Women's Surnames in 15th- and 16th-Century Germany

by Sara L. Uckelman
known in the SCA as Aryanhwy merch Catmael

© 2005-2006 Sara L. Uckelman; all rights reserved
last updated 22Aug06

I've had great luck in the last few months to find a number of sources from Germany; quite a few fall in roughly the same time period and place, and then there is one fairly disparate source:

While the relative popularity of names and the spelling variations that result from the different dialects all vary from place to place, the patterns in women's surnames are extremely similar throughout all of these data sets.

High German Dialects


In the Baden-Württemberg 1495 data, if the woman's husband was still living, she would be referred to almost exclusive as "his wife", with her husband preceding her in the entry. However, if she was a widow, or the head of her household, than invariably she was given with either the feminine form of her husband's or father's surname. The standard way of forming a feminine form of a surname is by adding -in to the end of it, e.g.:

Occassionally you'll see -yn instead of -in, e.g.:


In the Rottweill 1441 data, all women were listed with a surname, and if that surname was not a locative one (i.e., von X for some place X), then almost certainly it would have been either the feminine form or the possessive form of her husband's or father's surname. There are two ways of making a surname possessive; the standard is to just add -s to the end, e.g.:

though when the word ends in -t, the possessive is formed by adding -z, e.g.:

The other way is to add -en to the end, e.g.

Numbers & Percentages

There were 330 women mentioned in this dataset. The byname type frequencies are as follows:

genitive in -s14042.4%
feminine in -in9528.7%
genitive in -en3510.6%
locative (von + <place name>)195.8%
genitive in -z82.4%
genitive in -s + locative3.9%
unmodified + locative2.6%
genitive in -en + locative2.6%
genitive in -en + mu[o]ter1.3%
feminine in -in + locative1.3%


This data set contained a large number of women's names, but only 62 of the women were identified with any type of byname. Of these 62, their byname patterns mirror the type and distribution found above pretty closely:

feminine in -in3556.5%
alt or allt 'old' + feminine in -in1219.4%Used almost exclusively by widows.
genitive in -s58.1%
genitive in -en11.6%


The dataset from Nürnberg 1497 and the surrounding areas has, in my opinion, the neatest way of forming these relational bynames: The woman uses both her husband's or father's given name and his surname in the feminine or possessive form, e.g.

In addition to this construction, you also find the standard construction of just using the husband's or father's surname feminized:

In the 1497 data from cities surrounding Nürnberg, I have also found example where the feminine form was formed by adding -yn instead of -in:

Numbers & Percentages

In the data from Nürnberg alone, there were 235 women mentioned, and in the data from the surrounding cities, 358 women were mentioned, for a total of 593 women. The byname type frequencies are as follows:

feminine in -in39366.3%
masc. given name + surname feminized in -in10517.7%
genitive in -i132.2%
feminine in -yn81.3%
masc. given name + unmodified surname50.8%
locative (von + <place name>)40.6%
no byname40.6%
masc. given name + surname feminized in -yn20.3%
genitive in -y20.3%
masc. given name + possessive surname in -i20.3%
masc. given name + possessive surname in -s10.1%
sein husfraw10.1%

Low German Dialects


The data from Hamburg is distinctly different from the other data sets; the dialect spoken in Hamburg during this time was a Low German dialect, whereas the Bavarian dialects spoken in the areas discussed above are High German dialects. Despite this fairly dramatic lingual difference, the patterns of surnames are almost identical. Most of the women mentioned in my source documents were listed without surnames; for the discussion below, I have only considered those which were.

Virtually all of the women recorded with surnames in this source used the possessive form, either in -s or -en; I found no examples of feminized surnames. Some examples are as follows:

Numbers & Percentages

genitive in -s1045.4%
genitive in -en940.9%
von + <placename>14.5%
<father's name + s> + dochter 'daughter'14.5%

Academy of S. Gabriel Report #2391 also briefly discusses feminized surnames in Low German:

Their information comes from Zoder's Familiennamen in Ostfalen.


Academy of S. Gabriel Report #2391

Baden-Württemberg 1495: Schmid, Peter. Der Deutsche Orden und die Reichssteuer des Gemeinen Pfennigs von 1495: Die Grundherrschaft des Deutschen Ordens im Reich an der Wende vom 15. zum 16 Jahrhundert. (Neustadt: Degener in Kommission, 2000.)
"German Given Names from 1495"

Rottweil (also in Baden-Württemberg) 1441: Mack, Eugen, Das Rottweiler Steuerbuch von 1441. Königsfestgabe des Rottweiler Geschichts und Altertumsvereins unter der Schirmherrschaft Seiner Majestät König Wilhelms II von Württemberg. (Tübingen, H. Laupp, 1917.), pp. 126-151
"German Names from Rottweil, Baden-Württemberg, 1441"

Nürnberg 1497: Fleischmann, Peter, Reichssteuerregister von 1497 der Reichsstadt Nürnberg (und der Reichspflege Weissenburg), (Nürnberg: Gesellschaft für Familienforschung in Franken, 1993.)
"German Names from Nürnberg, 1497"

Kulmbach 1495: Der "Gemeine Pfennig" in Kulmbach, 1495
German Names from Kulmbach, 1495

Hamburg 15th-16th C: Das virtuelle Hamburgische Urkundenbuch
Low German Names from Hamburg, 1475-1529

Zoder, R., Familiennamen in Ostfalen. 2 vols. (Hildesheim: 1968)

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