First volume of the German Surname Atlas now available

The University of Freiburg and Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz publish globally unique reference work


Researchers working at the University of Freiburg under the supervision of Professor Dr. Konrad Kunze and at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz under Professor Dr. Damaris Nübling have now published the first volume of the German Surname Atlas. For this they have used comprehensive and systematic digital telephone line data to investigate the distribution of surnames in Germany. The publication of the German Surname Atlas has made a new and globally unique reference work available to those studying the German language, such as onomatologists, dialectologists, and linguistic historians, but will also be of value to cultural historians, genealogists, and the general public.

In its more than 800 pages, the recently published first volume of the German Surname Atlas deals with the variation of vowels in surnames. For example, the extent to which German surnames such as Meyer, Baier, Seiler, etc. are spelled with 'ei' or 'ey' or 'ai' or 'ay' is shown. Baier and Bayer occur mostly in the south of Germany, and Beier and Beyer are found mainly in the eastern part of the country. While the 363 maps of this volume show the distribution of names and name groups, the notes to maps provide readers with information on various aspects such as the origin and meaning of the names, the distribution of individual variants, and historical spellings.

Surnames are the single aspect of European languages that is still largely inadequately recorded, probably due to their extreme spatial diversity. Despite the numerous displacement and migration activities of past centuries and the increased mobility of modern times, name landscapes have remained remarkably unchanged since their initial historical development. Even the regional origin of common names can often be precisely pin-pointed. Thus, Baur is found almost exclusively in the Swabian dialect region while those with the name Stoiber tend to be congregated in Eastern Bavaria, and the name Petersen occurs mostly in the far north.

The first volume on vowel variants will be followed by volumes focused on consonantal variants, morphology, on the derivation of surnames from place of origin, place of residence, or profession, on the origin of nicknames, and on the provenance of surnames from forenames. The project, funded by the German Research Foundation, started in early 2005 and should be completed by early 2012.