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German Language/Middle names in Germany

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Question
Hello,

I hope you can help me -- I have a question about naming customs in Germany.

My question is -- I met a Russian recently who told me that middle names, as we understand them in the US and UK, were not used in Germany, and instead Germans had "two given names" (and the second given name was generally only used for official documents). I don't understand how this is different from the concept of middle names we have in the US and UK. Was this Russian man just completely wrong, or am I missing something? Is there any difference that you know of between the way we think of middle names in the US and UK, and the way you think of middle names in Germany?

Thank you very much for your time.

Answer
Hi Bella,

your Russian friend was right - the concept of a "middle" name doesn't really exist in Germany.
However, we have first/given names and last/family names.

Traditionally people had two or three first names and the second/third first name would usually have been one that came from a family member or a godfather/godmother or that was religiously motivated (Catholics would sometimes even name boys " ___ Maria", like with the famous poet Rainer Maria Rilke). People would normally call that person by their "first first name" though. My best friend's mother (now in her seventies) is called Irmtraut Sophie Charlotte but has never been called anything but Irmtraut. Both my parents and most people of their generation have two first names but unless you looked at their drivers license or passport you'd never know - everybody just goes by one name. (Exceptions are two-part names like "Karl-Heinz" or "Jens-Peter", but those would count as one name.)
All the "first" names must actually be *first names*, you cannot just add the mother's maiden name here or make something up ("Ivy Blue" wouldn't fly here.)

Now, I teach high school and the majority of my students have one given name and one last name. Some have two first names and I have one girl in Year 12 who has four(!) first names but that is very unusual. From the way the "second first" names sound they were chosen for their beauty/meaning/sound rather than to have a connection to grandma. So things seem to be changing.


I hope that clears things up for you. :-)

Best regards,
Cornelia

German Language

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Cornelia Neumann

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I can answer questions regarding grammar and style, as well as many questions about German culture, history, and literature.

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I am native speaker with a German degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and German. I lived and worked in the USA for seven years (taught high school and all college levels) and spent three years as a high school teacher of German and EFL at an international school in Mexico. In 2006 I returned to Germany, where I am currently working as a teacher in Hamburg.

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M.A., M.Ed., ABD, etc. etc.

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As allexperts.com is a volunteer site I've opted not to get rated - don't let that put you off though. :-)

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