Does anyone know the meaning of "au" at the end of a town name e.g. Spandau?

Maybe like English "ea" e.g. Chelsea ( Old English island or eyot ) ??

Thanks John

  • 4
    It is good practice to do some research first on your own, and then, if issue still are open, present them to this forum including your preliminary results. Apr 19, 2017 at 15:31

3 Answers 3


The -au ending in German place names can have many different meanings.

In the north-eastern part of Germany, it is usually a germanised spelling of the originally slavic suffix -ow. The official name of the then independent town (now a district of Berlin) was changed from Spandow to Spandau in 1878. The town originates from a Hevelli (slavic) settlement and the usage of the name Spandow can be dated back to 1197.

In slavic place names, the ending -ow can have different meanings and the exact origin or meaning of Spandau is unknown.


The suffix au has different meanings if it is in the name of a town or a place.

In order to have a broader view on this ending, i will write both of them shortly even if you asked only the ending used in towns.

  1. Place in water

The first meaning describes a place in water (mostly an island) and it comes from germanic suffix ahwõ. If you research a little bit the history of Aachen, you will see that there is a relationship between this suffix with its name. The name of Aachen comes from latein and it simply means Aqua (You can see the similarity between Aqua wirh ahwõ). Another examples are Rheinau and Lindau.

  1. Au in town names

If you see au in town names, it comes from slavic ending -ow -owa -awa. The most famous example is Moscow becomes Moskau. Another example Hanau was Hagenowa in the past.

  • The English and German names of the Russian capital (Moscow/Moskau) are not coming from a slavic name with an -ow ending. They originate from the Old Russian accusative form Moskovĭ (Московь) of the at that time nominative form Mosky (Москы). The current Russian form Moskva (Москва) does not have an -ow ending in any grammatical case.
    – jarnbjo
    Apr 23, 2017 at 10:28

This should come from the word die Aue which means meadow according to Leo.

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    This is only true for place names that definitely have a composite nature, such as "Maximiliansau" (the "Aue" of/called Maximilian). In "Spandau", this is not the case; here, the "au" just appears to be a purely phonetic component without any meaning.
    – ParaDice
    Apr 19, 2017 at 15:23
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    Also note that there is the word "Au", a synonym for "Aue", which is even closer. And "meadow" as a translation is a bit too simple. "Au" is more specific and means "green land near running water", thus a meadow near a river or brook, or on a river island.
    – tofro
    Apr 19, 2017 at 17:02
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    @ParaDice The question asks for the suffix in general and just uses Spandau as an example. I just checked a few other town names ending in -au that I could think of and it appears that several of them are conjectured to originate from "Aue", so I think this is a decent answer although it could use some sources and/or examples. Apr 19, 2017 at 20:43

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