German Town Name Meanings

German Town


The more I involve myself in genealogy research, the more curious and interested I become with other aspects of history that I might not have otherwise given much thought to. Take for example, the names of German cities, towns and villages.

Oftentimes while researching, I have stopped and pondered a name, wondering what it meant, why it received such a name, and about the people who called such places ”home”. German and American localities share many of the same physical characteristics as one another. Three types of these localities that I found worth referencing, and briefly discussed, are “Stadt, Dorf, and Weiler”. German towns and cities are both generally referred to as stadts. A stadt is a locality with a large number of inhabitants, buildings, and significant businesses. Stadts are complete with their own local government and serve as a civil center for the surrounding area. When stadt comes to my mind, I think of the cities and towns, with their hustle and bustle, around my own home. A dorf is known to most people as a village.

These localities are smaller than a stadt, but they have their own local government, church, school, and assortment of businesses. You might think of a dorf as suburbia – those places a short drive out of the city that offer a little more breathing room for residents. A weiler is akin to a hamlet. These very small localities often have only a small number of houses, with no local administration and generally no church. Residents of a hamlet are typically administered by the local government and church of a larger village that they belong to. When I think of a weiler, I think of rural America; getting away from it all; blinking while I’m passing through and missing the place altogether; and the how far a ”country mile” really is. I have found that referencing these names – stadt, dorf and weiler – to their American counterparts – city, village and hamlet – has helped my understanding of my ancestors with their surroundings.

There are also a number of common root words associated with some of these localities. Again, having come across these words with some regularity, I thought it would be useful to find out what they meant, and in doing so, perhaps gain some further knowledge about my family and their neighbors.

Examples of some common words include:

Bach – Brook, Baum – Tree, Berg – Mountain, Born – Fount, Braun – Brown, Bruck – Bridge, Burg – Castle, Dorf – Village, Feld – Field, Garten – Garden, Hafen – Harbor, Heim – Home, Hof – Yard, Kirch – Church, Loch – Hole, Rath – Clearing, Schied – Separated, Parted, Tal – Valley, Wald – Forest, Weiler – Hamlet.

Using this understanding of stadts, dorfs and weilers, and throwing their characteristics into the mix with some of the aforementioned root words produces some fun and informative translations of the names I’ve seen over the years. It is easy to understand why some places, like Falkenberg, the “Falcon’s Mountain” and Rastenfeld, “Resting Fields” have received their names; others, like Langschlag, “Long Hit”, and Raschdorf, “Rapid Village”, are less obvious.

Some other locality examples and their name meanings:

Allenfeld – All Field
Badenheim – Bathing Home
Bärenbach – Bear Brook
Bayerfeld – Bavarian Field
Braunweiler – Brown Hamlet
Derental – Their Valley
Desloch – The Hole
Feuerscheid- Parted Fire
Fischersdorf – Fishing Village
Friedrichhafen – Frederick’s Harbor
Guldental – Golden Valley
Gutenberg – Good Mountain
Hallgarten – Resounding Garden
Hochstätten – High Places
Hundsbach – Dog Brook
Johannesgarten – John’s Garden
Münster – Cathedral
Nußbaum – Nut Tree
Rehbach – Deer Brook
Schöneberg – Beautiful Mountain
Schönewald – Beautiful Forest
Sommerloch – Summer Hole
Vierkirchen – Four Churches
Wallhausen – Living Barrier
Weinsheim – Wine Home
Weitersborn – Far Fount
Windesheim – Wind Home
Winterbach – Winter Brook
Winterburg – Winter Castle
Zweibrucken – Two Bridges

The next time you come across an interesting locality name while reading through a history book, viewing a microfilm, scanning a census record or perusing a naturalization record, do yourself a favor. Stop for a moment and consider the name, what it means today, and what it meant to the inhabitants of that place years ago. Aside from a translation, it might just give you a bit more insight into the lives of the people who called such a place ”home”.

About the Author:
Joseph Yakel is a freelance writer and author of three books. His articles have appeared in publications such as OGS Genealogy News, Communications Technology, The Pipeline, Army Reserve Magazine, and numerous other Internet websites. For great humor, genealogy and family history resources, visit his bookstore at Joe offers free chapter previews.

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