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Video: German Names

Do these German siblings really all have the same first name?

Yes, they might.


What English speakers call a first name, German speakers would call a Vorname. That's literally a "pre-name" in English. The Vorname is part of the person's full name, but the person would rarely go by that name in everyday usage.


What English speakers call a middle name, German speakers call a Rufname. The Rufname comes after the Vorname but is considered the more significant name and is the name a person uses commonly. A person might have several "middle" names, but the Rufname is the one they are known by.


A convention in the U.S. that might be somewhat similar is this: a John Chambers Campbell going by "Chambers Campbell." That was normally done in order to distinguish himself from other John Campbells in the area. But in this example, John would be the Vorname, and Chambers would be the Rufname.


The same convention exists for females also. I have a set of sisters among my friends who all have the middle name Marie. Were they German sisters, their names would take the form Marie Christine, Marie Caroline, and Marie Catharine. (And the "e" on the end of each name would be pronounced as an "a.") Though in their family they would still be known as Christine, Caroline, and Catherine.


And sometimes, it can seem even more confusing. My ancestor Heinrich Justus Lichte Wilhelm was born in Germany but used the name "August" in America. However, the overall message still applies: don't discount other "Henrichs" as his siblings, as several of them truly may have had the same Vorname of Heinrich.

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