Friday 4 May 2018

German Names

Image resultI've always liked foreign surnames. They're just so foreign. So exotic. And then you learn the language and you find that the names have a translation and that the translation is so dull, so very dull.

And that amuses me.

As a little boy, like most little boys, I loved Ferraris. The name seemed to encapsulate speed and glamour and whatnot. And when I became a man and found out that Ferrari is the Italian for Smith, and the most common surname in that doubtful peninsula, it made me giggle.

And then you find that Giuseppe Verdi is just Joe Green and that Giacomo Casanova is Jacob Newhouse and so on and so forth. But whereas Italians names all sound romantic (at least to the ears of Albion), Germans all sound austere and imposing. So just to ruin everything, here are a few Germans composers (or at least composers with German surnames):

Johann Sebastian Bach = John Sebastian Creek (I've no idea how this may relate to the British TV show Jonathan Creek)
Leonard Bernstein = Leo Amber
Robert Zimmerman (real name of Bob Dylan) = Bob Carpenter
Richard Wagner = Ricky Wainwright

And here are a few more Germans for good measure:

Richter Scale = Judge Scale
Schneider = Tailor
Schumacher = Shoemaker
Muller = Miller
Claudia Schiffer = Claudia Skipper (as in ship's captain)
Albert Einstein = Bertie One-stone (Technically the surname here originally meant "place surrounded by a stone wall")
Boris Becker = Boris the Baker
Max Weber = Max Weaver
Carl Jung = Charles Young
Sigmund Freud = Sigmund Joy

As James Joyce one wrote somewhere in the middle of Finnegan's Wake "they were yung and easily freudened".

Not that I'm an expert in German, or course. As Jerome K. Jerome put it somewhere in the middle of Three Men in a Boat: "I don’t understand German myself.  I learned it at school, but forgot every word of it two years after I had left, and have felt much better ever since."

This is Mr Joy

P.S. I know some of these people are Austrian, but the names are German.

P.P.S. Only four days until A Short History of Drunkenness is released in America.


  1. For Albert Einstein, how about Bertie Winston, Herr Friedmann?

  2. Joyous! In fact, I've had the same feeling for quite some time about BMW. I mean look at it in German Bayerische Motoren Werke, how grand sounding. And in English? It's a puny Bavarian Motor Works!

    1. this way it's joyous, indeed. The actual translation is as dull as all the abovementioned surnames - Bavarian Motor Factories. A description of what it is (or what the name-receiving anchestor did or where he lived or what special features his appearance/character made him stand out (and all the other things I missed). It's a really interesting topic.

  3. I believe the soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was know in the music business as Bessy Blackhead.

  4. Just one small pedantic comment, Giacomo is James, Giacobbe is Jacob,I offer this as being Anglo-Italian with a son named Giacomo