I am trying to understand the etymology of the German surname "Schulz".

According to Wiktionary the etymology of Schulz is:


Contraction of the Middle High German equivalent of Schultheiß (“village headman, sheriff”), from schult (“debt”) + heizen (“to order”).


Kontraktion aus Schultheiß, dem Posten des Vorstehers eines Dorfes, der die Abgaben für den Grundherrn einforderte.

In the dictionary of modern German I could not find these two words (schult, heizen) in these meanings... so maybe they are not used in these meanings anymore.

Is there any remote connection between modern German Schule ("school") and Middle High German schult (“debt”)?

I have also noticed that in Middle Dutch, schulen means to take shelter. Any connection?

It is interesting to note that in the US, attending school often requires amassing stupid amounts of debt...

  • 4
    Schuld, Schultheiß and Schule are way older than the American schooling system - It's unlikely there is a connection ;)
    – tofro
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 18:02
  • @tofro But universal free education is also a rather modern invention...
    – rapt
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 18:11
  • You might, by the way, look up heißen (jmd etwas zu tun heißen) in a modern dictionary - That's your "heizen" .
    – tofro
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 18:24
  • It is imanigable that the Dorf-Schulze as one of the learned authorities taught children, a job that has in living memory been covered by church personal often enough, but Germanic people were for the most part not christened. That "school" should derive from a word about "leisure time" is too ironic for my taste.
    – vectory
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 19:20
  • or as my neighbour says: „Die Schule ist an allem Schuld ...“??? Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 21:34

1 Answer 1


Schule derives (just like the English "school") from the Latin "schola".

Schuld or the compound Schultheiß you mention derives according to Grimm from Germanic skulan, which is also a common ancestor of sollen in German as well as shall in English.

Thus those two words are not likely to have a common ancestor.

With regards to the verb schulen, there are actually two manifestations of this verb in German:

schulen - being educated in school (common usage today) or, more generally, made fit for life (this also applies to, for example, trees in a Baumschule but not whales in a Schule von Walen, which is yet another word). This verb is by far the most common of the two and also derives from the Latin schola.

schulen - to look hideously (catch a glimpse, hide your view), also to squint. Regional to northern Germany and probably the same as the middle Dutch verb you mention. Not used commonly and has nothing to do with Schule or Schuld. The common German verb for "to squint" is schielen with the same ancestry.

  • 1
    schulen - to look hideously - I am not sure I understand what you mean, there is more than one way to interpret it... could you please paraphrase it? How is it related to "to be hidden/take shelter"?
    – rapt
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 18:45
  • 2
    A school of fish is "from Proto-Germanic *skulō (“crowd”), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)kʷel- (“crowd, people”)" but the learning "school" is "from Proto-Germanic *skōla (“school”), from Late Latin schola, scola (“learned discussion or dissertation, lecture, school”), from Ancient Greek σχολεῖον (skholeîon), from σχολή (skholḗ, “spare time, leisure; conversations and the knowledge gained through them during free time; the places where these conversations took place”), from Proto-Indo-European *seǵʰ- (“to hold, have, possess”). Influenced by [1] ..."
    – vectory
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 18:54
  • Of course saying "Late Latin" preceding Proto Germanic is a bit misleading.
    – vectory
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 18:56
  • There is no reason to ascribe this word to proto-Germanic. This is wiki-rubbish.
    – fdb
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 21:53

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