The KLEIN Family Centre - 18th Century German Naming Customs

18th Century German Naming Customs

  1. At baptism, if two given names were given to the child, the first given name was a spiritual, saint's name. The second given name was the secular or call name, which is the name the person was known by, both within the family and to the rest of the world. This custom was originally adopted in Germanic and other regions in Europe from Roman Catholic tradition and continued by the Protestants in their baptismal naming customs. The immigrants from these areas brought the custom with them. The spiritual name, usually to honor a favorite saint, was used repeatedly and was usually given to all the children of that family of the same sex. Thus the boys would be Johan Adam Klein, Johan George Klein, etc., or Philip Peter Klein, Philip Jacob Klein, etc. Girls would be named Anna Barbara Klein, Anna Margaret Klein, etc., or Maria Elizabeth Klein, Maria Catherine Klein, etc. But after baptism, these people would not be known as John, Philip, Anna, or Maria, respectively. They would instead be known by what we would think of now as their middle name, which was their secular name. Thus these people would be known respectively as Adam, George, Peter, Jacob, Barbara, Margaret, Elizabeth, and Catherine in legal and secular records. For males, the saint's name Johan or John for Saint John was particularly heavily used by many German families, but also Saint George was used by some families for male children. The child's secular name was really John, if and only if, at baptism he was named only John, usually spelled as Johannes, with no second given name. The name John spelled as Johannes is rarely seen spelled as Johannes as a spiritual name, i.e., you rarely will see the name at baptism recorded as Johannes Adam Klein, etc. It is generally always found spelled as Johan or Johann when used as a spiritual name. Thus, you find the spiritual name of John recorded as Johan Adam Klein or Johann Adam Klein, not Johannes Adam Klein. Many researchers, new to German names, who find a baptism of an individual with a name such as Johan Adam Klein, thus mistakenly spend a lot of time looking for a John Klein, in legal and census records, when he was known after baptism, to the secular world, as Adam Klein. Also when reading county histories, etc., especially those written by individuals in the 20th century, and the author is referring to someone as John Klein, and you are not looking for a John Klein, but the history sounds otherwise familiar, further research may turn up that this person was really not a John Klein, but instead was someone else such as a Johan George Klein. You would thus find all his 18th century records recorded under the name George Klein and not John Klein and therefore after checking the data and correlating the facts you may find this is really a story about your missing George Klein.

    As I said, the use of Saint John was the most common example of this custom, but Saint George was often used too. And thus one would find children in a family named George Heinrich ......, George Jacob ......, George Frederick ....., and of course simply George ..... by itself. In these examples the secular or call names would respectively be Heinrich, Jacob, Frederick, and George.

    This German naming custom slowly died out during the later part of the 19th century, i.e., after the 1870's.

    Modern computer programs which generate automatic reports and books from genealogical databases are compounding the confusion because they tend to generate paragraphs and sentences based on the first name only, which from the above is not the real call name of the person. Computer programs need to be modified to allow the user to select which given name of the full series of given names is the proper call name, i.e, the first or second given name. Oh well, one can only hope. [g]

  2. The term "Senior" and "Junior" following a name did not necessarily imply a father and son relationship, as it does now. It could have been an uncle and nephew who had the same name and lived near each other. It could be a grandfather and a grandchild living together, where the father has died. It could even be two unrelated individuals with the same name but of different ages who lived near each other. So to help friends and business associates keep track of who-was-who in their discussions and records, they added on the "Sr." or "Jr." which merely meant the older and the younger, respectively.
  3. The term cousin was widely used to mean an extended family, not the specific legal definition we understand it to be today.
  4. It was a common practice in some German families to name the first born son after the child's paternal grandfather and the second born son after the maternal grandfather. Here are several more detailed naming patterns practiced by some families.

Pattern A
1st son after the father's father
2nd son after the mother's father
3rd son after the father
4th son after the father's father's father
5th son after the mother's father's father
6th son after the father's mother's father
7th son after the mother's mother's father
1st daughter after the mother's mother
2nd daughter after the father's mother
3rd daughter after the mother
4th daughter after the father's father's mother
5th daughter after the mother's father's mother
6th daughter after the father's mother's mother
7th daughter after the mother's mother's mother

Pattern B
The pattern B for the sons is the same as the above
but this pattern for daughters was different
1st daughter after the father's mother
2nd daughter after the mother's mother
3rd daughter after the mother
4th daughter after the mother's father's mother
5th daughter after the father's father's mother

Pattern C
1st son after the father's father
2nd son after the mother's father
3rd son after the father's oldest brother
4th son after the father
1st daughter after the father's mother
2nd daughter after the mother's mother
3rd daughter after the mother's oldest sister
4th daughter after the mother