Home Columns Anantha Narayan Germane to Germans

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    Ever since that scandalously, shockingly, appallingly, dreadfully, outrageously, hideously, horribly-gone-wrong 7-1 humiliation of Brazil, the world has warmed up to the awesomeness of Germany.

    Ergo, some familiar stereotypes have been dusted up, varnished and put back on the conveyor belt of circulation. Talk of ‘German preci-sion’ abounds. And a veritable blitz-krieg of clichés is raining down from the skies.

    With the Germans lifting the World Cup, it’s perhaps the right moment to learn something new about Deutschland — just to improve the quality of your conversations in social media. Let’s start with the football team that’s making waves. You’re now surely familiar with Lahm, Muller, Klose, Kroos and Schweinsteiger. But have you ever paused to wonder about their surnames?

    Muller actually means ‘miller’. Klose is a variation of ‘Nicholas’. Kroos decodes to ‘wine bottle’ and Schweinsteiger works out to ‘pig climber’! If the pedestrian nature of the meanings surprised you, let me usher you into the world of German surnames where decep-tively simple monikers offer cul-tural clues into the genealogy of the fatherland.

    Habitational surnames give us an inkling of the place of origin of the forefathers. Einstein is a classic example. Literally interpreted, it translates to ‘one stone’. What it alludes to is the fact that one of the great grandfathers of the bad-haired genius used to live near a rock. Eisenstein has similar roots. It means ‘iron stone’ and when you put it in context, it refers to some-one located near an iron-ore mine. Likewise, a mountain dweller would be a ‘Bergman’, a riverside resident would either be a ‘Bach’ or a ‘Becker’, and ‘Buchwald’ would be from a beech forest.

    Occupational surnames give us a hint of the kind of professions the Germanic tribes used to dabble in. Mahler meant ‘grinder’; Beckenbauer would cue ‘basin maker’; Jaeger would be a ‘hunter’; Faber and Schmidt would refer to ‘one who works on metal’; Schumacher would connote ‘shoe-maker’; Schneider means ‘tailor’; Zimmerman would signify a ‘car-penter’; Kaufman, a ‘merchant’; and Kohler, a ‘charcoal maker’.

    Nicknames also offered fodder for surnames. For instance, black haired ones were called Schwarzkopf, brown haired ones, Braun, white-haired people, Weisz, the curly-haired, Kraus and the bald folks, Kahl.

    Before I go Auf Weidersehen, let me conclude with Lahm. It denotes a ‘lame’ person. Certainly not a name you’d associate with a cham-pion footballer, right?

    -Anantha Narayan


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