The question I have is probably a bit strange. It is about my name, more specifically my second name. My second name has the following form: <nachname1>+ genannt +<nachname2>.

Two second names connected by a verb. The only information I have got about this construct is nachname1 is my "true" "Familienname/family name" and nachname2 is the "Hofname/farm name". Most people do not know how to handle such a name, so they call me by my nachname1 and completely ignore the verb and with that nachname2.

Where does this form of surname come from?


2 Answers 2


I know this construct from the region where my ancestors came from (eastern part of Styria in Austria). But instead of »genannt« the latin word »vulgo« is used. »Vulgo« means »commonly«, »generally« or »usually«, but is used here in the sense of »usually named«.

This is an examle for such a name:

Johann Gruber vulgo Jungerder

In other regions of German speaking countries it might be, that »genannt« is used.

Johann Gruber genannt Jungerder

The origin of this names is the medieval epoch, or maybe even before, the migration period. In those time people had no family names. But the granges and farms where they lived had names. So when it came to tell apart two people who had the same given name, but who lived at different farms, then the name was build as <given name> from <name of the farm>.

Walther von der Vogelweide

Aristocratic names were build using the same scheme, where the farm name was replaced by the name of a castle

Rudolf von der Habichtsburg = Rudolf von Habsburg

In later times family names developed parallel to the farm names. So people had a given name, a family name and a farm name.

Wolfgang Schmied vom Steinhof

The given name was given by the parents, the family name was inherited from the fathers family name, and the farm name was the name of the farm where someone was born and grew up, or, in case of farmhands and servants, where they worked (and therefore lived).

In case of aristocrats the farm/castle name mutated to the family name:

Otto Habsburg

Nowadays the modern names in German spoken countries are build only from the given name(s) (many people have more two or given names, but everybody has at least one) and the family name. Most people even don't have a farm name, but if they have one, it is not part of the official name. So in official documents the farm name (if there is any) is not used.

But even in 21st century there still are rural regions, where the owners of old farms are known to their neighbors not under their official family name, but under their farm name.

  • 4
    "So in official documents the farm name is not used." Not true, I've seen Genanntnamen in German passports.
    – nwellnhof
    Jul 5, 2015 at 0:14
  • jupp in my case my official name is written on my ID card and obviously passport too. so like @nwellnhof mentioned that is definitely possible. But maybe it is just an Exception in my case and in few other cases.
    – ExOfDe
    Jul 5, 2015 at 9:29
  • 2
    @ExOfDe These "genannt" or "vulgo" names come from regions (e.g., Westphalia), where at some time people already had family names, but where it was still common to call them by their farm name. So "Johann Meier genannt Müller" was officially named "Johann Meier", but because he lived on the Müller farm, everybody in his village called him "Johann Müller". To avoid misunderstandings, in official documents the combined name "Meier genannt Müller" was used.
    – Uwe
    Jul 6, 2015 at 16:41

Genannt (alias, referred-to as, so-called) is one of many particles which may connect two names when due to a conflict of naming traditions a person's name is not totally clear. To understand this, we need some background. I believe the most important such traditions (not in order of importance) are the following:

  1. One can inherit a family name from one's father.
  2. One can inherit a family name from one's mother if her name is different and for some reason more relevant or more attractive.
  3. People keep their family names for their entire lives.
  4. A wife adopts her husband's family name.
  5. In a marriage, the more important of the two family names is preserved.
  6. An adopted child gets the adopter's family name.
  7. Everyone in the family operating a certain farm / estate has the same name.
  8. Everyone holding a certain office has the same name.
  9. Nobility has special rules for inheritance of titles which may contradict official rules for family names. E.g., a title/name may be unique and inherited by a distant relative when the previous holder dies, or may be tied to the father and vanish upon marriage.
  10. One may be granted the right to a certain name, or a title of nobility.
  11. Artists may acquire a pseudonym in one way or another.

Today's naming rules in Germany are very strict (a Napoleonic tradition, I believe). In case of strong traditions such as estate names in Westphalia, it is still possible that the official name on the passport differs from the name under which a person is generally known. There is a (rarely used) special field for aliases on German identity cards and passports. While the Anglo-Saxon principle that you can acquire a name by using it long enough does not hold in Germany, there are special rules permitting a change of name by adoptees, or to a name connected with a farm / estate or a company. Of course the details of name law have changed repeatedly in the centuries since Germany got the Napoleonic system. (But since the abolition of nobility, German name rules intentionally ignore the inheritance rules for names that originate in titles of nobility except for conventional gender adjustments. Austria is more lax in general but the question of gender adjustments traditionally doesn't even arise because it abolished titles without turning them into names.)

If a person officially has the family name A but is generally known by the family name B, it makes sense to refer to them as, e.g., "A genannt B", "A vulgo B" or just "A B" or "A-B". In the frequent case of estate names, variations such as "A an B", "A zu B" or "A von B" were also often used. It could then occur that not just the name B but one of these combinations became the official family name at some point.

I do not personally know a modern case of this, though I am sure that the phenomenon still exists in some regions with a strong tradition of farm names. I do know someone whose family acquired a name along with a farm only about two generations ago, but following tradition, they gave up their original name.

The specific connection using genannt seems to be very rare. You can search for it in telephone directories. In Berlin I found no more than 11 entries for names including genannt and 2 (for a single person) with vulgo. (Hamburg, Frankfurt and München each have only 1 or 2 instances each.) It doesn't seem to be significantly more common in Westphalia (only one such entry in Münster). Since Hubert Schölnast specifically mentioned eastern Styria, I also tried Graz. It has no instance of genannt but 4 of vulgo (including one of the puzzling form "A vulgo A"), which seems quite significant when compared to German cities.


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