Number of the Month: 500,000 names

"This article was published in our February 2018 newsletter". Sign up here.

Thodi, Chinook, or how about Bluna: more and more parents in Germany are choosing or creating an original name for their offspring. Intended to highlight the child’s uniqueness, an original name reflects a society characterised by individuality, globalisation and mobility. "Each year, around 1,000 new names are approved and recorded by register offices", says Gabriele Rodriguez from the name advice centre at Leipzig University. It belongs to the university’s Namenkundliches Zentrum – its onomastic centre. "Roughly 60 percent of first names occur only once per year."

The child’s wellbeing is crucial

Parents of migrant origin draw inspiration from their own cultures, while binational families sometimes invent unique double names. "A German-African baby for instance was given a second name that combined the words Africa and Europe: Afrope", recounts Rodriguez. There is also a trend towards blending first names: Thorsten and Dieter are combined to form Thodi; Kerstin and Ron give rise to Keron. A different spelling can also be used to lend a more exotic touch to a common first name. However, register offices will not always accept a name just because the parents like it. "In cases of doubt, we conduct scientific analyses", explains Rodriguez. "Though it will ultimately be up to the registrar in question to decide whether to approve a first name or not." There are three key criteria: first, the name must be clearly recognisable as a first name, or proof must be provided that it is used as a first name somewhere in the world. Second, it must match the child’s gender. "Most importantly, however: the child’s wellbeing must not be put at risk", explains the onomastics expert. "Which is why names such as Satan, Rumpelstiltskin or Honeybunny are not permitted."

Timeless and beautiful

Despite all this creativity, it is timeless classics that head the list of most popular first names in Germany. For girls, Maria and Marie, Sophie and Sofia, Charlotte, Emma and Mia are most commonly chosen as a first or middle name, while the top ten names for boys include Maximilian, Paul, Elias, Alexander, Ben and Noah. "For German parents, the religious or cultural background of these names is often irrelevant", says Rodriguez. "What decides the matter for them is first and foremost their beautiful sound."

Short-lived trends

Roughly 100 years ago, on the other hand, it tended to be tradition and religion that would determine the choice of name rather than any aesthetic considerations: first-born sons would frequently be named after their father or grandfather, with subsequent children taking their names from their godparents. Catholics often picked the names of saints. It was not until after the Second World War that naming conventions were relaxed, allowing parents to choose virtually any name they wanted. This sparked a "Scandinavian wave" in the 1960s, which was then superseded by Anglo-American influence 20 years later. Gabriele Rodriguez currently observes that trends are becoming increasingly short-lived and that names are becoming shorter – there has also been a revival of old German names alongside popular American ones. Ida, Karl and Frieda have even managed to make it onto the list of Germany’s most popular first names.


Namenkundliches Zentrum at Leipzig University

The Namenkundliches Zentrum – or onomastic centre – at Leipzig University combines interdisciplinary research, teaching and advice. Its name advice centre plays a key role here. Its specialists provide information about different types of names, such as first names, surnames, place names, animal names and brand names, and conduct scientific analyses on behalf of authorities such as register offices and courts. Onomastics – the study of the history and origin of proper names – has been on offer at Leipzig University for more than 100 years, and can also be chosen as a degree course elective. (only in German)