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I was told that “Altenbaugh” is loosely translated as old tree, or something like that. Is that accurate?

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    Translations of last names is sometimes not really possible. My last name is Makulik and probably some polish / slawonian root, though there's no real meaningful "translation". The closest we got with research of some of my family members was "Mohnbauer", but there was no certain source for nailing onto that. – πάντα ῥεῖ Apr 26 '19 at 14:17
  • urbandictionary says Baugh is "A Celtic surname that comes from the Welsh word "bach" for tiny." – npst Apr 26 '19 at 15:19
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    I think that name was Altenbach initially but as English speakers had problems pronouncing the German -bach, one of the ancestors replaced it with -baugh which is an English version of the Welsh -bach. So the meaning was old creek initially. – Janka Apr 26 '19 at 15:20
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    The problem is that there was a time when most people did not know how to spell their own name. So the first recorded spelling is a guess. People could have used the same spelling baugh for people with different origins, either Germanic or Celtic, as there are plausible etymologies either way. If it is Celtic it could be Altbeg (small stream in Scots Gaelic) which actually exists in more than one place, see here and here. – David Robinson Apr 27 '19 at 15:36
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    I'm under the impression that Onomastics is a bit like reading tea leaves, if names are prone to corruption, or rather seeing figures in the stars. There are just too many, they change place a lot, and some come from too far away. (Adding something constructive:) Bauch (belly) would work, if it's an anatomic name, and alt may mean big, grown; Because gh does correlate with ch often enough (e.g. light, licht), though perhaps not after o or au – vectory Apr 27 '19 at 20:05
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It's hard to answer this question without knowing the place where this name occurs.

Regarding German words, then only the first half is translatable: "Alten" is a form of "alt" and means in deed "old". But "baugh" has no german equivalent.

But (inspired by the comments) I also found a website which gives detailed explanations of names. Unfortunately the whole name "Altenbaugh" can not be found, but its two halves. According to this website

  • "alten" comes from the Old English awiell, which means enclosure or settlement.
  • "baugh" was initally a nickname for a small or short man, derived from the Welsh word "bach," which means "little".

So in conclusion it seems that the surename "Altenbaugh" can loosely be translated as "tiny settlement".

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The person who told you that simply guessed that "alten" is German (and means old) and that baugh might be related to German Baum (=tree).

I think that the person is right with alten, but I would be surprised, if German "Baum" had changed to "-baugh". Like Janka and others I priviledge another word as source: Bach (in German) or beek (in Dutch) which could have become "-baugh" after anglicisation. The name would mean something like "old creek".

Today there exist at least two Altenbach in Germany (in Saxony and Baden-Wurttemberg). A Saxon settlement in England could have been named the same and become "Altenbaugh" in the course of time. It's also possibly that a German immigrant with name Altenbach is at the origin of the surname Altenbaugh.

(This is my guess, which is only slightly better than what the person told you.)

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