Friday, August 24, 2012

Der Großartige

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

That je-ne-sais-quoi Upper-Rhine look

I like to guess where German-language surnames come from. Living in America, I bump into unfamiliar German names regularly; based on a surname's look and sound I sometimes can suss out where someone's ancestors came from in Germany (or Austria), where they settled in America, and at about what time.

Germany didn't exist as a unified political entity before 1871. By that late date, its agglomeration of kingdoms, marches, duchies, baronies, counties, free-states, and free-cities had for centuries possessed their own identities, dialects, literature, architecture, and last names. I expect it's no mystery to Germans whence their surnames originate, but for me it can be tough.

nobody could stuff all that into one sausage

So today at the bank, my deposit was handled by a Mrs. Deiwert. Never heard of Deiwert before. Didn't sound Colonial, e.g., from Pennsylvania; not from Louisiana's German Coast; didn't sound postwar; maybe it's an Ohio River valley name, 1850-ish. Yep, her husband is from south Indiana. Then I supposed the name came from the Upper Rhine, which was a reach.

But this afternoon while searching online for Deiwert I bumped into this terrific site: Karte zum Namen, i.e., Map of Names. You just type in a surname, and using Germany's telephone data, you're shown a map of the name's distribution. Turns out Deiwert is a very uncommon name, found in one small district, Schwäbisch Hall.

 3 phone numbers in the whole country for Deiwert

Schwäbisch Hall lies on the Kocher River; which flows into the Neckar; which flows into...the Upper Rhine. So there.

The net can be such a blessing: I love having the data at my fingertips.
The net can be such a curse: I'll miss the thrill of guessing.

* Der Großartige: the greatest, the most terrific.