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A large percentage of German males were named Johann. I have found my own grandfather called Johann George Hetzel, John George, George John and just plain John or George. Many German males had the first name of Johann, then a middle name. Additionally, most were referred to by their middle name, not their first name. It seems that the name a person "goes by" every day is called a "rufname" This name does not necessarily have to be their first name - It can be any one of the given names at birth or baptism that the individual chooses to use as his "rufname."

From: Francis Busser in Strasbourg (Alsace)
Please forget all you know about first, last and middle names if you handle with our Alsacian, Swiss, German or French names. This is a strictly American concept and make no sense here. Perhaps is it time to try to tell you a little about our 'Strange Naming Customs' here in Europe...

We all have here a 'family name' (French : 'nom de famille', German : 'Familienname') corresponding with your 'surname' or 'last name'.

But don't use this denomination, as the place of the 'family name' is not always the last.

If you American speak from 'surname', we Frenchies we understand 'surnom'. The French word 'surnom' is indeed at the origine of the English word 'surname', but today it has here only the sense of a 'nickname' or of a pseudonym, of an assumed name.

We have also one or several given names and the order in which they are listed in the official documents has nothing to do with the usage we make from. We speak from 'prénoms' (French) or 'Vornamen' (German). Given names is an acceptable translation, but don't speak from first or middle names. In the list of our given names, we (or our family) choose one as a 'call name' (French : 'prénom usuel', German : 'Rufname'). His place in the birth certificate is variable (often underlined). Not seldom we don't use the same 'call name' in our occupation and in our family.

So my wife is known as 'Claude' in her occupation and as 'Marie-Claude' in a part of the family. Her father was 'Antoine' in his family and 'François' outside.

Better : here in Alsace, we use also orally the 'Hofname' ('farm name') in place of the family name. One of my parent was known as the 'MAPSe Franz' altough his name was 'Franz HEINRICH', but his mothers 'farm name' was 'MAPS' (from the 'MAPSe Hof').

Sometimes you can find documents with confusion between 'farm name', 'nickname' and 'family name'.

Often one of the given names is the 'call name' of the godfather or the godmother, of a greatfather or of a greatmother.

The order in which given name and family name are used depend on the context and on the social situation.

In French, a 'Pierre François Michel Antoine CHARRON' can sign his will as 'Michel CHARRON', but he sign a request to an administration as 'CHARRON Michel' and perhaps his wife call him 'François' and not 'Michel'.

In German, 'Peter Franz Michel Anton WAGNER' is known by everybody as the 'WAGNER Michel'. If cultivated he sign in the French manner 'Michel WAGNER', but generally his signature is 'WAGNER Michel'. His wife call him perhaps 'Peter' or 'Anton' and not 'Michel'.

In very pious Catholic families, you can find all the children with 'Marie' and/or 'Joseph' (or 'Maria' and 'Josef' in German) in the list of her Christian names. In one of my families I find 'Maria Josef Karl Anton' called 'Karl', 'Maria Josef Anna' called 'Anna', 'Maria Josef Anna Luisa' called 'Luisa' or 'Lüwiss', 'Maria Josef Emil Anton' called 'Emil', 'Maria Anna Josef' called 'Maria', 'Maria Josef Doris Eva' called 'Doris' or 'Butzi' and 'Maria Josef Anton' called 'Anton' or 'Dony'. Sometimes (in Austria and in Swabia) I have found 'Franz-Joseph' as the common factor of a family.

Some Protestant families have followed the same tradition, often with other names like 'Johan(n)', 'Matthias', 'Karl' and many more ('Jean', 'Matthieu', 'Charles', etc in French).

Until the begnning of the 19th century, an analog tradition is related for Jewish families in which most of the boys were named Suesslein/Suessel, or Hirsch, often both.

If the common given name is not 'Maria' or 'Joseph', it is often the name of an elder family member, mostly a grandfather or a grandmother, by boys, sometimes the name of the father. It is also frequent to reuse the names of a child who died.

These traditions are verified in many countries of Europe. I found they attested in large parts of Germany, of France (not only in Alsace), of Switzerland, of Austria, of Italy.

We like also to tack nicknames to people, sometimes to distinguish them from others with the same surname, but often for fun alone. So in a village near Colmar, we have a Meyer family, a very common surname in Alsace, but the only one in this village. As this Meyer has several times build annexes to his farmhouse, he is known as the 'Sewe Dächle Meyer' (German : 'Sieben Dächlein Meyer', English : 'Meyer with seven roofs'). Another Meyer was many years ago innkeeper 'Zum Ochsen' and always the 'Ochsen Meyer'. A Staub has painted his house in red and so became the 'Rot Staub' (the 'Red Staub'). If you find in documents indication such as 'genannt' (German), 'dit' (French) or 'dictus' (Latin) you have examples of officialized nicknames.

This is an old tradition and perhaps the source of our 'family names'. In a old document (Aargauer Urkunden, Bd IV, N° 57) about one of my ancestors, I find a 700 years old example (1288) of a nickname :

" Rudolf Von Bus, den man Sprichet 'usser Walde' ..."
(modern German : " Rudolf von Bus, genannt 'aus dem Wald' ...")
(French : " Rudolf de Bus, dit 'des bois' ...")
(English : " Rudolf from Bus, said 'out of the wood' ...")

In this document 'von Bus' and 'usser Walde' are utilized as synonyms.

As you see, it is better to forget all you know about first, last and middle names if you handle with our Alsacian, Swiss, German or French names.

And if you don't like to increase the confusion, don't never translate the christian names or the geographical names. Each time you translate names, you gain from mist to fog.

To make serious genealogy and not historical fiction, you need in all things greatest accuracy. It is absolutely necessary to note and verify all the smallest details, to never alterate or translate names, to respect strictly the variable spellings, accents and Umlauts.

Don't forget, that very few of our ancestors could read fluently and not all could also write. So spelling can be very fluctuant and based only on oral transmission ... and on the creativity of the registrars!

Orthography is a relatively new science and in older times spelling was mostly a free phonetically transcription. Many registrars and other pen-pusher knew only Latin and where half illiterates in German or in french. So it is frequent to find at the same time and occasionally in the same text, several spellings for the same word. Indeed the spelling of many words or expressions was not fixed in German and weak in French.

This is true also by geographical names. So for the town of 'Molsheim' in Alsace, you find at the same time (17th century) the spellings 'Molse', 'Molsen', 'Molze', 'Molzen', 'Moltse', 'Moltsen', 'Moltze', 'Moltzen', 'Molsheim', 'Molzheim', 'Moltsheim', 'Moltzheim'. And in our Alsacian dialect, we today say 'Moltse' ! The same creativity can be found less or more for Swiss and for French names, especially if written by Alsacians.

Always try to prove with documents, the correlations you are tempted to make between several spelling variants of a family name or a locality.

By interpreting your documents, please remember that in Europe, we note the dates in a regular order, from the less important to the most important. So we say 'Lundi, le 20 juillet 1998' or 'Montag, den 21. Juli 1998' for 'Monday, the 20th of July 1998'. Your American order 'Month, Day, Year' is for us irregular and very confusing.

If you find an European date, as for example 9.10.1998 or 9.10.98, you must always read '9th of October 1998' and not the '10th of September 1998'.

Be aware that in French (or partially Latin) documents, you can find abbreviations like 7bre (7bris) for septembre (september), 8bre (8bris) for octobre (october), 9bre (9bris) for novembre (november), Xbre (Xbris) for décembre (december).

On Internet, take care also to communicate 8 bits and to use an international ISO alphabet like 8859-1. As an example, the 'Buser' or 'Busser' lineage is not the same as the 'Büsser' or 'Buesser'.

All modern 'Internet Browsers' can be configurated to allow 8 bits. If your computer is too old to support a modern browser, you can always find not too old second hand computers at very low prices... Don't worry about 7-bit transmission on the Internet. Your 8-bits message is automatically translated by the front-end server of your access provider into 'quoted printable', a 7-bits format in which the characters above 127 are expressed by her hexadecimal value. So the French word 'Amitiés' (friendships) is translated in 'Amiti=E9s'. The data are transported packed in the 7-bits format and can transit without difficulties over 20 years old links, reliefs of the primitive 'Arpanet'.

As an example, in the 'source' of your message you can find a cryptic commands like :

X-MIME-Autoconverted: from 8bit to quoted-printable by id VAA19694

for the translation in the ASCII 7-bits format,

Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

for the transmission, and a little later :

X-MIME-Autoconverted: from quoted-printable to 8bit by id MAA23236

meaning that at the other end of the transmission, the front-end server of the destination has reversed the translation. The operations become transparent if the particular e-mail software used at each end, can both handle 8 bits.

Indeed, from time to time it can happen that an error occur and the reverse translation fail. In this case, try to resend your mail.

In Europe, you find often 8-bits transmissions and the command is :

Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit

Another source of confusion can be the many variants a same Christian name can take in the same area.

I have found in 'Allemannisch' speaking countries as Baden-Württemberg, parts of Bavaria, German speaking Switzerland and Alsace many dialectal forms for the Christian name 'Christina' (and more or less near equivalents), so :

for a girl : Christiane, Christianne, Christa, Christina, Chrestel, Christel, Crestel, Cristel, Kristiane, Kristianne, Krista, Kristina, Krestel, Kristel, Stina, Stine, Stini, Stineli, Stinze, Stüdi, Stüdeli

and for a boy : Christian, Christe, Christi, Christeli, Christli, Chrick, Chrigi, Chrigel, Chrigeli, Cristel, Crestel, Kristian, Kriste, Kristi, Kristeli, Kristli, Krick, Krigi, Krigel, Krigeli, Kristel, Krestel, Hischi, Stöffi but Stoffel, Stöffel, Stoffeli, Stöffeli, Stöffi, Stoffil, Steeffi, Hette, Hetto, Hettel are for 'Christoff' (Latin = 'Christophorus').

The very common given name James has many forms and translations in our European many languages : in French, I know Jacques, Jacob, Jacquet, Jacquey, Jacqui, but also Jacquin, Jacquemin, Jacquelot, Jacquelet, Jacquelard, Jacquemot, Jacqueminot, Jacquemier, Jamet, Cottin. Many of these forms are not longer in use or became surnames. For girls we have also Jacquotte and Jacqueline.

In German, you find Jacob, Jakob, Jodocus, Jakobus or Kobus, but it is in Alsacian or in the Swiss German dialects that I know the highest number of forms : Bappi, Beppi, Peppi, Boobba, Boppi, Jäck, Jäckli, Jäcklin, Jagg, Jaggi, Jägsch, Jageli, Jaggili, Joggi, Joggel, Jockel, Jöggel, Joggeli, Jögeli, Jäppi, Jaggeler, Jagschi, Köbel, Kobi, Köbi, Zagge, Hanogg are only the most popular.

In Spanish or Portuguese we have Iacobo, Jaime, Santiago, Jacome, Diego, Dias or Diaz; in Flemish Jacob, Jaak, Jaap or Kobus; in Italian, Giacomo, Giacobi, Giacomini and more.

'Henry' is also very common as a given name or as a surname and has many declinaisons in European languages. Although I don't know all, here a small list :

In French : Henri, Henric, Henrat, Henrich, Henriet, Henrion, Henriot, Henraux, Henrot, Henrotte, Henroutet, Herry, Enrico; in Spanish : Enric, Enrique; in Italian : Enrico.

In Alsacian and other Allemanic dialects (spoken in German Switzerland, Baden, Württemberg, Bayern (Bavaria) and parts of Östereich (Austria)) : Heinrich, Harech, Heinz, Heinzi, Heich, Heichel, Heichi, Heini, Heinel, Heineli, Heiri, Heirech, Heireli, Heirechli, Heiz and more; in High German : Heinrich, Heinz; in Flemish : Hendrick, Hendricks, Hendrickx; in English : Henry, Harry, Harris; in Finnish : Heikki; in Ungarian : Imre

I repeat : translation of names is a major contribution to chaos.

The number of given names is very variable and changing from generation to generation. It is generally between 1 (seldom) and 6 or more (seldom also). Sometimes, we can find someone called by a name that is not within his given names. So I know a François Augustin METZGER everybody call 'Lucas'.


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