th son after the father’s father’s father
5th son after the mother’s father’s father
6th son after the father’s mother’s father
7th son after the mother’s mother’s father

1st daughter after the mother’s mother
2nd daughter after the father’s mother
3rd daughter after the mother
4th daughter after the father’s father’s mother
5th daughter after the mother’s father’s mother
6th daughter after the father’s mother’s mother
7th daughter after the mother’s mother’s mother 

Where a duplicate name occurred, the next in the pecking order was used. Often children were named after a deceased sibling. To complicate this trend of same name designation, when there is a second marriage, the method is often repeated from the beginning. It isn’t unusual for half-brothers or half-sisters to have the same name.
She has the Same Name  Is She her Sister? Naming Conventions of our Ancestors
Nancy Waters Lauer,
SCGS Webinar presentation, 4 April 2015

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