The Name(s)

Trying to determine the "right" spelling for a surname is not an exact science. Many people could not read or write when surnames were coming into use; those who could – usually priests or clerks – did not have available to them the standardization of spelling as we do today through dictionaries. So not only was the spelling of surnames not standardized, neither was the spelling of common words. Even in the more recent times of universal education in America we may find a family member who decides to alter the spelling of a surname.

Families often speculate about the meaning or significance of a surname and that is true of this family. One family member, Emmagene Settlemire Massey, contacted a Peter Zettelmeyer in Germany some years ago to inquire about the family. Concerning the surname, he stated that Zettelmeyer or Sedlmayer, which originated in Bavaria, means "administrator of a settlement." (He also referred to the well-known Sedlmayr brewery of Munich. The brewery's logo features a drawing of a spade or shovel flanked by the letters G and S, which represent Gabriel Sedlmayr, who bought the business in 1807 while serving as master brewer to the royal court of Bavaria.) I have been unable to translate the name using German dictionaries.

Recently I located a resource on the German Genealogy Homepage that supplied (in German) an extensive listing of surnames followed by their meanings. One spelling of our surname is listed – Sedelmeier – and the meaning given is "Verwalter eines Vorweks, eines vom Herrenhaus lokal unabhängigen, fast selbständigen Hofes." Using a variety of online translation services I have determined that the name meant "manager of a farmstead, an estate almost independent of the manor." So the name must date to medieval times and relate to medieval functions. 

Then in February 2002 a web search (using of the name "Sattelmeier" led me to several pages for the city of Enger in North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen). I clicked on the "translate this page" link and got a fair translation of each page, but I found that some additional work was needed to try to get the true sense of the content. One page gives good information about Sattelemier farms or estates and discusses a possible origin of the name. Apparently this name signifies the status of a certain group of estate owners beginning at the time of Widukind, a Saxon leader in the late 700's. Westphalia fell to Charlemagne, the Frankish king, in 777. The translated text reads:

Where the name comes from is not clearly proven. Perhaps it comes from that the owners of the estates had to make available to the ruler a saddled horse for messenger services and in the case of war. Also the Sattelmeiers had the obligation to give the ruler escort for his attendance in Ravensberg. The legend however describes those Sattelmeiers as Widukind’s courageous fellow combatants in the fight against the Franks.

Linking to the next page we find even further information that lists two possible sources of the name:

Information from the 17th Century attests that they ranked themselves among the mounted defense readiness of Minden-Ravensberg. Since the year 1609 the ruler let the same be put together. This military quantity had to protect and in an emergency defend strategically important places. Since the middle of the 17th Century the Sattelmeiers were obligated the to ruler as armed riders, thus had to have at his disposal a riding horse, pistol and a man. Since 1740 this compulsory service was converted by the pressure of the Sattelmeiers into a money payment.

The word "Sattelmeier" comes from the Saxonian word "sadel" = seat; Sadelhoefe = master seat estates or Ursiedelhoefe (sadeln = settle). In the Sattelmeier estates one can probably see the oldest settlements concerning the peasantry. The priestly functions probably also once rested upon these estates in pre-Christian time. Perhaps also Frankish officials were once settled on them at the time of the Carolingian empire, to ensure peace and harmony. However the village founders were probably already there before the noble seats + yards of the Franks.

Although there does not seem to be any solid proof of the origin of this name, I have a hunch. I suspect that many centuries ago, before surnames were used, there were landowners who were called upon to supply services to the king or other ruler. Key among those services was to be ready at a moment's notice to supply horses for messengers as well as men mounted to battle. This seems very consistent with the definition from the German Genealogy Homepage. Again, I suspect that in time the term became a surname and that as family members moved to other places, additional spellings occurred. It is important to remember that spellings for many languages did not become standardized until relatively recently (in historical terms) and that few people were able to read and write. If I am correct, this term may have been the basis for the surname throughout Germany and Europe and later into North America. Thus long after the function ceased to apply, the term remained as a surname.

One final comment – Ernest Thode, in his German-English Genealogical Dictionary, defines "Sedelmaier" as a farmer and member of (small claims) court. One can imagine that this word could have derived from "Sattelmeier" and its Saxon origin.

For a general discussion of the history and origin of surnames, click here or here.

Found through On-line German Telephone Book – These names are actually in use throughout Germany.

Sattelmaier, Sattelmayer, Sattelmeier, Sattelmeyer, Sedelmaier, Sedelmayer, Sedelmayr, Sedelmeier, Sedelmeyer, Sedelmeyr, Sedlmaier, Sedlmayer, Sedlmayr, Sedlmeier, Sedlmeyer, Seidelmaier, Seidelmayer, Seidelmeier, Seidelmeyer, Seidlmaier, Seidlmayer, Seidlmeier, Seidlmeyer, Settelmaier, Settelmayer, Settelmeier, Settelmeyer, Zettelmaier, Zettelmayer, Zettelmeier, Zettelmeyer

View surname distribution.

Found in United States Records – Many of these spellings reveal unsuccessful attempts by a hearer to write the name as it should have been.

Saddlemire, Sadlimire, Sattelmaier, Sattelmeier, Sattlemoyer, Sattermore, Sedelmayer, Sedelmeyer, Sedlmayer, Sedlmayr, Seidelmaler, Seidelmayer, Settelmeir, Settlemayor, Settlemeier, Settlemeir, Settlemere, Settlemeyer, Settlemier, Settlemire, Settlemires, Settlemoir, Settlemoire, Settlemoyr, Settlemye, Settlemyer, Settlemyre, Settmere, Sititmyon, Sittlemier, Sulemire, Sutimore, Suttemore, Sutkemeyer, Sutmeyer, Sutmeiers, Suttlemere, Suttlemire, Suttlemore, Suttlemoyer, Suttlemyer, Zettelmayer, Zettelmayer, Zettelmeyer, Zettelmoyer, Zetelmoer, Zettemoyer, Zettlemayer, Zettlemeier, Zettlemeyer, Zettlemir, Zettlemoayer, Zettlemoyer, Zettlemyer, Zettlermyer, Zittelmaier, Zittelmeier, Zittelmeier, Zittelmeyer


Last Updated Tuesday, July 09, 2002 08:02 PM