German Names With Flair: Fritz, Lorelei, and Otto
This diversity is a source of pride for many Americans. Consequently, when naming their offspring some Americans like to recognize the country of their ancestors.
And coincidentally most of these ancestors come from countries with lovely lyrical romance languages–languages such as Greek, Italian, and Spanish. There are also many Americans who claim Irish heritage, another source of trendy names.
I envied those Americans. My heritage doesn’t come from a place with a language that was considered lovely or fashionable when I had my kids.
The observant among you may notice my long, vowel-heavy last name that is–yes, Italian–and wonder why I was squawking.
I’m not Italian. Obscured by my married last name is my (mostly) German ancestry.
German names have been overlooked for decades. They seemed too heavy, too stodgy, too fusty.
But at one time Americans liked German names. German names were moderately popular during the Victorian era, and then the World Wars came and went. Germany, and everything associated with it, suffered public relations problems for decades.
One example of a German name that fell from grace is Bertha, a top 10 name for most of the late 19th century. And then thanks to “Big Bertha” (an artillery piece developed in Germany at the start of World War I) the name quickly fell from the top ranks and hasn’t been in the top 1000 for nearly 30 years.
Another example is Gertrude, a variation on the German Gertud. Gertrude was a top 30 name from the late 19th until the early 20th century. Gertrude’s decline was slow at first and then accelerated after WWII. Gertrude has been absent from the top 1000 for nearly 50 years.
After shunning German names for the later half of the 20th century, Americans might be ready to celebrate these names again.
The German names embraced by 21st century parents are different from the ones sought nearly a century ago.
Greta – re-entered the U.S. top 1000 in 1999. In 2012 there were 439 newborn girls given the name.
Lorelei – re-entered the top 1000 in 2004. In 2012 there were 566 newborn girls given the name.
Otto – re-entered the top 1000 in 2011. In 2012 there were 286 newborn boys given the name.
None of these names have hit the top 200 yet, but all three names have steadily grown in popularity.
Perhaps Greta, Lorelei and Otto are exceptions, and by themselves can’t signify an emerging German name trend. Nevertheless, I did some digging and I was pleasantly surprised with what I found. (Some of these names have multiple roots and many are also considered Dutch or Scandinavian.)
Leni (Heidi Klum’s daughter Leni is in the illustration)
Leonie / Leonore
Liesa / Liese / Liesel
Mariele / Marita – both German forms of Maria
Marlen / Marlene
Marlies / Marlis
Suse / Susi
Thilo / Tilo / Tillo
Thorsten / Torsten
Vinzent / Vinzenz
Some of these names are bold yet familiar such as Siegfried and Wolfgang. But there are others on the list with great crossover potential such as, Anika, Anneliese, Carsten, Conrad, Kilian, and Torben. Some of my favorites are, Claus, Fritz, Hannelore, Leni, Ludwig, and Saskia.
Approximately 50 million Americans claim German ancestry, making them the largest ancestry group in the country, ahead of even the oft-proudly claimed Irish. (Irish is the second largest ancestry group.)
Angela Mastrodonato created Upswing Baby Names to celebrate names on the upswing. She is a big-time name watcher, and has a growing list of names she watches by tracking their popularity each year. Sign up here to get your copy of this Watch List.
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on November 4th, 2013 at 12:20 am
Angela, this is a fantastic list! I too love a lot of German names and am saddened by the continued marginalization of all things German. Thanks for digging up these gems!
on November 4th, 2013 at 2:53 am
I love Fritz and Klaus. I grew up in a suburb of Chicago that was settled by Scandinavians and Germans and one of the boys that I went to school with was named Fritz, nn for Frederick. We had an exchange student from Munich named Klaus.
At one time the majority of Americans had at least some German heritage although most Americanized their names after the first generation.
I also like Trudy. I had a favorite aunt named Gertrude which is too heavy to make any comeback but Trudy was a cheerleader and nice plus it has an upbeat sound to it.
I also like Emmerich, Gunther, Rudolf, and Dieter. The girl’s names are a little tougher to love.
on November 4th, 2013 at 10:57 am
I adore Greta and Lorelei and Otto are wonderful too! I think these German names could work in English speaking countries.
Anika – most people in North America would be more familiar with the Swedish Annika spelling like the female golfer.
Anneliese – I’ve been seeing this name a lot with numerous spellings.
Bettina – I love this one!
Dorothea – a character in Middlemarch so it has literary pedigree
Else – This would be better with an “a” ending
Frieda – I do prefer the Frida spelling a la Frida Kahlo
Leonie / Leonore
Liese / Liesel
Marlene – a little old-fashioned but Marlene Dietrich was pretty awesome.
Wilhelmine – probably better with an “a” ending
Bruno – A boys name ending in “o” is on trend
Emmerich – Emeric or Emerick is more intuitive in North America
Gunther – Gunnar and Gunner are getting lots of attention
Ingo – boys names ending in “o” are popular
Kasimir – I prefer the “C” spelling Casimir
Kilian – English speakers are more famililar with Killian with two l’s
Torsten – an “n” ending name that could get some takers
Torben – see Torsten
Sascha – more for a girl in North American or a Russian Aleksander
on November 4th, 2013 at 12:16 pm
I know a German family who just added a Tabea to their brood. I love it and think it’s nicer than Tabitha.
p as an Italian girl in , family names like Nunzio, Italo Beatrice & it’s confusing pronunciation, my family names didn’t feel usable either. I think you grow to appreciate your heritage or the trends shift in my case 🙂
on November 4th, 2013 at 1:56 pm
Angela, I know you write “Upswing Baby Names” but shhhh, I don’t want any of these to swing too far up the charts! 😉 German names are my absolutely favorite of all time. And I love that they’re still considered a little too clunky to be mainstream. I have a Lorelei in the family and that one seems more “German-lite” to me. These lists make me swoon, but most of my top picks are on them, which scares me!
@tararyaz, Tabea is darling!
on November 4th, 2013 at 1:58 pm
I’m glad to know I’m not the only one that loves names. I didn’t even realize that most of these were considered German.
Anneliese was just given to my cousin’s daughter; Marlen is the name of a second cousin; we’re of Mexican descent.
Lilo sounds so Hawaiian after the Disney movie and when I hear Rupert, I think of Rupert Grint, who’s from the UK.
There are names on here that definitely don’t sound German. Felice and Conrad, for starters. Bruno I guess sounds German but my association is more Mars than German, but if I try to ignore that, it can sound German in my head.
I do actually love Gertrude, but really only for the nickname Trudy, which is probably one of my favorite nickname names but sounds too childish to bestow on a future adult.
I also love Greta, Gretel, Soren, Liesel, Bastian and Anika. Greta is particularly adorable, I like it as a potential nickname for Margaret (although whether it can kick Maisie off of my top spot remains to be seen)
on November 4th, 2013 at 2:12 pm
Oops, that was supposed to be “I’m glad to know I’m not the only one that loves German names”* 🙂
on November 4th, 2013 at 2:14 pm
I love Liesel and Johann, and Herman is cool (if a little clunky), too.
on November 4th, 2013 at 2:54 pm
I love so many of these. I particularly love Bettina, Elke, Ilse/Ilsa. I also really like/love Lorelei and Johanna and Adelaide which are also getting popular. I have known a few Anneliese s.
From the boys, I love Conrad, Fritz, Kurt and Ludwig.
More German names I love are Elisabeth, Brigitta, Hedwig, and Stefan (boy).
This is a great post!
on November 4th, 2013 at 3:03 pm
For everyone considering a “real” German name for their child to honor their German heritage. There really is no such thing as a “traditional-unisex” German name. This is because one of the standing naming laws is that a name given to a German child needs to clearly indicate that child’s gender. Michi for example is not necessarily an acceptable given name (it could depend on the judge in your area and what you choose as a mn) but it is a often used nn for Michael or Michaela.
on November 4th, 2013 at 3:26 pm
Lovely read!! So many great choices!
on November 4th, 2013 at 3:49 pm
I have a 15 month old named Ilsa and people go crazy over the name. There are a lot of great choices here for a second baby.
on November 4th, 2013 at 5:40 pm
I really love the names Lorelei and Alois. I know Alois was Hitler’s father’s name, but it’s still wearable thanks to Alois Trancy and Alois from Amnesia!
on November 4th, 2013 at 6:39 pm
My great grandmother is Gertrude but I don’t think I could ever use it.
From the list I really like Bruno and Saskia.
NB Heidi Klum’s daughter is Helene nn Leni – I really like that too 🙂
on November 4th, 2013 at 6:50 pm
A good portion of me is Volga German, and I have found some very intriguing German names on my family tree 🙂
From your list, I LOVE Anika and Dorothea.
on November 4th, 2013 at 8:38 pm
I immigrated to the States from Germany in 1994. I have several of these names in my family tree, including Ernestine, Ingo, Ernst, Gottfried Heinz, etc. My Oma’s name is Karin and my daughter (Karin Olympia) Is named after her and my mother.
I want to continue using German names on future children and love several of them listed! My favorites include Emmerich, Saskia, Hannelore, Liesl, and Bastian!
My favorite boys name that wasn’t include however, is Florian! I really hope to use it one day.
on November 5th, 2013 at 12:16 am
There are so many great names here! Dorothea is my confirmation name.
My Top Ten for each:
Alois (I actually had a coworker named Alois this year; he went by Al.)
on November 5th, 2013 at 5:50 am
Otto has crept into my periphery recently and I’m really loving it and Rupert is eternally a favourite. I like Kilian but I much prefer it with a double-L, ‘Killian’.
Isla is a great name and I think it ages really well. I know Lorelei is quite familiar with most but its never stood out to me and all I can think of with Lisbeth is ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’.
on November 5th, 2013 at 8:34 am
I didn’t realize there were so many good German names. On the girls’ side I’m loving Anneliese, Elke, Hannelore, Imma, Liesel, Lilo, Lorelei, Ottilie, Priska, Saskia, Zenzi, and Ziska. There are fewer from the boys that I like: Ingo, Kasimir, Kuno, Otto, Soren, Tillo, Torsten, and Wolfgang.
Is Michi pronounced as it appears or like Mickey?
on November 5th, 2013 at 2:36 pm
As a German myself I love the idea of showing off some German names as a potential choice for future parents. Most of the names mentioned are quite old-fashioned like Klaus, Ernst, Franz, Gottfried… (they are all at least 50 years old right now). But I like to revive older names and give them a fresh new look.
My favourites from the list are: Annika (I have several friends with this name and a young married couple I know have a 2 year old daughter named Annika), Eleonora and Tabea and Johann, Klaas and Torben.
@Frankie: Michi is not pronounced like Mickey. It´s “Mi” like in Michelle and “chi”-ch is not “k” or “sh” in German, it´s very soft but I don´t know how to explain that any better.
on November 5th, 2013 at 4:48 pm
Heike is rarely (as in never) used for Boys. It is a classical Girls’ Name. Heiko on the other hand is 100% male.
Eike is used for Boys and Girls.
Felice? Never heard of it. Felicitas/Felizitas, however, yes!
Some more names used in Germany:
on November 6th, 2013 at 6:18 pm
Oh man, so many of these names are on my family tree! Side note: I once taught a boy named Wolfgang and he absolutely HATED his name, so I’d caution anyone against using anything too weird lest your child hate you forever lol.
on November 7th, 2013 at 3:36 am
Being of German descent myself (amongst other things), I love the “lumpy” German names (and was nearly an Anneliese).
Saskia and Rupert are awesome.
Name To Watch: Wilhelmina | Upswing Baby Names Said
on January 14th, 2014 at 6:17 am
[…] parents may be ready to welcome these names back into nurseries and […]
on September 19th, 2014 at 7:10 pm
Why has no one mentioned the lovely Heidi?
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