Naming Customs in Schleswig-Holstein

by Gary Horlacher

The southern parts of the Dano-Germanic Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein (the Holstein area and southern Schleswig) used the naming customs found in other low-German regions. Set surnames became used in the early 16th century and before and by the earliest records most people had names. Many names were similar to other low-German dialect areas and included patronymic names as well such as: Peters, Jürgens, Johannsen, Ruetke, Scheel, Hopner, Classen, etc.

In areas a little further north, the area mostly comprising former duchy Schleswig, Patronymics were used throughout most of the 18th century. This meant that if a person's father was named Jep or Peter, then the sons and daughters used the surname Jepsen or Petersen. Areas closest to Denmark the daughters sometimes used the surnames as Jepsdatter and Petersdatter, but most areas of Schleswig they took the same patronymic form as the boys.

Because of problems involving identifying heirs and relatives for probate proceedings, a law was passed in the duchy of Schleswig in Nov 1771 requiring the taking of set-surnames throughout the region. The result was that in some places people took set patronymic names or used old nicknames or farm names, or in a few areas took entirely new names. Sometimes a person may have taken a patronymic name other than their own or their father's patronymic name. This law was passed by Struensees in the name of the mentally ill King Christian VII. Because of Struensees' fall from power a similar law was not passed for the rest of the country (Denmark).

Although this law changed the naming customs in this part of Denmark, the change took time to completely take effect. It took a full generation before the set-surnames were well established. The generation born about 1770-1800 may be listed several ways and with different surnames in different records (see example of Ingeburg Peters, below). It is important to find this generation in the later 1835, 1840, 1845 and subsequent census records and in the death records where it lists the birth place and parents names to verify all the variations a person might be listed in records from the late 18th century and early 19th century.

For those who wished to continue using Patronymics, they could give a patronymic name as a middle name which sometimes appears as a double surname.

Because of some of the people in this region belonging to the cultural group of Ostfriesland, you also find a lot of surnames that don't end in -sen, but just -s, such as Peters and Jeps. The -s suffix is possessive. It often has the implied meaning of the person's wife as well as a person's son, so a Else Peters might actually be the wife of a Peter rather than the daughter of a Peter. This should be kept in mind when dealing with the shorter name.

Schleswig-Holstein Examples

Flinders This family was from Selent, Kreis Plön, in the eastern part of Schleswig-Holstein, which was part of Holstein Duchy. They had the surnames Bluedorn, Schröder, Koch, Schuelten, and Strucken and back to the early 1700s and before did not change surnames or follow patronymics. They also lived in villages in Kreis Plön which were part of Neukirken Parish in Lübeck-Oldenburg, which was not part of the duchy.

Sonne Her ancestry comes from the following parishes which were part of Schleswig but are now all in Denmark, just north of the border:

  • Højst, Skærbæk, Nr. Løgum, & Løgumkloster in Tønder, Denmark (formerly Tondern Kreis, Schleswig)
  • Agerskov in Haderslev, Denmark (formerly Hadersleben Kreis, Schleswig)
  • Vr. Nebel & Vr. Nykirke in Ribe, Denmark (considered lower Denmark, but never actually part of Schleswig.

The family that was from Denmark and moved further south followed the naming custom in Schleswig and took the family surname "Madsen". Earlier generations in Ribe all fit patronymic customs.

Family in Tønder (Nord Tondern), now part of Denmark, took surnames after 1770s. Before that period one family had a surname Fælger, but used a patronymic surname in addition to this surname. The son in the family took the name Abild (which is a place name in the area) which became the family surname after 1770s.

Apparently the law of 1771 took some years before it was used generally throughout the area. The Johannsen family in Løgumkloster, Tonder, all of their records from 1728-1919 were in German except a marriage record in 1855 which was in Danish. The ancestor Johan Henrik born in 1796 was the son of Jens Johannsen. His birth record in 1796 listed his surname as Jensen, but in his marriage, death, and all other records his surname is listed as Johannsen, so although in 1796 the minister was still listing patronymics in his birth records, the family used the surname of the father according to the law of 1771 in later records.

Examples show civil records in early 1900s in German, church records during German period 1880s, and records in German and Danish during the Danish era 1855, 1700s.

Loyd This ancestry was from Ladelund which is just on the German side of the modern boarder of Germany-Denmark. The family was from the parishes in this region of Ladelund, Leck, and Tønder (the first two in Germany, the last in Germany), all of which was Tondern Kreis in Schleswig Duchy. Part of the ancestry, the Sellmer family came from Dänsichhagen (Kreis Eckernförde, Schleswig) and Kiel (Stadt Kreis), both cities in eastern Schleswig-Holstein.

The Sellmer family ancestry had set surnames back as early as the records go in the 1600s: Selmer, Reimers, Dieckmann, Böjen, Lütze, Bode. This was a more enterprising-city type area rather than rural area.

The other family members who were from Ladelund and surrounding towns on the modern boarder between Germany and Denmark changed from using patronymics in the late 1700s. Peter Christian Kristensen, born 1777, was the son of a Kristen Jensen, but all his descendants continued to use the name Kristensen. Hans Caspar Jepsen, born 1786, was the son of Christian Jepsen, so he used his father's patronymic name.

Some families are problematic as is the case for Ingeburg, wife of Hans Casper Jepsen:

  • Birth record, 1794: Ingeburg Peters, daughter of Detlef Jürgensen [where does Peters come from as a surname here? Did the family just decide that would be the set surname for their descendants?]
  • Marriage record, 1812: Ingeburg Peters, daughter of Detlef Peters.
  • Birth record of children, 1813 & 1825: Ingeburg Petersen
  • Birth record of children, 1815 & 1822: Ingeburg Detlefs
  • Birth record of child, 1818: Ingeburg Detlefsen
  • Birth record of child, 1828: Ingeburg Jürgensen [father's surname]
  • Birth record of child, 1834, & 1835 census: Ingeburg Peters

Examples of church records 1810s, 1770s and 1780s, census records 1845 and 1860, and family registers from Dänsichhagen are all in German, not Danish.

Schmeiser Runge family left Hamburg 1870. Ancestry was from the parishes of Schenefeld and Wacken Parishes in Rendsburg Kreis and Kellinghusen and Hohenaspe Parishes in Steinburg Kreis. The surnames of the family in this area (Runge, Jurgens, Holm, Scheel, Schmoon) were set surnames, however we did not have records, other than census records, to search the families back really early.

Examples of 1845 and 1855 census records, Hamburg Passenger list & Germans to America.

Schmeiser The second project was a family from Fehmarn Island, which is part of Oldenburg Kreis, the easternmost part of Schleswig-Holstein. Records were traced back into the late 1600s, early 1700s, but patronymics was not used here but set surnames: Petersen (early records Peetzen), Sievert, Hammann, Cartier, Classen, Tiedemann, Roepke, Mildenstein, Treu, Hopner, Glum.


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