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« What's in a Name | Home | Place Names »

Alias - Genannt - AKA- Also Known As

by Bill Biar

Friday 18 November 2011 at 10:31 pm.

The practice of assuming other surnames (aliases) by some of our Wendish or Sorbian ancestors in Lusatia makes research rather difficult at times.

An example of an entry in the records that indicates an alias is “Jakob Dzick genannt Mitschke.”  It simply means that Jakob Dzick assumed the surename Mitschke.  In this case the surname was that of a widow he married, Anna Mitschke.

Another example is “George Bähr gennant Juri Biar.”  The name-change was from the German George Bähr to the Wendish Juri Biar.

Gennant may be translated as called, surnamed, mentioned or referred to.  However, none of these these appear to define the read meaning of gennant when used in conjunction with name-changes of many of our Wendish ancestors.  When a person underwent a name-change he was listed in the records by his former name followed by gennant, and then by the name he was assuming.  Eventually his former surname, and in some cases his former complete name, was dropped and he was then known by the name he assumed.  I have found very few exceptions to this rule.  The wife and children, even children from former marriages, also adopted the assumed surnames.

Alias, when defined as an assumed name, is a good word to use to convey the meaning of gennant.  I chose alias instead of “also known as” (aka) used in American legal documents.

In Lusatia, and probably elsewhere in Germany, the oldest son of a peasant father was the first in line to inherit his father’s property.  However, quite often there were no male heirs born to peasant parents.  In such cases the men who married into such families to take over properties (with payout provisions) assumed the surnames of the fathers-in-law.  Men who married widows of property owners often assumed the surname of the widows’ deceased husbands.  In still other instances, when there were no close males heirs available, distant male relatives took over such properties, provided they paid out others who had similar interests.  The relationship could be either by blood or by marriage.  Examples of the above are as follows:

Hans Hennersdorf, alias Mittrach *                  Martin Hennersdorf, alias Widerach *

Michael Prelop, alias Hottass **                      Johann Sterp, alias Hottass ***

Jakob Dzick, alias Mitschke ****                     Jakob Mitschke, alias Mörbe ****

* These two were brothers.  Both married into families where there were no male heirs.

** Michael Prelop assumed the surname Hottass in 1732 when he became the village magistrate (Schulze) of Spree by marrying the daughter of the former magistrate.

*** Johann Sterp assumed the surname Hottass in 1759 when he married the daughter of  the above Michael Prelop, alias Hottass, and became the village magistrate.

**** This was the same person.  The first name-change occurred when he married the widow of a man, who owned a farm.  The oldest son of the widow's first marriage was in line to inherit the property when he reached maturity, even though the widow died after only four years of marriage to her second husband.  The second name-change came about when he purchased the Mörbe farm to which he had hereditary rights as a distant relative.

The lower courts were in charge of settling inheritances.  Accurate records were kept on all proceedings affecting properties.

In the bi-lingual part of Lusatia there were aliases due to the two languages.  Examples are as follows:

Georg Krautz (S), alias Schneider (G) - both surnames mean tailor.

Johann Schmidt (G), alias Kowar (S) - both surnames mean smith or blacksmith.

Johann Kuchar, (S), alias Koch (G) - both surnames mean cook.

(G) German               (S) Sorbian

Other instances when aliases were used were due to  pronunciation and derivation.

Examples are as follows:

Anna Maucke, alias Małke - Maucke is the German phonetical spelling of the Sorbian Małke.  The Sorbian ł is pronounced like u.  The Sorbian Małke means klein in German, in English, small, little, short, etc.

George Bähr (Baehr), alias Juri Biar - Juri means George.  An alternate spelling of Bähr is Bär (Baer).  According to Dr. Helmut Fasske, Sorbian Ethnological Institute in Bautzen, Bähr (Bär) was taken into Sorbian as bar, there being no vowel modification mark (Umlaut) in Sorbian.  Since the Sorbian b in bar is a soft b it must be followed by a soft vowel, either e or i.  In this case i was chosen and that is how the odd name of Biar originated.  Later it was also spelled Bihar, Biehar and Bjar.

There are several entries on the BEN NEVIS Ship Register that indicate aliases.  Most of these are also listed in Wilhelm Iwan's book Die Altlutherische Auswanderung um Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts  (The Old Lutheran Emigration in the Middle of the 19th Century), but his book was limited to those emigrants who came from Prussia.  Listed are some that appear on both the ship list and Iwan's book (Note the variation in spelling):

No. 20 on the Ship Register reads: “Johann Kruper-Hohle,” while Iwan's book reads: Joh. Hohle gen. Kruper (Joh. Hohle, alias Krupper).

No. 21 on the Ship Register reads: “Matthaus called Mroske.” while Iwan's book reads: “Mattheus Schatte gen. Mroske” (Mattheus Schatte, alias Mroske).

No. 135 reads: “Johann Bartel-Merting”  Iwan reads: Joh. Merting genannt Barthel” (Joh. Merting, alias Barthel).

No. 136 reads: “Johann Bartel-Merting.”  Iwan reads: “Eltern Joh. Merting, Frau Anna geb. Schatte”  (Parents Joh. Merting, wife Anna, nee Schatte).  From this it is hard to tell what the original surname was of Nos. 135 and 136.

No. 137 reads: “Matthaus [&] Christoph Kruper-Hole.”   Iwan reads: “MathesKrupper gen. HohleChristof Krupper” (Mathes Krupper, alias Hohle; Christof Krupper).  Note that Iwan lists Christoph as Krupper only.

No. 49 on the printed Ship Register reads: “Andreas Pohje.”  On the original handwritten Ship Register the surname is spelled Pehse.  Iwan's book reads: “Andreas Pehse genannt Franke” (Andreas Pehse, alias Franke).

Dr. George Nielsen, in his book In Search of a Home lists Johann Kasper (born in 1794).  Iwan's book lists this person as “Johann Hottas gen. Kasper” (Johann Hottas, alias Kasper).

The assumption of aliases by many of my ancestors in Lusatia made searching for my roots in East Germany very difficult.  However, it turned out to be very fascinating for me to be able to determine how some of my ancestors got their surnames.  The changing of surnames was a factor right up to the time of the immigration to Texas.

three comments

Mary Jane Akin

This article has been very helpful to me.

Thank you for writing it.

Mary Jane Akin - 11/2/2015 04:48
Holly Compton

THis was very helpful for me as well, I’ve heard my Mother say Gennant as in thinking this was part of the name her Father had in Germany, but when I started doing research I knew something was off.

Holly Compton - 05/27/2016 06:40
Roger Bagula

I have several relatives who used this form in documents, but their children seem to have gone back to the original name:
(Liese) Elise Genant Plowka Bagola
Christian Genant Plowka Bagola
Martin Aka Plowka Bagola
Anna Genannt Plowka Bagola
Search for Plowka which seems to be Slavic / Sorb for Duck turns out to be useless. No record of American Plowka’s in Texas, Iowa or Wisconsin either ( the three major Wend destinations in America by my names research).
As you can see my great grandfather changed his name in St Louis: no record of naturalization either. Thanks for confirming what I had thought about the meaning of Genannt.
Roger Bagula

Roger Bagula - 10/14/2016 17:51

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