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Nameberry Picks: 20 Best German Names Beyond Hansel & Hedwig

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German names have had a spotty immigration record in the United States , even though one million Germans emigrated to America in the 1850s alone, and of course brought their native names with them.  On the 1900 Social Security list, we find fairly high on the girls’ side such names as Bertha, Gertrude, Hilda, Irma, Frieda and Wilhelmina, while for the boys there were Carl, Oscar, Herman, Otto, August, Rudolph, Emil, Gus, Adolph (at Number 180!), and Fritz.

These names –especially for boys—faded as the result of two World Wars that produced anti-German feeling and stereotypes, never to quite recover, though Oscar, August and Gus are making a comeback.

That aside, there are many, many attractive names with German roots, and here are just a few (which don’t necessarily reflect current popularity, where tastes run to more international favorites such as Mia, Hannah and Ben*:

GIRLS

  1. Adela—the a-ending of the rarely used German form of Adele (accent on the first syllable) makes it lighter and more feminine, as in Joanna/Joanne, Suzanna/Suzanne. Adela was the name of William the Conqueror’s youngest daughter and a character in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Adel, which means ‘noble’ is a popular element in German names, as in Adelaide and Adelina.
  2. Amalia, Amalie—These pretty alternatives to Amelia derive from the Old German word meaning ‘industrious’.
  3. Cosima has become something of a hot choice, since it was chosen almost simultaneously last year by both Claudia Schiffer and Sofia Coppola. Though it has Greek roots, it has long been used in Germany, and has strong musical connections via the Cosima who was the daughter of Franz Liszt and the wife of Richard Wagner.
  4. Domino—Yes, it sounds like a black-and-white game piece, but this playful and dynamic o-ending girl’s name became popular in Germany in the late 80s.  It was used for her daughter by British designer India Hicks.
  5. Ebba—Widely used in both Germany and Scandinavia, this seventh century saint’s name has a nice bouncy sound, and could be a follow-up to Emma and Ella.  As could Elsa, the operatic bride who was the first to walk down the aisle to Wagner’s famous wedding march
  6. Leni—This German nickname name has come into the spotlight via Heidi Klum’s oldest child.  It started as the pet form of Helene, the birth name of German director Leni Riefenstahl.
  7. Mitzi—This spunky German pet form of Maria could join the chorus line of up-and-coming showgirl names like Coco, Gigi and Lulu.  The entertainer Mitzi Gaynor was originally named the diametrically different FrancescaFritzi is another such nickname name.
  8. OttilieThis female version of Otto has a lacy Victorian charm.  Ottoline is a French offshoot.
  9. Romy—This appealing pet form of Rosemarie, imported to the US by Austrian actress Romy Schneider, has found favor with several celebs, including Ellen Barkin and Gabriel Byrne, Rob Reiner, Matt Lauer and Sofia Coppola.  Also occasionally used for boys, à la Remy.
  10. .Wilhelmina—This somewhat bulky name is finally shaking off its thick blonde braids and wooden clog image, thanks in part to the sultry Vanessa Williams character on Ugly Betty, and the rise of other Wil-names Willa and Willow. More relaxed nicknames include Willie, Minnie and MinaQueen Wilhelmina was a long-ruling ruler of the Netherlands.

BOYS

  1. Andreas—a wonderful name with the rich veneer of an Old Master painting, adds vintage gloss to the classic Andrew.  It is also popular in Greece and Scandinavia, is the name Susan Lucci chose for her son, and has many athlete namesakes.
  2. Anton—Sophisticated name used in Slavic and Scandinavian countries as well as Germany, it was chosen by Al Pacino and Beverly D’Angelo for one of their twin sons.  Sometimes associated with the great Russian writer, Anton Chekhov.
  3. Bruno, from the German word for brown, can be thought of as a stylish color name.  And you know there isn’t any o-ending boy’s name that Nameberry doesn’t love. Bruno Walter was a distinguished German-born symphony conductor.
  4. Dieter, a classic German name similar in sound to Peter, that’s both strong and smooth—though it did get some satiric exposure via Mike Myers on SNL a few years back. Dietrich is a related possibility with a touch of Hollywood surname glamour
  5. FlorianSome might find the blooming, flowery feel of this name verging towards the feminine, but we think of it as a more musical cousin of DorianFlorian is the patron saint of those in danger from water, has appeared in works by Tennyson and Gilbert & Sullivan, and is not uncommon in Germany.
  6. Garrick—Though it sounds like it might be an Irish surname, Garrick is related to the Low German name Gerrit. It has a similar appeal as Garret and Garth.
  7. Gunther/Gunter—(pronounced GOON-ter in German, but an Anglicized pronunciation is certainly permissible). Though the Gunnar version has gained more popularity, Gunther is equally strong, and less militaristic.
  8. Hugo—This common German name, which means ‘heart, mind, spirit’, has long been considered stylish in upper-class Britain, and is beginning to catch on in the States, along with cousin Hugh.  Hugo has energy and heft, and was chosen by Presidential Daughter Amy Carter for her son.
  9. Justus—This German offshoot of Justin has begun to be swept along in the current revival of virtue names, of which there are few for boys.  It’s a distinguished name that has been borne by several saints, and noted scholars and scientists.
  10. Otto, which means prosperous, was once commonly heard in the U.S., but has almost completely disappeared.  We think it could make a comeback, what with the revival of other ‘O’ names like Oscar and Orson, and its lively palindrome structure.

*For a list of current popularity of names in Germany, check out http://www.firstnamesgermany.com/ (thanks, Impish.)

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