29 German Last Names and Meanings

29 German Last Names and Meanings

There are about 100 to 150 million people of German descent all around the world. 

People of German ethnicity share a common language and have many similar cultural traits. One thing that many people of German descent have is that they have a German last name that has a specific meaning, often time referencing something about their ancestry.

In this post, we’re going to look at some of the most common and interesting German names that you might encounter in your travels. It’s important for you to learn these names and how to pronounce them as, learning and remembering someone’s name is important if you want to build a real friendship among German speakers.

German last names and their meanings: How did they come about?

German family names only really came into being in the Middle Ages, from about the 12 century up. They were basically used as a way to differentiate people and family groups. 

Many traditional German last names and their meanings are self-explanatory. They translate to a specific job or occupation. For example, a Schneider in German is a tailor, so this meant that the family that first started using this last name were engaged in the tailoring trade. 

Last names that point to an occupation are the most common types of German last names. While some of these occupations don’t exist anymore, the name they inspired is often quite common.

For example, the family name Meier (sometimes also spelled Mayer or Meyer), used to refer to a high-ranking peasant who supervised the property of his baron. This job description doesn’t exist anymore, but the family name is still quite common.

Another common way that family names were determined, was to reference were a family originally came from. Like, Böhm for someone who came from Bohemia. Finally, there are German family names that referred to a certain trait that the family members were supposed to share, like Kraus which means “curly-haired”.

Most Common German Last Names And Their Meanings

According to Forebears there are 1,040,775 unique surnames in Germany. The most common German surname is Müller after that is Schmidt and Schneider. Let’s take a closer look at these three surnames and a few more that are among the most common German last names.

1. Müller

Pronounced: m-UH-ler

Meaning: Miller

This is the most common German-surname and it is one of those that is derived from a profession or occupation. Around 945,000 people in Germany were called Müller, while around 73,000 live in Switzerland.

It is also sometimes spelled as “Möller”.

2. Schmidt

Pronounced: sh-mih-t

Meaning: Blacksmith, metal worker

This is another of those German last names and meanings that refer to an occupation. In this case, it refers to someone who works in metal. It’s usually associated with blacksmiths, though it could also refer to a goldsmith or someone else who worked with metals.

Most people with this last name are found in Germany (712,881), though there are also around 198,000 people with this last name in the United States. 

Common variations to the spelling of this name are “Schmitz” and “Schmid”.

3. Schneider

Pronunciation: SHN-EYE-der

Meaning: Tailor

This is the third most common German surname, with around 753,727 people bearing this last name all over the world. It is also an occupation-based surname, basically translating to tailor. 

Most people called Schneider, around 437, 827, found in Germany. The second highest incident of this family name is in the United States (141,839).

It may also be spelled as “Schröder”.

4. Fischer

Pronunciation: Fisha

Meaning: Fisherman

This is another of those German last names and meanings which refer to the occupation of your ancestors. Most people with this surname are found in Germany, the United States, Switzerland, and Austria.

5. Weber

Pronunciation: v-AI-ber

Meaning: Weaver

This German surname originally referred to people who were engaged in the business of weaving.

6. Meyer

Pronunciation: m-AA-yer

Meaning: Overseer

As we mentioned, some German surnames may refer to an occupation that no longer exists. This is a prime example of that because it refers to a farmer who was put in charge by a baron to oversee their lands.

It may not be a valid occupation, but it’s still a pretty common German last name, with 751,243 people around the world called “Meyer” or a variation of such.

7. Wagner

Pronunciation guide: v-AA-g-ner

Meaning: Wainwright

Again, this German last name refers to an occupation that was quite important in the Middle Ages but is no longer needed or done today.

A wainwright was a wagon builder. They built or repaired a specific type of four-wheeled, horse-drawn wagon known as a wain.

8. Becker

Pronunciation: beh-kuhr

Meaning: Baker

The most common meaning associated with this German surname is for the job title of “baker” or someone who bakes. However, certain families that originate from Northern Germany carry this name to denote a “point of origin.”

In northern Germany, a creek or a brook is a “bach” or a “beck”. So, people with this family name were people who lived near a brook.

9. Schulz

Pronunciation: sh-UU-lts

Meaning: Sheriff

This last name is derived from the term used in medieval Germany to denote a municipal official. Oftentimes, the main duty of this official was to collect taxes and enforce the laws in the area.

10. Hoffman

Pronunciation: h-AW-f-men

Meaning: Official

This word describes a minor official. The duties were similar to either a steward or a courtier. As a steward, families who were assigned these duties represented and governed an area under the auspices of the ruler. As a courtier, this person actually attended a ruler at court.

It is sometimes spelled with just one “f” so, “Hofmann”.

Other common German family names and their meanings

So, the 10 most common German surnames are the ones we enumerated above, there are, however here a few other names that you might encounter.

While some of these names are also derived from occupation (like the top ten most common German surnames) were going to add some other surnames here that have to do with a trait or else a point of origin.

1. Brandt

Pronunciation: bramt

Meaning: Burnt

Someone with the surname Brandt was originally someone who came from or lived near the “burnt area”. It was an agricultural practice to burn certain areas to clear them for planting. 

2. König

Pronunciation: k-AA-nihg

Meaning: King

This is the German word for king, so someone who carries this surname likely has some royal blood in them from somewhere. 

3. Klein

Pronunciation: k-lay-n

Meaning: small or short

This is one of those German last names and meanings that refer to a certain trait that a family is supposed to have. In this case, the trait is being small or short.

4. Schäfer

Pronunciation: shay-fer

Meaning: Shepherd

Sometimes also spelled as “Schaefer”, this German last name refers to someone who kept or looked after sheep.

5. Lange

Pronunciation: Langhe

Meaning: Long

Sometimes spelled as “Lang”, this German surname is meant to refer to someone who is “long” or, in other words, a tall person.

6. Neumann

Pronunciation: NOY-muhn

Meaning: New man

This German family name derives from the term “new man”. It was probably initially used to describe someone who was new to an area or had just moved somewhere.

7. Zimmerman

Pronunciation: z-IH-mer-muhn 

Meaning: Carpenter

This is another German last name that refers to someone’s occupation. In this case, it is someone who builds’s things with wood or a carpenter.

8. Richter

Pronunciation: rick-ter

Meaning: Judge

This is the German term for a judge, so someone bearing this surname had ancestors who were part of the judiciary. 

9. Kraus

Pronunciation: kr-OW-s

Meaning: Curly-haired

This is another German last name that refers to a trait that your ancestors and possibly you share, curly hair.

10. Schreiber

Pronunciation: shr-YE-ber

Meaning: Scribe

This German last name refers to someone who writes for a living, a scribe. This is a little different from a writer – someone who creates art like poetry or a novel – rather it’s someone who writes and records important things down. So more like a clerk.

11. Braun

Pronunciation: br-aa-oo-n

Meaning: Brown

A family that bears this German surname is likely known for having brown or dark hair.

12. Krüger

Pronunciation: KROO-guhr

Meaning: Tavern or innkeeper

Also sometimes spelled as “Kruger” or “Krueger”, this is the German term to refer to someone who owns and tends to a tavern or an inn.

13. Lehmann

Pronunciation: lai-muhn

Meaning: Vassal

This is another German family name meant to refer to a farmer who toiled under the auspices of a baron or other ruler. 

14. Schwarz

Pronunciation: shw-AW-rts

Meaning: black-haired

If you bear this German family name, you’re likely to have this trait in common with your ancestors.

15. Schubert

Pronunciation: sh-OO-bert

Meaning: Shoemaker

This German family name refers to the occupation of a cobbler or shoemaker. This is sometimes also spelled as “Schuster” or “Schumacher”.

16. Frank

Pronunciation: fr-ae-nk

Meaning: The Franks

The Franks were Germanic people who mostly occupied the area between the Lover Rhine and the Ems River. People bearing this family name were likely from that area and are descendants of the Franks.

This is sometimes also spelled as “Franke”

17. Berger

Pronunciation: buhr-guhr

Meaning: Resident of the mountain

This German last name derives its meaning from the area where people bearing the name came from. “Berg” is the German term for “mountain” or hill, so a “Berger” was someone who lived in the mountains or came from the hills. 

18. Böhm

Pronunciation: bown

Meaning: From Bohemia

This German last name was usually given to people who originally came from Bohemia.

19. Roth

Pronunciation: r-AW-th

Meaning: Red-haired

This German last name refers to a trait that the family was supposed to have, red hair. 

 Conclusion

Some of the first and most important German phrases that every beginner needs to know usually have something to do with how to properly introduce yourself. 

Learning to properly recognize and understand German last names is essential for you to remember the people you are being introduced to and help convert acquaintances into friends and useful contacts.

How did German last names and their meanings come about?

German family names only really came into being in the Middle Ages, from about the 12 century up. They were basically used as a way to differentiate people and family groups. Many traditional German last names and their meanings are self-explanatory. They translate to a specific job or occupation. For example, a Schneider in German is a tailor, so this meant that the family that first started using this last name were engaged in the tailoring trade. Last names that point to an occupation are the most common types of German last names. While some of these occupations don’t exist anymore, the name they inspired is often quite common. For example, the family name Meier (sometimes also spelled Mayer or Meyer), used to refer to a high-ranking peasant who supervised the property of his baron. This job description doesn’t exist anymore, but the family name is still quite common. Another common way that family names were determined, was to reference where a family originally came from. Like, Böhm for someone who came from Bohemia. Finally, there are German family names that referred to a certain trait that the family members were supposed to share, like Kraus which means “curly-haired”.

What are the Most Common German Last Names And Their Meanings?

1. Müller, 2. Schmidt, 3. Schneider, 4. Fischer, 5. Weber, 6. Meyer, 7. Wagner, 8. Becker, 9. Schulz, 10. Hoffman

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