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In rural areas of Switzerland, owners of houses put their surname on the front of the house.

What is this wooden name-sign called in English and German, and what is this custom and the act of doing it called?

Why do German-speaking people do this, when did they start doing it, and does it prevail in modern construction?

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    This Wikipedia article (in German) seems relevant. There are even two pictures of (what I assume are) typical examples. You can also have a nickname for a house which has nothing to do with the name of the people living there; this is done in England as well.
    – RDBury
    Feb 2, 2022 at 1:28

1 Answer 1

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I don't think, that the sign itself has a special name, but the the name itself has a special vocabulary.

  • Switzerland: Hausname
    • Can be an optional part of a postal address.
  • Bavaria (southern Germany): Also Hausname
    • See comment of guidot below.
  • Austria: Vulgoname (Vulgo = umgangssprachlich = colloquial)
    • Usually not part of an address, but often part of the nicknames of the building's occupants (especially in multi-generation family homes and yards).
  • The scientific term seems to be Genanntname, but I never heard that in common parlance.

  • The names itself were recorded in the late middle ages ( 1250 to 1500 ) when surnames/family names were recorded as well. Some people got their family name based on their profession (Müller, miller), some based on their property (Stoffbauer, owner of a textile producing farm).

  • We do this because you sometimes refer to the location of the building and its occupants and sometimes you refer to the family owning the building.
    • In the past all people (not only the owners) working in a farm, a restaurant or a hotel also lived there. You buy milk from "building name", but you write a letter to the owner's family by "family name".
  • In the beginning owner's family name and building name matched, but all got mixed up when family names changed due to marriage (historically especially when the sole inheritor was female, as it was customary for the wife to change her surname to the husbands's surname) or if the property got sold.
    • For restaurants and hotels the house's name often became the business' name too, also regardless of the family name of the people living in the same building.

  • You wouldn't define a building name in modern constructions, street numbers replaced that.

Quotes

Hausname (Schweiz) - Vulgoname (Österreich): Namen für Bauwerke verschiedenster Art, vor allem Wohnhäuser, Gasthäuser und Amtshäuser in den Städten, und Bauerngüter (Gehöfte, Höfe) auf dem Lande. In der Schweiz dürften Hausnamen, welche nicht Adressbestandteil sind, als optionaler Adresszusatz (im Gegensatz zu Österreich) eher eine untergeordnete Rolle spielen.

Ein Genanntname, auch Vulgoname, ist ein Name, bei dem der Hausname aufgrund der Bindung an einen Bauernhof oder seltener ein Haus den wirklichen Namen einer Person überlagerte oder ihm beigefügt wurde.

Sources

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    Hausnamen are also used in some (more rural) regions, e.g. in Bavaria (Germany), see DWDS.
    – guidot
    Feb 2, 2022 at 8:09
  • Hausnamen is the plural so why don't the Swiss use it?
    – user610620
    Feb 2, 2022 at 17:06
  • What do you mean? In German dictionaries you usually use the most basic form of a word (i.e. the singular). If you heard a different word, try to write down what you have heard, I'll have a look if I find a Swiss dialect expression.
    – Philipp
    Feb 2, 2022 at 17:11
  • namen is plural of name
    – user610620
    Feb 2, 2022 at 17:16
  • Yes. And giswiki.hsr.ch/Hausname is used in Switzerland to refer to a building's name. -- If you put it on a wooden sign that would probably be called Hausnamensschild -- That said you might look for a regional word for Hausname.
    – Philipp
    Feb 2, 2022 at 17:17

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