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Nameberry Picks: 20 Best German Names Beyond Hansel & Hedwig

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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32 Responses to “Nameberry Picks: 20 Best German Names Beyond Hansel & Hedwig”

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Triceratops Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 1:24 am

I love Mitzi, Romy, Wilhelmina, Hugo, and Otto.

Carah Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 1:34 am

Romy is the name of one of my best friends. And despite Gus making a comeback, I’ve been planning on naming my first son Gustav for years!

nameluvr Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 2:42 am

Cosima is one of my favourite names!

CK Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 2:55 am

My great-aunt (born in Denmark) was named Ebba. I love it, but I’m pretty sure it would get confused with Emma all the time.

Liz Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 4:37 am

I’m German and I’ve never even heard of Ebba. Anyone?

faba Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 4:56 am

I am German,too,and i never heard Ebba.
Mitzie is cat name. If you want to look
at actual german names that are used:
http://www.beliebte-vornamen.de/jahrgang/j2009/top500-2009

Triceratops Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 8:22 am

I think the post was more about linguistically/culturally German names, rather than what happens to be popular in Germany at this point in time.

Nicole Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 9:10 am

I love German names! I like Cosima and Andreas. Another Dutch/German name that is lovely is Saskia. And Eva sounds so pretty in German — AY-fuh.

Impish Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 9:23 am

You can find the top (500!) names in Germany for 2010 here http://www.firstnamesgermany.com/ and with links for the top names since 1890.

sarahinjune Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 10:16 am

Justus has long been a favorite on my list of MN possibilities. I especially like Walter Justus. Alas, my sister just had a wee Justin.

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gipro2003 Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 11:02 am

Florian is my number one pick for a boy. I also like Romy and Amalia.

Trustedwriter Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 11:41 am

Adela is lovely! I also like Ebba and Elsa, Garrick, Gunther, and Justus.

I have to silently laugh at Bruno. Not because it’s not a fine name! – but because I will forever associate it with an incident from my childhood. We were at a concert in the park, picnicing with fast food, and my brother was pretty small at the time, maybe 3 or 4. As he sat there peacefully with his hamburger in his hand, a random dog belonging to some other concert-goers walked up behind him, and…SNARF!…the burger was gone in one bite. My brother was bewildered, not even sure where it had gone. When he discovered that the dog had eaten it, he exclaimed emphatically, “Mommy! That is a BAD DOG.” The dog’s name, it turns out, was Bruno. 😀

LyndsayJenness Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 12:12 pm

I had no idea some of these were German, I love a lot of them. I think Domino is so very awesome, or, it would be if it weren’t for the game. As it is, I don’t think it would be very easy to wear. I so want love Otto, it’s a family name and I can see the coolness of it, but I just can’t do it.

leah_9 Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 12:18 pm

I love German names. Andreas is of course my favorite on the list. Others I would add: Conrad, Saskia, Theodor, Edmund, Lena, Alina, Caspar, Gisela, Karsten, Henrik, Sebastian, Maximilian, Matthias and Johanna. I could go on for days but I’ll spare you 🙂

Lola Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 12:52 pm

I love quite a few of these!
Adela’s darling, Both Ottilie & Ottoline & Wilhelmina for the girls & Anton, Bruno, Florian (I adore Florian!) & Hugo

We’d use any of these, given the chance, They’re fabulous. I’m not German, much ( One Paternal Grandmother is all) and neither is He, but I still love them. Ottilie & Bruno are our absolute favorites.

SJ Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Sigh, my Aunt raised daushunds – they were named Mitzi, Gigi, Lulu, Coco and the male stud was Fritzi. I can’t believe this post hit this on the head exactly! She will laugh when I tell her this!

Lisa Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Amalia (nickname Mali/Molly) made our short list last summer, but we worried about troubles with pronunciation (like Amelia with an “a” emphasis on the “ma” vs. malia plus an a at the beginning emphasis on the “li”).

Jenn Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Inga/Inge, Lorelei, Emmeline, Renate

Jenn Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 7:39 pm

oh and Mathilde Matilda

K Says:

February 26th, 2011 at 7:44 pm

As a very German person myself, I love finally seeing a blog dedicated to German names! I’ve seen so many focusing on…well pretty much every other nationality and language. Not a huge fan of any of the specific names listed here, just wanted to say thanks for writing this. 🙂

Elle Says:

February 27th, 2011 at 1:03 pm

I believe Ebba comes from the male name Eberhard which is German/Ancient Germanic. The roots of Ebba are certainly German.

Adela is lovely.

Amalia is one of my favorite names! I definitely prefer this to Amelia.

Ottilie intrigues me…I haven’t formed an opinion about this one yet.

Garrick and Justus are very masculine and could definitely fit in with current naming trends.

Emily Says:

February 27th, 2011 at 4:39 pm

My younger brother is named Garrick. I remember telling my mom that “she made it up” when she was pregnant (I was 9 and not exactly a budding name nerd). But now almost 17 years later I realize that it was a pretty great choice. It’s similar to Derrick which is common so it’s not weird, but it’s still unique.

Jessica Says:

March 1st, 2011 at 6:51 am

Silke is my favourite German name, I saw it on an athlete once and it was instant namelove 🙂

Ally Says:

March 3rd, 2011 at 1:06 pm

I’m German too and I have never heard Ebba nor Domino….And it’s true, Mitzi is a name for a cat, I have several friends named Marie or Maria but none of them are nicknamed Mitzi!^^

And I prefer Odile over Ottilie..Names with a double tt just feel too closely related to “Otto” (which they are, of course, but the name is just awful – in fact, it has turned into some kind of swear word synonymous to “idiot” (“Du Otto!!” -> “you idiot”)in recent years)

And Florian is terribly overused…As well as Fabian. Both are nice names, but I know at least 3 or 4 of each haha.

However, it’s a lot of fun to read through the comments here…It’s quite interesting how different (and more appealing) those names sound to users who don’t speak German^^

My grandma’s name is Hannelore – And her mother’s name was – that’s a good one – Helene Hermine Alwine (yep, it rhymes!)

Leslie Owen Says:

March 24th, 2011 at 11:02 pm

My father’s mother’s parents were German, and we’ve kept Louisa in the family to honor those names. Other family names were Louis, Immanuel, Marthe, and Bertram. Otto reminds me of the Norwegian family name — Ottar. But my Norwegian grandmother was Gerd, which was popular in Norway at the turn of the century but is a man’s name in Germany.

Nina Says:

March 26th, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Adela

As far as I know the accent is on the second syllable. At least that’s the case with Adele (and I should know about that as it is my daughter’s name 🙂 ) which is also more commonly used than Adela in Germany (and here in Austria). To me Adela sounds more like a Slavic variant of Adele.

neuilly Says:

April 5th, 2011 at 8:27 pm

I LOVE Anton. One of my favorite names for a boy. I admit though in general I don’t see the appeal in German names…this list was interesting, but didn’t win me over.

mmbelle Says:

April 26th, 2011 at 5:11 am

I’m German and I’ve never heard of Ebba either (My aunts name is Edda, a pretty common Northern German name) – And I think Nina is right, I would put the accent in “Adela” on the second syllable as well. I like Justus and Minna : )

wren orchid Says:

January 11th, 2012 at 7:20 pm

I think folks should also consider the name GRETEL for a comeback. Once someone uses it, the Hansel & Gretel / Sound of Music associations will start to fade.

I’m considering the name Gretel Magnolia for a girl. I got some negative feedback in the forums, but that hasn’t changed my mind so far.

As for Ebba, it just sounds like Emma with a cold!

Lunaaah Says:

July 21st, 2012 at 5:47 am

I’m danish, and I was like “What? Isn’t Ebba danish?” when I saw it on there. It probably is, since the german people say they’ve never heard of it, and I didn’t either when I lived in Germany. I’m not sure if I’ve ever met someone named Ebba, but I think my grandma has a friend called Ebba. It’s a bit dated in Denmark, but it could probably work other places.

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