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Did Not Progress Beyond 1979

When Your German Surname Mocks You

One of the many advantages of learning German is that I can return to the United States and inform the 50 million Americans of German ancestry what their last names mean. All these Totenbergs, Fickens, Himmelfarbs, Rosenthals, Koenigs, Knapps, Wagenknechts, Sensenbrenners, Schwarzkopfs, and Schoenemanns are usually blissfully unaware that their last names mean something (or at least imply something) in German.

Sometimes, the results are shock and dismay, other times bemusement. Heck, I could probably turn a profit from offfering this service.What made me think of this was an article in the American online magazine Salon about celebrities who are atheists, a group which apparently includes Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Keira Knightley, and Julianne Moore. (Almost all the celebrities mentioned in the article are American, by the way).

The author, apparently an atheist herself, says 'As I watch the Academy Awards each year, I’m always left wondering: Aren’t there any atheist celebrities? ... Regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s awards ... the presence of many of these performers on the red carpet is certainly something to celebrate.'

The author's name: Laura ... Gottesdiener.*

* Literally, 'servant of God'. To add insult to injury, it's the male form of the noun, too.


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Christian Boulanger

I love this one: A Jazz pianist called Eyran Katsenelenbogen ( Would be very interesting to find out how the family got its name...


Further to the "Ferguson" story, Check out the name of the officer in this story:


What if these are your gynaecologists?


These names are fun. But it gets rather difficult when the pronounciation of your name has a meaning in another language. Just think about all the guys called Jörg travelling in English speaking countries. Or someone named Bernd Kund.



The Ferguson/vergessen story is a spoof. It's a gaelic name, cf. the wikipedia entry.
And I don't think it's a good story. Why would an immigrant state that he forgot his name?


@Notger: Maybe the agents gave that name to those German immigrants who forgot their last names (probably children and those who didn't want someone to follow them to the US for whatever reason). The name Fergus, however, is Gaelic in origin.


I went to a gynecologist once in Toronto whose name was Nadel (although he was no surgeon).

Unfortunately, I only noticed this after the fact as his staff kept pronouncing his name with the emphasis on the second syllable.


I was once told, that the name "Ferguson", which also exists in the UK, is a german name too.

When asked their name by the immigration office of the US, some Germans would answer "vergessen", meaning "forgotten", but the officials would understand "Ferguson". Thus they would come to their new name.

I don't know wether this is a myth or truth, but it is a good story nevertheless.


Deceased Czech politician Jiří Dienstbier of course had an exceptionally cute surname.ří_Dienstbier

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