First digital dictionary of German surnames planned

Surname inventory to be generated as a joint project of the Mainz Academy of Sciences and Literature


Under the auspices of the Mainz Academy of Sciences and Literature and in collaboration with Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the Technical University in Darmstadt, a long-term project aimed at preparing the first-ever comprehensive digital dictionary of German surnames will be commenced in 2012. This project will entail the lexicographic collation and mapping of the current range of surnames within Germany (including those of foreign origin) and their etymological interpretation. The surname dictionaries available today only cover a fraction of existing surnames and their information is often contradictory and mostly outdated.

Using data compiled by Deutsche Telekom in 2005, a mapping program has been developed for the new project that has, for the first time, made clear the precise distribution ranges of surnames in Germany. This will provide many new insights into the typologies of names, thus helping clarify their development and origin. Initially, every surname and its variants for which at least ten telephone connections are registered will be documented. The project is designed for use by both the interested general public and academic researchers in that it will provide a systemic catalog of the current range of German surnames arranged by formal and contextual-thematic aspects. The planned digital dictionary will distinguish between simple and complex surnames, draw attention to grammatical peculiarities and linguistic origin, provide information on the origin and historical background of names given, and classify surnames in accordance with thematic relevance, i.e. on the basis of their reference to such aspects as clothing, hairstyle, craft, type of dwelling, and physical and/or character traits.

This project is unique worldwide in that this is the first time that the full current range of surnames within a particular country will be collated and made readily accessible to all users in digital format. It is hoped that the project, being supervised by Professor Dr. Damaris Nübling, a linguist at the German Department of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, will result in more than 250,000 surname entries being made available during its expected duration of 24 years.