The border between France and Germany is often depicted as the boundary between the Romantic-speaking west and the Germanic-speaking east. We know that French, Italian and Spanish are Latin-based languages developed from the far-reaching influence of the Roman Republic and Empire. However, English, Scandinavian, Dutch and German are known as Germanic-based languages. Since the English language borrows so many words from Celtic, Latin and Greek, many people don’t realize that ultimately modern English is derived from the Germanic tribes Angles and Saxons who basically took over England after the Romans left in the early 5th century to defend their collapsing empire. But let’s get back to the Germans, shall we? After English, German is the second most widely used Germanic language spoken with almost 100 million native speakers (5,000,000 in the United States highly concentrated in the states of North and South Dakota). German is the native language of both Germany and Austria and roughly 65% of Switzerland’s population use German as their native tongue.
As with the English language, German has three distinct periods known as Old German (c. 750-1050); Middle German (c. 1050-1500) and Modern German (c. 1500 to present). And as with all languages, the development into modern German went through many stages and evolved from the convergence of various dialects – the most popular of which is referred to as “Hochdeutsch” (or High German) which would eventually come to dominate. The German language was also impacted by Germany’s ever-changing territorial borders from the Middle Ages up through the Second World War and so we see Latin (French) and Slavic linguistically overlapping influences throughout time. The standardization of languages in medieval times was critical to effective trade and communication. Two major things happened in Germany which profoundly impacted the development of its language into modern German. One was the invention/refinement of the printing press (1440) by a German man named Johannes Gutenberg which allowed for the mass production of books that ultimately forced the standardization of language. The second is owed to a German priest named Martin Luther who translated the Greek Old Testament into High German (1522). German was forming into its final standardized shape.
In terms of names, the Germanic language has provided us with so many wonderful choices still popular today. Some of the time-tested male names we get from the Germanic language include Ludwig (Louis), Albert, Walter and William. For girls we get Adalheidis which gave us names like Adelaide, Alice, Alison and Heidi; or Ermendrud which gave us the hyper-popular Emma. Archaic German names have also persisted into modern times (although a bit more rarely). Helmut (mind and spirit) and Berthold (bright ruler) are some such examples. Like most nations of the western world, Christianity and the names borne by royalty had an almost equally profound influence on how Germans named their babies. Andreas (Andrew), Johannes (John), Jakob (James), Lukas (Luke), Maria/Mia (Mary) or Liesel (Elizabeth) are examples of Biblical names and names such as Friedrich and Wilhelm (Prussia); Franz, Josef, and Ferdinand (Austria); and Ludwig (Bavaria) were among the well-known monarchies.
Based off 2011 data, the five most popular boy names in Germany are: Ben, Leon, Lucas/Lukas and Finn/Fynn. For baby girls they are: Mia, Emma, Hannah, Leah and Marie. Names in Austria are a little bit different. For boys, they are: Maximilian, Lukas, Tobias, Alexander and David. The top five girl names currently in Austria are: Lena, Anna, Sophie, Leonie, and Marie.
As you can see from the names above, Germans (like other Western nations) are embracing names derived from a multitude of languages (Latin, Geek, Germanic, Hebrew). They are both religious and non-religious. They are both trendy and time-tested.