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)?

  • Mit Reiß und Reiss wäre die Frage leicht selbst zu beantworten gewesen. Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 3:29
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    Concerning the titualar question, there even are first names with an ß, e.g., this guy’s.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 14:38
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    Many names have local alternatives and are written different in different roots. Sometimes it's just a little difference like Heß - Voss, sometimes there are bigger differences like Maier - Meyer. However, never touch the spelling of a name, unless you aren't able to bring a needet sign. In that case it's legit to use ss instead of ß, ae for ä, oe for ö, ue for ü. But none of them in the other way!
    – jawo
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 11:12

4 Answers 4


Maybe it would be Reiß. My lastname ends with ß, but there are also varieties of my lastname ending with ss.

Some other examples, where both ways are common:

  • Heß - Hess
  • Voß - Voss

and so on.

In Germany, with a lastname like this, you always get asked, if it is written with double s or eszett.

  • I think Hess and Voss are bad examples, because the vowel is short in both cases, but I think the idea is right, both are possible and the spelling depends of the rules of the first writing. As I see now, the ß letter started to exist in 15th century de.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Wolf
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 9:22

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 ;)

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    Interesting. Now, why one would change the name because a freaking computer couldn't handle umlauts is beyond me :-) Commented Aug 7, 2012 at 13:29
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    @jpkrohling I added some more information. If you get problems each time you enter a foreign country, because your passport/ID-card has two different names, then you may think about a name change. The judgement I mentioned was a person who had problems with his business, because letters he received were addressed to somebody else and he needed always to show, that he is the same person, there are only two versions of writing his name.
    – knut
    Commented Aug 7, 2012 at 18:08
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    It's not true, that Germans have to carry an ID-Card. That's a common myth. But you must possess an identification document (ID-Card or passport). Also I do have an umlaut in my name (ö) and also on my ID-Card it's spelled with ö. The bigger problem of german names is with the ß, since it sometimes being missinterpreted as B. Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 12:32
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    Always this discussions about carrying an ID card ;) You don't need to carry a ID-Card, but you must be able to "ausweisen". And without an ID-card its difficult.
    – knut
    Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 13:02
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    @HubertSchölnast Also on the bottom of your ID-Card? (starts with IDD followed by >>>>). I found an example of a Jörg. Jörg becomes JOERG.
    – knut
    Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 10:58

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 or ß) that after short vowels, a voiceless s is spelt ss and after long vowels and diphthongs it's spelt ß.

For example:

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. :-)


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