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Americans with Odd German Names

The largest ethnic group in the U.S. is Germans. However, they all came to the U.S. generations ago, and have since completely assimilated, to the extent that many don't even know they're German.

The country teems with Knapps, Schroeders, Schneiders (sometimes Anglicized to Snyder or Snider), among others. This website lets you check the geographic distribution of names all over the U.S.; you can see how common Schneiders are, for instance.

And that's just the Anglo-Saxons. There are also plenty of Jews, many of whom carry decorative names they received in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries: Himmelfarb, Rosenthal, Goldberg, Weinstein, Goldstein, etc. They tend to stick to the coasts, as this map 'o the Weinsteins shows you.

But my topic today is ordinary Americans with strange or enchanting (apparently) German surnames. A few examples:

That's all I can think of off the top of my head (which is all you get in a blog), but I'll try to add more as time permits.


  • Susan Ficken notes in comments that she's not quite a professor yet.
  • How could I possibly have forgotten Charles Krauthammer?! The name is so expressive, especially of his approach to foreign policy, on which he has plenty of modest, well-thought out opinions that have helped the Bush Administration usher in the era of peace and stability we're now enjoying.
  • For non-German speakers, I should say that some of these names could be translated in amusing ways. We'll leave Susan to one side for a moment, and concentrate on Sinnreich, which I'll translate as 'Kingdom of the Senses,' and Roehrkasse, which could mean 'pipe-cash register.'


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My last name is Schmook. I know that my Great-Great Grandfather, John Schmook, came from Prussia and settled very successfully in Springfield, MO around 1860:


What I can't figure out is the true origin of the name, "Schmook". One the one hand, I understand that in German, it means "jewelry", but is spelled "Schmuck", and with two "O's" in the middle, has a Dutch spelling. I've also heard that it can mean "smoke". On the other hand, "Schmuck" is Yiddish for "family jewels" and is obviously a derogatory expression. There is no mention of any Jewish history in my family, but that could easily have been kept hidden, unfortunately. I've seen that the name Schmook goes back in Germany to the 15th Century, but cannot find any further details.


Does anyone know how I might find the truth about the origin of my family's name? I can't quite figure out how to work the German search engines for answers either, so if anyone has advice on that as well, it would be appreciated.

Thank you!

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Das "-reich" in "Sinnreich" hat nichts mit "Reich" zu tun, sondern läßt sich ähnlich wie "-voll" mit "-ful" übersetzen. "Sinnreich" würde man wortwörtlich als "senseful" übersetzen. Angeblich wären die besten Übersetzungen "clever" und "ingenious". Die Synonyme deuten darauf hin, dass man das Wort (wie so oft) je nach Kontext anders im Englischen ausdrücken muss. Es gibt übrigens tatsächlich den Ausdruck "Im Reich der Sinne". Auch das wäre nicht gut mit "empire...", sondern mit "realm of senses" direkt übersetzt.


Oops: I meant for you to check this: http://genforum.genealogy.com/nau/messages/57.html


>Posted by: Hattie | November 17, 2007 at 07:39 PM
>I have just discovered that my family name was originally Nau. Going mad trying to find origins ie French or German and where in France or Germany the name originates Please help! Thank you

Dig in the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fischbach region possibly. Don't forget that there are plenty of French citizens with Germanic blood, such as in Alsace, etc.


Oops, Taylor's a he, not a she. Why can't these people use proper first names... At least we can be pretty sure this Taylor isn't an anglicised Schneider.


What about actress Taylor Kitsch? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taylor_Kitsch

@Pat: What about Bad Nauheim? (Bad meaning "spa town" in this German place name rather than "the opposite of good"). This would literally translate as "home of the Nau".

PS: The "Bad" pun is especially wild in the nice place name of "Bad Wildbad". Who would want to spend a holiday in a town that is twice as bad as wild?


I had a German professor named Langhammer. I think he left Germany to escape the ridicule!


I have just discovered that my family name was originally Nau. Going mad trying to find origins ie French or German and where in France or Germany the name originates Please help! Thank you

susan ficken

Yes, I know what my name means in German.
My father, when he was in the Army, used to wink and say 'Yes, and I try to live up to it!', but somehow that goes over better for a man than a woman.

P.S. I'm not a professor yet, but rather a grad student/instructor. Might want to update your post. :)


There is one other prominent name missing on this list: Donald Rumsfeld. It's not only a funny german name but also a talking name (?) (sprechender Name). It means: a field where things explode ...


Well, Ficken, apart from describing an activity, is a normal german name, altough I suspect quite a few of the bearers change it due to uneasyness ;-)


This is the best: Cajus Julius Caesar, MdB a.D. (CDU)
Now that is a name for a Bundeskanzler, he could had reestablish the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations. ;)


If you want to have a good time, visit www.echtenamen.de

Und was Städte angeht: was ihr Amis könnt, können wir auch. Wir haben Neu Boston (Brandenburg), Amerika (Sachsen), Neu England (Niedersachsen) und Neuamerika (Sachsen).


Re: Schneider(sometimes Anglicized to Snyder or Snider)

Snyder is a dutch surname. Sometimes it's spelled Snijder which could give Snider in America. That being said, I wonder how many immigrants went all the way from Schneider to Taylor?
What about american cities/towns with german names/references? My favourite: King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.


I would add former New York Yankee second baseman Chuck Knoblauch and current Washington Nationals first baseman Robert Fick.

Nicolae Carpathia

Hey, why didn't you mention Charles Krauthammer?


Yes, Hammel sounds pretty much like a German name as well.
However, I would like to know if Ms. Ficken knows what her name means in German... ;)


I would add: Feuilletonist Andrew Hammel

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