Most Popular German Names

by Jakob Straub
April 08, 2020

Trends for baby’s first names come and go, and Germany is no exception. Traditionally, popular names have favoured first names exclusive to the German language, but over time, German names have become more international. We’ll look at the most popular German names for boys and girls and examine trends and even restrictions for German baby names.

Popular German names

Germany doesn’t keep official statistics on the popularity or spread of male and female first names, but the analysis of birth certificates provides data significant enough to determine trends as well as changes through the years.

Popular names for boys in Germany

  1. Elias: Of Hebrew origin, the name Elias goes back to the prophet Elija and means “My God is Yahweh”.
  2. Emil: A French version of Émile, the German Emil describes someone who’s eager, hardworking, and imitating going back to Latin.
  3. Linus: In ancient Greek mythologie, “Linos” is the son of Apollo and brother of Orpheus. While it’s a fairly common English name, Linus only rose to popularity in German in the 90s.
  4. Liam: Though an English name, Liam goes back to the Old High German “Wilhelm” and describes a strong-willed, determined protector.
  5. Theo: Short for Theodor, this originally Greek name means “God’s gift”. The rise in popularity is a new phenomenon, though the German name Theodor dates back to medieval times.
  6. Anton: Going back to the Latin Antonius, this name references Anteo, son of Hercules. Definitely an antiquated name, though young parents are bringing it back.
  7. Paul: It’s fair to say that Paul is an evergreen as far as names go. Its origin is Latin, meaning “the little one” or “the younger one”.
  8. Samuel: Of Hebrew and Greek origin, Samuel contains the Hebrew words for “hearing” and “God”, giving it the meaning of “the one heard by God”.
  9. Felix: Another Latin name, Felix is “the happy one”, though other meanings attributed to the name include “lucky” and “successful”.
  10. Jonas: This name references the dove, a symbol for peace. Jonas comes from the Hebrew “Jonah” and is interpreted as “peacemaker”.

Popular names for girls in Germany

  1. Sarah: This name exists in many languages but is or Hebrew origin. In the Old Testament, Sarah is named as Abraham’s wife. The meaning of Sarah is “princess”, but also “morning star”.
  2. Emilia: A Latin and Italian name, Emilia has the same meaning as Emil: eager, hardworking, and imitating.
  3. Laura: The name comes from the Latin “laurus” for laurel, as well as from the Roman city “Laurentum”. Laura is therefore a girl wreathed with laurels.
  4. Anna: The name was shortened from Hannah, which comes from the Hebrew “channah”, a word for “grace” and “merciful”.
  5. Lina: Short for both Angelina or Paulina, Lina can mean “little one”, “little angel”, or “gentle one”.
  6. Ida: Popular in Scandinavia, Ida also appears in Old High German and was a common German name in medieval times. It means both “the worker” as well as “the virgin”.
  7. Lena: Popular in northern Europe, Lena actually goes back to ancient Greek and Hebrew and is short for Helena or Magdalena. The meanings are therefore “radiant”, “beautiful”, “sublime”.
  8. Ella: Containing the Greek “hellas” as well as “Helena”, Ella pertains to everything related to the sun, meaning “sunshine”, “radiant”, and “beautiful”.
  9. Amelie: Though common in French and popular thanks to a certain movie, Amelie goes back to the Nordic Amalie, a name for an eager, efficient, and hard-working girl.
  10. Lea: Appearing in many languages, Lea is of Hebrew, Assyrian, and Latin origin. “Ruler” or “lioness” are popular interpretations, since the Hebrew meaning of “wild cow” or “tired” is far less flattering.

First names in Germany

Parents in Germany often give their children more than one first name, “Vorname” in German. Two are quite common, and some people actually have three or even four first names. Because of this, it is common to designate a “Rufname”, the first name you actually use. In most instances, it’s sufficient to state just one first name with your last name.

As a tendency, people avoid giving their kids highly unusual first names and instead create rather new or unusual combinations of first names, often with a personal reference. This can include the name of a parent or grandparent. Parents also tend to look for a first name or combination of names that describes their child’s character well-at least to the extent that they imagine it.

German name restrictions

It wouldn’t be Germany if there didn’t exist some rules around naming your child. The “Standesamt”, the local registry office, has to approve all names, so parents can’t choose the names of Pókemon characters, for example.

All first names must be proper and cannot be absurd, degrading, or be insensitive to religion. The names of places, objects, or brands are forbidden. As far as gender goes, first names must be gender-specific at least in one way, meaning in case of several first names, at least one must specify the gender. Cross-gender names are also ruled out, with the exception of Maria: you can name a boy Josef Maria, and a girl Maria Josef.

Traditional German first names

In the past, first names in Germany were much more German. Around 1900, people favored strong consonants in first names, with Friedrich, Fritz, Wilhelm, or Heinrich for boys, and Frieda, Margarethe, Elisabeth, or Bertha for girls. Certain names now carry the connotation of being old-fashioned, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make a comeback now and then in the form of Alfred, Markus, Johannes, Oskar, Noah, Vincent, or Franz for boys, and Annegret, Almuth, Luitgard, Lisbeth, Leni, Frieda, Mathilda,  Elfriede, Hildegard, Irmgard, or Lieselotte for girls.

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