In Walter Isaacson's biography of Henry Kissinger, he writes that his German middle name, Alfred, is "a Germanic updating of Abraham." I haven't been able to find any other evidence of this.

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    The point the biographer was trying to make, I think, is that Henry Kissinger's family substituted Alfred in lieu of his original name Abraham (which would presumably be used among family, close friends, etc.), and not that the name Alfred itself is derived from Abraham. Oct 20, 2022 at 16:37
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    Seconding @BolucPapuccuoglu's point; this is very common with surnames, especially when Jewish people lived in times of antisemitism (most of history) or immigrated to somewhere new (also very frequent).
    – dbmag9
    Oct 20, 2022 at 17:18
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    @BolucPapuccuoglu The offical name in his birth certificate was Heinz Alfred Kissinger. It would be highly unusual that his family used the second name Alfred at all.
    – Paul Frost
    Oct 20, 2022 at 17:34

3 Answers 3


That does not seem to be the usual derivation, but rather a compound of two old German words, 'alb' and 'rad' (according to Wikipedia or Wiktionary):

From Old English Ælfrǣd, from ælf (“elf”) and rǣd (“counsel”). Doublet of Alfredo.

or in the German version:

Der Name geht ursprünglich auf den altdeutschen Namen Alfrad zurück. Dieser besteht aus den beiden althochdeutschen Worten alb für „Naturgeist“ und rad für „Ratgeber“.

That said: if he gives the derivation for his name, it might still be the assumption under which his name has been chosen by his parents.


A lot of Jewish folks have a Hebrew name used in synagogue; often there is an English (or German, or French, etc.) name too. Sometimes it's a straight cognate -- "Joseph" for "Yosef" or the like; but it's also not uncommon to go with something close-sounding. If you meet a Jewish "Mark", odds are he is "Mordechai" at worship; "Marc" is usually "Moshe." (Don't ask me why.)

I think the author was just indicating that the namesake was an "Abraham" (or actually "Avraham"), but in the local language they picked something close enough so ... "A is for Alfred", sure. Stuff like that happens all the time.

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    Good point, and mirrors my experience - the number of "English" names that correspond to "Miryam" is huge. This does mean that Isaacson's use of "updating" is really bad writing.
    – JonathanZ
    Oct 20, 2022 at 16:15
  • It is pure speculation to understand Alfred as a "reminiscence" to the Hebrew name Abraham. Nobody knows the reasons why his parents chose the name Alfred, but imo it is more likely that it was an indication for "Jewish assimilation". Quote from here translated via DeepL: Most Jews in the German Empire tried to integrate. They lived and worked together with the Germans. For generations they had been connected to this country and were respected businessmen. Quite a few barely practiced their religion. They tried to adapt.
    – Paul Frost
    Oct 30, 2022 at 16:35
  • This can be seen not only in the fact that many Jews volunteered for World War I, but also in the decision of many Jewish parents to give their children original German first names, such as Siegfried or Christian. "Through quantitative analysis of given names, it is possible to examine a central question for the Jews that does not arise at all for the Christians: the question of acculturation, adaptation, perhaps even assimilation to the to the majority society."
    – Paul Frost
    Oct 30, 2022 at 16:36

I have trouble believing this, too.

I don't have any reputable sources, but according to a web site about baby names, Alfred goes back to the Anglo-Saxon king Alfred the Great aka Ælfred, who according to Wikipedia was the son of king Æthelwulf, and his brothers were named Æthelbald, Æthelberht and Æthelred. "Æthel" was a prefix that meant "noble" (modern German: "edel"). I don't know whether "Ælfred" is a shorter version of "Æthelfred" or if there really is a connection to "Ælf" (elf, fairy), but given the no-nonsense names of his relatives, the former seems more credible to me.

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