Saturday, November 27, 2010

Surname Saturday - Bergmann

Some names require a lot of digging to discover their meaning or origin. Surnames derived from place names often fall into this class as they can reflect the entire history of a region. English place names come from every period of its history, with many having obscure Celtic or even pre-Celtic origins. Other surnames have very transparent meanings. Bergmann is one such name. The name consists of two parts berg and mann which in German translate to "mountain" and "man", respectively. As a compound, the term is used for "miner", possibly offering a clue to your ancestors' occupation. Berg is also a common element in many German place names (Königsberg, Nürnberg) and can easily be confused with burg "fortress" (discussed here). This confusion is particularly common for English speakers who do not distinguish between short vowels /i, u, e/ followed by /r/ and thus pronounce burg and berg the same way.

Besides German, these same elements are also common in other Germanic languages. Berg also means "mountain" in Dutch and Swedish, while Danish has bjerg. The name Bergman without double /n/ is also a common Swedish surname, as with the director Ingmar Bergman and the actress Ingrid Bergman.


  1. Sometimes translation of burg gives wall.Like a surrounding fortress as you say. So it does give a clue as to age of the city in germany other endings of the city is interesting for age information too.

    Then of course American settlers may name their town after a loved place in Germany. Some residents of Bleckede said it was sort of odd that no one has ever named a place in America Bleckede.
    I digress from your subject.I am Just looking for Bergmann's from Bleckede!

    Any thing in your knowledge about why there are two n's in some names like Bergman, Luhmann, Hagemann. Who are lutheran.

  2. @ a rootdigger
    Very good point about other translations and what they say about the age of the town.

    There are two n's in names ending in -mann because these names are compounds involving the the word mann "man", which has two n's in Standard German. It is important to realize that before the late 19th century what is now Germany was very divided and this most likely means that language and spelling were less standardized. I am not sure if there are any differences in the spelling between religious groups, but it is certainly possible. German Lutherans even before reunification would have had Luther's Bible as as a touchstone, while German Catholics would not have in the same way. I would be very interested in any differences that do exist.