The Origins of Surnames
There are, generally speaking, four types of naming practices from which our current catalog of European surnames evolved. These surnames are usually derived from Characteristics, Localities, Occupations, and Patronymics (naming after the father's name).
The first European Surnames were probably adopted by noblemen, and were taken from personality characteristics. The nobleman might have been loved or hated, or he might have some unusual physical feature or personality characteristic. Let us say the nobleman's given name was Jacques. Jacques might have had a reputation for having the ferocity of a lion in battle, and his subjects or peers might have begun calling him Jacques de Lyon, that is "Jacques the Lion".
Names of Locality
Towns and cities, which usually evolved from small settlements, were very often named for the tribal chief or nobleman who founded the settlement. If Jacques de Lyon founded a settlement, the town which grew up from that settlement might be called Lyons. Later, as more families began to take surnames, they often took the name of the place from which they originated. In Europe it was usually customary for the aristocracy to carry prefixes to their names which meant "from" or "of". For example, the Germans used "von", the Dutch; "van", the French; "de", the Spanish; "del".
In time, some commoners also adopted the name of the town or region from which they came, although in most cases they simply used the place name without the qualifying prefix. Some also adopted surnames which were descriptive of the regions from which they came. In England a family might have the name "Appleby" which refers to a place "where the apples grow".
Some surnames were developed from occupations. If a man was a miller, he might simply take that name "Miller". Or if he was a blacksmith, he adopted the name "Smith". In Germany, an occupation name might be "Schmidt" (Smith), Miller, Brauer (a beer brewer), etc.
Patra is Latin for "father", thus "patronymics" refers to the naming of a child after his father. Patronymics has manifested itself in a variety of ways. In Scandinavia a child was surnamed after the first name of the father. If the father's given name was Lars, the son, at christening, was given a first name of his own, and the father's first name was given to the child as a surname. The given, christening name might be Olaf, and his surname would be given as Larsen, that is; Lar's son. Thus Lars Johansen's son might be named Olaf Larsen. If Olaf had a son he might be christened Peter, and surnamed Olafsen. Likewise the girls were also named patronymically. If Lars Johansen also had a daughter, and christened her Kirsten, she would be named Kirsten Larsdotter, that is; Kirsten, Lar's daughter. This type of patronymic practice was carried on in Scandinavian countries into the mid 20th century. It had been used for many generations making it quite difficult to trace ones ancestry back very far.
In Russia patronymics were, and still are used, although in a different form. Family surnames have been carried for many centuries since they were first developed, and use typical European naming conventions. In Russia, patronymics is applied in the giving of the middle name. We will use the Bohnstedt family in Russia as an example. A child is born to Maximilian Bohnstedt. He is christened Eduard, but given the middle name of Maximilianovitch, indicating that his father's name was Maximilian. Thus he is Eduard Maximilianovich Bohnstedt. He carried his own name, his father's name and his family's name. Of all naming practices this seems to be the most logical for purposes of trace-ability. The daughters were also given patronymic middle names except with a feminine "ovna" suffix instead the masculine "ovich". Thus Maximilian's daughter, christened Elza, was fully named "Elza Maximilianovna Bohnstedt".
Prefixes and Suffixes
There are a variety of prefixes and suffixes used throughout European naming conventions, which are applied to the beginning or end of a name. As previously stated, some good examples of prefixes are the German "von", the Dutch "van", the French "de", and the Spanish "del", which mean "of" or "from". Prefixes are also used with some Celtic names such as "Mac", "Mc" or "O". O'Malley, literally means "of Malley".
Some languages use suffixes instead of prefixes. Scandinavian names use "sen" or "son" which means "son". Armenian names frequently end with "ian" or "yan". For example, the ancestor of the "Sarkissian" family was named "Sarkiss", and his descendants are named Sarkissian meaning that they are "of Sarkiss". Suffixes are also applied to patronymics, such as "vitch", and "ovna", as described above.
The Bohnstedt Name
It is believed by anybody who has done any serious research into the matter that the name Bohnstedt, as well as other spelling variations, are probably regional names. It certainly does not seem to be an occupational or characteristic name. Bohne in German means "Bean". Stedt approximately means "place", and has the same root origin of the English word stead which also means "place", such as in "instead of" (in place of). Stedt is closely related to the German word stadt, which means "city". Thus the prevailing theory is that Bohnstedt is probably a regional name meaning "bean city", "bean place", or "a place where beans grow".
1. Dictionary of American Family Names, 2003, edited by Patrick Hanks
Remarkably enough, The multi-volume Dictionary of American Family Names lists Bohnstedt in it's catalog. I say "remarkably" because of the rarity of the Bohnstedt name in America. I made a rough estimate that there have been fewer than 400 individuals born with the Bohnstedt name in America within the last three generations, by which I mean, the last one hundred years. To put that into perspective I will also state here that the last time I heard (several years ago) the U.S. population was around 350 million. That notwithstanding, "Bohnstedt" is listed in this dictionary.
I am sure many American Bohnstedts have noticed that their name is usually listed after "Bohnsack" in phone books and other publications. So it is here; Bohnstedt is listed right after Bohnsack. This dictionary of names says of Bohnsack that it is
German: occupational name for a bean grower, from a word meaning "beanbag", a compound of Bohn + Middle High German sac "bag", Middle Low German sak.
Bohnstedt, therefore (listed right after "Bohnsack") is
German: habitational name from a place of this name.
In other words, "bean-place".
Some Bohnstedts have used the prefix "von" at times, such as the noble Bohnstedt family in Sweden; "Von Bohnstedt", referring to the fact that they were "from" the Bohnstedt family.
When the Bohnstedt families moved into Sweden and Denmark, they continued to carry the family name instead of using Scandinavian naming practices, and thus we can still trace the Bohnstedt lines in those countries.
Although traditional naming conventions are and were used in Russia, there were some cases in which the children of male Bohnstedts in Russia carried the mother's name. This mostly occurred after the Marxist revolution when there was some concern about problems, whether real or perceived, which might have occurred due to having a German name rather than a Russian name. This might have been especially true during and immediately following the Second World War.
Naming Practices in Scandinavia
There are several Bohnstedt family lines in Denmark which are derived from female ancestors rather than males. There are various reasons for this. In some cases the female ancestor was not actually married, and the children were given the mother's maiden name of Bohnstedt. This situation is enhanced by the attitude of many Danes towards surnames. I have been told by some Bohnstedts in Denmark that there are a very limited number of surnames in Denmark and other parts of Scandinavia.
For example, when the custom in Denmark was changed so that a family line would continue to use the same surname from generation to generation, everybody was already using patronymic names, such as Jensen, Hansen, Larsen and such. This drastically narrowed down the range of available surnames and created a situation where an unusual surname is actually something to be prized. Thus when a child in one of these countries is born out of marriage, he or she may very well be given the mother's maiden name if it is an unusual name, such as "Bohnstedt".
Furthermore, I have also been told that even when a young couple marries in Denmark, it is not unusual for the parents to give the child the most unusual or interesting of the surnames belonging to the two parents, even if the most unusual surname belongs to the mother's family. Thus the Bohnstedt name continues to survive in Denmark despite the low numbers of males born in the Danish Bohnstedt family.
In the case of the Bohnstedt-Petersen line, when Charlotte Amalie Bohnstedt married Peder Christian Pedersen, they gave their children the hyphenated surname of Bohnstedt-Petersen. In other cases the name was added as a middle name, but with the obvious intent of carrying it down in one form or another, and it eventually becomes the surname or part of the surname.
The following example illustrates how many Danes find ways to keep an unusual surname, even if it was not passed down by the father:
Edith Hansen (born Bohnstedt) and Kristian Hansen gave their children the Hansen surname, but also gave all of them the Bohnstedt name as a middle name. Most of these children followed the same practice, giving their own children the last name of Hansen, but a middle name of Bohnstedt. Edith and Kristian's fifth child; their son Aage, also named his children "Bohnstedt (middle name) Hansen (last name)". Both of these children, Sonja and Poul, followed the same practice. Sonja married a man named Christensen, and their children were named Ulrik Bohnstedt Christensen and Eva Bohnstedt Christensen. Ulrik married Rikke Winther, and since Winther is another unusual name in Denmark, they opted to name their son Asger Bohnstedt Winther.
Technically this is not a creation of a new surname, such as a hyphenated name like Bohnstedt-Petersen. Officially and legally, Bohnstedt is still just a middle name, and some of the name giving variations can become complicated.
However, it appears that the obvious intent here was to find a method of continuing to use the Bohnstedt name as a family identifier. Therefore I treated it as such in this work.
- Hanks, Patrick. Dictionary of American Family Names. U.S.: Oxford University Press. 2003
2-0 / Part 2 The Bernburg Bohnstedt Line (Group 2) in Germany and Denmark
2-1 / Researching the Bohnstedt Families in Bernburg and Denmark
2-3 / The First Danish Bohnstedt Family
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