Thursday, July 17, 2014

Germane to Germans

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 precision’ abounds. And a veritable blitzkrieg of clich├ęs is raining down from the skies.

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 familiar with Lahm, Muller, Klose, Kroos and Schweinsteiger. 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 deceptively simple monikers offer cultural 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 someone 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 ‘shoemaker’. ‘Schneider’ would imply ‘tailor’. ‘Zimmerman’ would signify a carpenter. ‘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 champion footballer, right?