My grandparents last name is Reiss and I was wondering if they lived in Germany would this be spelled with the German ß (szett or sharp s)?
In addition to Korinnas answer:
An eszett in the name may be changed in a legal way in Germany.
One possible precondition if you want to change your name is:
Änderung von Familiennamen (mit „ss" oder „ß")bei denen sich häufig falsche Schreibweisen oder Behinderungen ergeben.
(Source: Landkreis Freising, Translation: You may change 'ss' or 'ß' if it is a source of frequent wrong spelling)
There is also a judgment from 1980 about this: You may change umlauts in your name, because computers can't handle umlauts.
One more information: Every German must carry a Personalausweis (ID-Card). This ID-Card has a machine readable zone inclusing the name. This name does not contain Umlauts, because it must be readable all over the world (there is worldwide agreement about this). So it can happen, that you carry an ID-card, with your name, written with two spellings.
Austria has a similar problem. In the passport, you can include an explanation about this. So you can avoid problems in foreign countries. -- Or you change your name ;)
The general rule is that names do not change when you change countries. If their name is Reiss now, it would also be Reiss if they moved to Germany (while that spelling would be uncommon). If your first name is "Heath" you don't become "Heide" when you move to Germany either ("Heide" would also be a female name - double punishment :-)).
The general rule is (in case you're in doubt whether to use
ß) that after short vowels, a voiceless s is spelt
ss and after long vowels and diphthongs it's spelt
nass, Fluss, essen, müssen, etc.
Fußball, fließen, gießen, Straße, etc.
This rule was only established in 1996. Before that, the rule for voiceless s was as follows:
ß was used:
- at the end of the word (muß, daß, saß)
- at the end of a word in composited words (kußecht, Paßbild)
- before a consonant (paßt, wäßrig, grüßt)
- after an accented long vowel/diphthong (Straße, aß, Fußball)
According to these rules it is possible to have a name that today would be spelt with
ss but is spelt with
ß for historic reasons (like Voß). It is also possible that for historic reasons, the name is spelt with
ss instead of
ß even though this contradicts the current rules - Reiss would be an example for that.
It is also possible that your grandparent's name used to be spelt Reiß but was changed to Reiss when they (or their ancestors) left Germany. If they came back now, it would not be changed.
I agree with Korinna, because after diphthons like "ei", "ai", "eu" and so on, the "double-s" is not common in names. In our grammar system, it is even wrong to write a word with a diphthon and a following double-s.
So, if your grandparent's name is pronounced with a sharp "s", it will be "Reiß". If it is a soft "s", it will be "Reis".
Anyway - it won't matter - like said before, you are free to chose your name and everyone will ask you anyway how your name is written. :-)