©2009-2016 Becky Higgins

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Alsace Naming Convention

A question has bothered me for some time now: Why did the first few children of Salome and Charles Ruch not use their first (given) throughout their lives. Eva Salome was know as Salome until later in life, Caroline Magdalena was know as Lena, Louise Julie and Lisette Emma were Julia and Emma all their lives. In fact no one in the living family had ever heard the names Louise and Lisette in reference to these twins. I can understand the occasional person preferring his/her middle name but this just seems to be a trend.

Well, last night as I was perusing the internet looking for more information about life in Alsace during from the 1850s to the 1880s, I came across the following message which answers my question.


Von: fpbstra@club-internet.fr (Francis BUSSER)
Datum: 10.07.98, 01:11:49
Betreff: MIDDLE names

Dear all american researchers,

Please forget all you know about first, last and middle names if you handle with our Alsacian, Swiss, German or French names. This is a strictly american concept and make no sense here.

We all have here a 'family name' (French : 'nom de famille', German :'Familienname') corresponding with your 'surname' or 'last name'. But don't use this vocable, as the place of the 'family name' is not always the last.

We have also one or several given names and the order in which they are listed in the official documents has nothing to do with the usage we make from. We speak from 'prénoms' (French) or 'Vornamen' (German).
Given names is an acceptable translation, but don't speak from first or middle names. In the list of our given names, we (or our family) choose one as a 'call name' (French : 'prénom usuel', German : 'Rufname'). His
place in the birth certificate is variable. Not seldom we don't use the same 'call name' in our occupation and in our family.

So my wife is known as 'Claude' in her occupation and as 'Marie-Claude' in a part of the family. Her father was 'Antoine' in his family and 'François' outside.

Better : here in Alsace, we use also orally the 'Hofname' ('farm name') in place of the family name. One of my parent was known as the 'MAPSe Franz' altough his name was 'Franz HEINRICH', but his mothers farm name was 'MAPS'. Sometimes you can find documents with confusion between farm name and family name.

The order in which given name and family name are used depend on the context and on the social situation.

In French, a 'Pierre François Michel Antoine CHARRON' can sign his will as 'Michel CHARRON', but he sign a request to an administration as 'CHARRON Michel' and perhaps his wife call him 'François' and not

In German, 'Peter Franz Michel Anton WAGNER' is known by everybody as the 'WAGNER Michel'. If cultivated he sign in the French manner 'Michel WAGNER', but generally his signature is 'WAGNER Michel'. His wife call him perhaps 'Peter' or 'Anton' and not 'Michel'.

In very pious catholic families, you can find all the children with 'Marie' and 'Joseph' (or 'Maria' and 'Josef' in German) in the list of her christian names. In one of my families I find 'Maria Josef Karl Anton' called 'Karl', 'Maria Josef Anna' called 'Anna', 'Maria Josef Anna Luisa' called 'Luisa' or 'Lüwiss', 'Maria Josef Emil Anton' called 'Emil', 'Maria Anna Josef' called 'Maria', 'Maria Josef Doris Eva' called 'Doris' or 'Butzi' and 'Maria Josef Anton' called 'Anton' or 'Dony'.

As you see, it is better to forget all you know about first, last and middle names if you handle with our Alsacian, Swiss, German or French names. And if you don't like to increase the confusion, don't never
translate the christian names or the geographical names.

Good nightmares !
Francis Busser (in Alsacian, 'de Busser Franzl') in Strasbourg (Alsace)
Thanks for Francis I’ll look at all the relatives in Alsace with fresh eyes!!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! That post would make someone like me just throw in the towel! Thank you for working so hard!