German toponymy

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Placenames in the German language area can be classified by the language from which they originate, and by their age.

German names from prehistoric and medieval timesEdit


  1. -ach, ("river"). Examples: Echternach, Salzach.
  2. -au (from Slavic suffix -ov, -ów). Examples: village and town names' suffixes on former Polabian Slavs territories: Lübbenau, Plau. See also: German naming convention of Polish town names during World War II as an analogy:[1]
  3. -au, -aue (related to rivers or water), see German words Au or Aue. This meaning of -au (earlier spelling ow, owe, ouwe) describes settlements by streams and rivers. Example: Passau, the town Aue, rivers named Aue.
  4. -bach or Low German -bek ("stream"; cf. English beck, bach, batch). Examples: Amorbach, Ansbach Reinbek, Wandsbek.
  5. -berg, -bergen ("mountain"). Examples: Bamberg, Heidelberg, Nürnberg (Nuremberg), Königsberg ("king's mountain", now Kaliningrad), Landesbergen. Also reduced -burg, e.g. in Bromberg ← Brahenburg.
  6. -brücken or -brück ("bridge"). Examples: Saarbrücken, Osnabrück, Innsbruck.
  7. -bühl, or -bühel ("hill"). Examples: Dinkelsbühl, Kitzbühel.
  8. -burg ("keep"; cf. English bury, borough, burgh). Examples: Hamburg, Augsburg, Luxembourg, Regensburg (on the river Regen), Salzburg ("Salt City", a Medieval name), Straßburg (Strasbourg).
  9. -dorf or -torf, Low German dorp/torp ("village") cf. English "Thorpe". Example: Düsseldorf, Reinickendorf, Kleinblittersdorf.
  10. -ey ("island"; cf. English ey, ea, Low German oog). Example: Norderney, Hacheney.
  11. -feld or -felde ("field"). Examples: Bielefeld, Mansfeld, Saalfeld.
  12. -furt ("ford"). Examples: Erfurt, Frankfurt, Klagenfurt.
  13. -hagen ("hedged field or wood"). Example: Hanshagen.
  14. -halde oder -halden ("hillside", "slope"; cf. Norwegian Halden). Examples: Haldensee, Osshalden near Crailsheim.
  15. -hausen ("houses"). Examples: Mülhausen (Mulhouse), Mühlhausen, Recklinghausen, Schaffhausen.
  16. -haven, or -hafen ("harbour", "port", "haven"). Examples: Wilhelmshaven, Bremerhaven, Friedrichshafen.
  17. -heim (South and Central Germany, Switzerland, Alsace), -ham or -am (Bavaria and Austria), -hem or -em (West), -um (North Germany) ("home", "settlement"; cf. English ham and Hamlet (place)). Examples: Alkersum, Bochum, Borkum, Pforzheim, Kirchham, Schiltigheim, Mannheim, Mülheim, Bad Windsheim.
  18. -hof, -hoff or -hofen ("farmhouse(s)"; cf. English hope). Examples: Hof, Bechhofen, Diedenhofen (Thionville).
  19. -hufe ("hide"). Example: Grünhufe.
  20. -hut ("guard"). Examples: Landshut, Waldshut.
  21. -ing or -ingen, -ungen, -ung, -ens (meaning "descendants of", used with a personal name as the first part; cf. English ing as in Reading). Examples: Göttingen, Esslingen, Straubing, Esens.
  22. -kirchen or -kirch ("church", cf. English kirk, church. Dutch kerk). Examples: Feldkirch, Gelsenkirchen, Neunkirchen.
  23. Low German -oog (Northwestern) or -öhe, -oie, -ee (Northeastern) ("small island"; cf. English ey, ea). Examples: Dutch Schiermonnikoog, Hiddensee.
  24. -ow (from Slavic suffix -ov, -ów). Examples: village and town names' suffixes on former Polabian Slavs territories: Bützow, Neubukow, Stäbelow, Malchow, Teterow, Güstrow.[2]
  25. -roth, -rath, -rode, -reuth, or -rade ("clearing"; cf. English rod, rode, royde). Examples: Roth, Bayreuth, Overath, Wernigerode. It can also be used as the prefix Rade-: Radebeul, Radevormwald.
  26. -stadt, -stedt, -stätt, or -stetten ("settlement", "town", "place"; cf. English stead). Examples: Darmstadt, Eichstätt, Ingolstadt, Neustadt.
  27. -stein ("stone", "rock", "castle"). Examples: Allenstein, Bartenstein, Königstein.
  28. -tal or -thal ("valley", "dale"). Examples: Wuppertal, Roßtal, St. Joachimsthal.
  29. -wald or -walde ("forest"; cf. English weald, wold). Examples: Greifswald, Creutzwald, Regenwalde.
  30. -wang, -wangen, or -wängle ("meadow"; cf. Norwegian vang. English wang). Examples: Feuchtwangen, Ellwangen, Nesselwängle.
  31. -wend, or -winden (meaning small Slavic settlements in Germanic surroundings). Examples: Bernhardwinden near Ansbach, Wenden near Ebhausen.
  32. -werder, -werth, -wörth, or -ort ("island", "holm"). Example: Donauwörth, Finkenwerder, Kaiserswerth, Ruhrort.


  • Prefixes can be used to distinguish nearby settlements with an otherwise same name. They can be attached or stand alone. Both settlements that are to be distinguished can have opposing prefixes (e.g. Niederschönhausen and Hohenschönhausen), but it is also common to attach the prefix only to one of them (e.g. Stettin and Neustettin).
  1. Alt-, Alten- or Low German Olden- ("old"). Examples: Alt Eberstein, Altenberg, Oldenburg.
  2. Groß- or Großen- ("greater"). Example: Groß Kiesow, Großenhain.
  3. Hoh-, Hohen-, Höch- or Hoch- ("high(er)", "upper"). Examples: Hohenschönhausen, Hohkönigsburg, Höchstadt.
  4. Klein- or Low German Lütten- ("little"). Example: Klein Kiesow.
  5. Neu-, Neuen- or Low German Nien- ("new"). Example: Neuburg am Inn, Neuenkirchen, Nienburg.
  6. Nieder- ("lower"; cf. English nether). Example: Niederschönhausen.
  7. Ober- ("upper", "higher"), or Oberst- ("uppermost", "highest"). Example: Oberhausen, Oberwesel, Oberstdorf.
  8. Wendisch-, Windisch- (Slovene) ("Wendish") . Example: Wendisch Baggendorf, Windischgarsten. This sometimes refers (particularly in present and former Austrian territories) to the original language of the inhabitants. Other examples: Böhmisch Krummau (Česky Krumlov), Unter-Deutschau (Nemška Loka).
  9. Unter- ("lower"; literally "under"). Example: Unterliederbach.
  • Prefixes can also have a descriptive character. Examples are Lichten- or Lichter- ("open range", e.g. Lichtenhagen), Schön- or Schöne- ("nice", e.g. Schönwalde), Grün- or Grüne- ("green", e.g. Grunwald).
  • Prefixes can also be used to indicate an (earlier) possession of the site. Examples are Kirch- ("ecclesial possession", e.g. Kirch Jesar), Bischofs- ("a bishop's possession", e.g. Bischofswerda), Grafen- ("a count's possession", e.g. Grafenwöhr), Königs- ("the king's", e.g. Königs Wusterhausen, Königsberg), Kron- (possession of the crown, e.g. Kronstadt, Rügenwalde (once belonging to the princes of Rügen).
  • The prefix Bad ("bath") indicates the place is an officially acknowledged spa. See Bad Kissingen, Bad Pyrmont, etc. Some places, like Aachen, do not use it although they could.
  • Often the name of the village founder or of the first settler constitute the first part of the place name (e.g. Oettingen, the founder was Otto; Gerolfingen, the founder was Gerolf, Rappoltsweiler, the founder was Ratbald or Ratbert). Mostly in the former Ostsiedlung area, the locator's name was sometimes included as the first part of the name (e.g. Hanshagen, the locator was Hans).


Some settlements have the name of a river or the province attached to their name to distinguish it from an (even distant) one carrying the same name. The distinguishing word can be added in parentheses, or connected to the name with prepositions an der/am ("at"), ob der ("upon"), auf ("on") or in/im ("in"), or separated by a slash. Examples are:

Often, attachments or prepositions are abbreviated in the official names, e.g. Berg b.Neumarkt i.d.OPf. ("Berg bei Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz"), or compare Landau in der Pfalz and Landau a.d.Isar, or Langenfeld (Rheinland) and Stolberg (Rhld.)

Sometimes, a descriptive word is attached to a new settlement, that was once budding of another one and except for the attached word has the same name.

  • (...)-Siedlung ("settlement")
  • (...)-Hof ("farm"), sometimes carrying an additional Roman number (e.g. Sanz Hof IV)
  • (...)-Ausbau ("expansion")


The old Germanic Gaue districts were established by Charlemagne; earlier German spellings were Gowe, Gouwe. One can still find the old Gouwe (Gau) for example in Haspengouw (Dutch name of Hesbaye) or Gäu as in Allgäu.

German names from modern timesEdit

They usually follow the established patterns.

German placenames deriving from other languagesEdit

  1. Celtic names, used in prehistoric times in the southern and western parts of the German language area. Examples: Mainz (from Latin Moguntiacum, derived from a Celtic name), Remagen (from Celtic Rigomagos "king's field", Latinised as Rigomagus), Wien (Vienna) (from Celtic Windobona "fair bottom country" [Latinised as Vindobona] or Celtic Wedunia "forest brook" [Latinised as Vedunia]), Zürich (Zurich) (from the Celtic word turicon, derived from turus; the antique name of the town in its Romanized form was Turicum.)
  2. Latin names:
  3. Slavic names: Prior to the medieval Ostsiedlung, Slavic languages like Polabian, Sorbian, Pomeranian, and Slovenian were spoken in the eastern parts of the Holy Roman Empire. The German settlers and administration in many cases adopted existing Wendish placenames, for example Rostock (from Old Polabian rostok, "river fork"), Dresden (from Sorbian Drežďany), and Berlin (possibly from a Polabian word meaning "Swamp"). For the same reason, many German placenames ending in -anz (e.g. Ummanz), -gard (e.g. Burg Stargard), -gast (e.g. Wolgast), -itz (e.g. Lancken-Granitz), -ow (e.g. Gützkow), and -vitz or -witz (e.g. Malschwitz) have Slavic roots. Due to spelling and pronunciation changes over the centuries, the original Wendish term in most cases is not preserved. Also, some placenames combine a German with a Wendish term (e.g. Altentreptow). The German suffix -au can be related to the Slavic -ow and -ov when derived from the Old German spelling (u= w =double u; e.g. Prenzlau was earlier spelled Prenzlow).

See alsoEdit


  • Berger, Dieter (1999). Geographische Namen in Deutschland. Mannheim: Duden. ISBN 3-411-06252-5.

External linksEdit