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In the German surname Voss, can ss be used interchangeably with ß? In Berlin there is a street spelled Voßstraße, which I understand to translate to Voss Street. But I am not sure if someone with this name can use the spellings interchangeably.

  • Somehow relevant to this: daxim's talk about the upper case sz-ligature at the German Perl Workshop 2014 (German). – simbabque Sep 14 '15 at 20:46
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    Fun fact: ß & ss is such a big deal of confusion, that students won't get a mistake in exams if they write ß-words with ss, at least in some German states (like Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate). But other way, writing an ss-word with ß is an no go. – Sempie Sep 15 '15 at 11:07
  • @Sempie Suggested edit: Remove the word ‘Think’ to create a perfectly true sentence. ;) – Jan Sep 16 '15 at 8:26
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    @Sempie: Hast Du eine Quelle für die Behauptung? Wie unterscheidet man "Maße" und "Masse" in Rheinland-Pfalz und Hessen? Heißt die Fernsehsendung deswegen auch 'strassen stars"? – user unknown Oct 20 '15 at 1:39
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    Man übersetzt keine Straßennamen, auch nicht den Straßenteil. – user unknown Oct 20 '15 at 1:40
18

No, personal names are always spelled as they are officially registered on birth. They do not fall under the changes of rules of New German Orthography.(1)

If an ß is not available (on your keyboard), you can use ss instead.(Regel 160)

13

No, they cannot be used interchangeably nowadays. However, spelling used to be less strict, so in older documents you may find several spellings for the same person. Consequently, surnames today often exist in several spellings. There are people called Schulz and people called Schultz. There is Meier and Maier. There is Voss and Voß.

  • Nicht zu vergessen Goethe und Göthe. – user unknown Oct 20 '15 at 1:35
5

No. »ss« can not be changed into »ß«.
But the other way round is possible.

»ss« and »ß« are different.

Die Masse

means »the mass« (physical property as well as lots of things). But

Die Maße

means »the measurements« (i.e. lengths)

And the two exemplary words are spoken different: A vowel before ss is spoken short, but a vowel before ß is spoken long. You can use this rule also to determine if a word must be written with ss or ß:

If the vowel before ss or ß is spoken short, it has to be ss. If it is long, then ß.

All UPPERCASE writing

But there is no uppercase ß. (Some people tried to invent an uppercase-ß, but it is not an official part of German language.) So when you write a word like the name »Voß« in uppercase letters, you have to replace ß by SS. So the all-uppercase version of »Voß« is »VOSS«.

Swiss German

Like British and American English there are also Variations of German language. There are three Variations:

  • German German
  • Austrian German
  • Swiss German

And when talking about ss/ß you have to know that the letter ß is only used in German German and Austrian German. There is no ß in Swiss German. When ever a word would be written with ß in the other variations, it has to be written with ss in Swiss German.

transcription for usage in foreign languages

When you want to use German words in foreign languages that also use Latin letters, it's up to you if you use ß or ss. The more transparent way would be to write the word as it is written in German (i.e. with ß if there is an ß). But often this is a technical problem. And in this case you are allowed to replace ß by ss.

People with an ß in their name who emigrated from a German speaking country to an English speaking country changed their name in the manner that the ß either became sz or ss (sz was the old transcription for ß), and so there might have been an ancestor of you who had the name »Voß« but when he moves to another country he changed his name to »Voss«.

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    "a vowel before ß is spoken long" This is not true for names, or for texts predating the "Rechtschreibreform". For example, the "o" in "Voß" is spoken short. – starblue Sep 14 '15 at 19:15
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    @starblue: 1. I have a friend who's name is »Roszbacher« (with sz!) His Grandfather was named »Roßbacher«. 2. »Eszet« is only in Germany the name of »ß«. Where Austrian German is taught in schools (i.e. in Austria and parts of Italy) the name of this letter is »scharfes S«. – Hubert Schölnast Sep 14 '15 at 20:31
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    Tried to invent is wrong. It was invented and is now recognised in Unicode 5.1. In Germany the official guideline is: "In 2007 DIN and ISO accepted the capital letter ß which is rendered on position 1E9E of the Unicode character tables. In official spelling it must not be substituted by any other letter combination, as e.g. SS, ss." Source: Ständiger Ausschuss für geographische Namen (StAGN) Empfehlungen und Hinweise für die Schreibweise geographischer Namen [...] 5. überarbeitete Ausgabe. – Martin - マーチン Sep 15 '15 at 4:41
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    "Man soll das Bier in Maßen genießen" ... try to avoid replacing the ß here ;-) – Paŭlo Ebermann Sep 15 '15 at 15:33
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    @starblue well, if you look at the origin of the letter, a German s followed by a German z, it is only logical to call it eszett. But I noticed that only in mid-Germany and northern Germany this letter is called eszett. Everyone else calls it scharf ess. – Armin Sep 16 '15 at 2:21
4

You already get a lot of answers with a 'No' (what is the correct answer).

As a side information: If you are a German and you have a name with an ß you can change your name. This is defined in Allgemeine Verwaltungsvorschrift zum Gesetz über die Änderung von Familiennamen und Vornamen (NamÄndVwV), Nr. 38:

Bei Familiennamen mit "ss" oder "ß" sowie bei Familiennamen mit Umlauten ergeben sich häufig Schwierigkeiten durch abweichende Schreibweisen ein und desselben Namens. Können diese Schwierigkeiten nicht nach den Vorschriften des Personenstandsrechts in einer für den Namensträger befriedigenden Form beseitigt werden, so ist eine Namensänderung im allgemeinen gerechtfertigt. Entsprechendes gilt, wenn der Namensträger durch die Schreibweise seines Familiennamens mit "ß" oder mit einem Umlaut im Ausland nicht nur unwesentlich behindert ist.

After this change, the name is written with two s.

There is another rule, that streets should not be named by living persons, so the writing of a street name should not change.

  • Sorry, I forgot. And yes you are right. I modified my answer. – knut Sep 14 '15 at 19:30
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    Even so, Austrians, too, can change their name cheaply for a number of reasons as well (particularly if their name is "difficult to pronounce or to spell"). If the name is not covered by these reasons it's still possible, but much more expensive (ca. 15 € vs. 550 €). I am sure Switzerland has something similar on the books. – Ingmar Sep 15 '15 at 4:57
2

I will answer your question in three parts:

Orthography

With the new German orthography, there is no confusion when to spell a word with ss or ß. The two cannot be used interchangeably.

Note, however, that under new orthography, it should probably be spelled Voss, since the o is short. However, this brings me to part 2:

Names

Names don’t follow the normal rules of orthography. A name is spelled as it is – even if it doesn’t follow the current rules of orthography. It doesn’t change.

This is not a hard and fast rule, though. After a long time, the common spelling of names might change to better fit into the current language, but we’re talking timeframes of several centuries here. Mr. Voß died in 1864, there haven’t been that significant changes since then.

So, for example, when New German Orthography came around, a street named Voßstrasse may have been renamed to Voßstraße, because the a is long, but not Vossstraße, even though the o is short, because Voß is the name of a person and doesn’t usually change.

Personal Experience

My name is Jörg. Period. It doesn’t get spelled any other way. “Joerg” might be acceptable if you are a time-traveller from the 80s. It is not completely wrong, but I find misspelling my name disrespectful. “Jorg” is just plain wrong.

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    With the new German orthography, there is no confusion when to spell a word with ss or ß. – Note that the old rules were pretty clear regarding this as well. However, it was not clear how to pronouce a word ending on ß. – Wrzlprmft Sep 14 '15 at 19:46
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    Even before the 90ies reform "Voßstrasse" would have been wrong, a long a needed an "ß". – Paŭlo Ebermann Sep 15 '15 at 15:37

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