Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Is it Mr., Mrs., or the whole family?

When you're translating Mennonite German text, there is an important but subtle distinction between the ways the husband, the wife, and the whole family are named.

If the word refers to the husband, it will say, for example, "Abraham Reimer."

If it refers to the wife, it will say, for example, "Abraham Reimersche."  Married women are almost always called by their husbands' name with the -sche suffix added, except in formal records.  Sometimes even in formal records, such as church books, the wife will be called "Abraham Reimersche," especially if scribe doesn't know her actual first name.  This might occur if the wife in question is an older woman and the scribe is a younger man who has never heard her called by her first name.  It was considered disrespectful in the extreme to refer to a married woman by her first name.

If it refers to the the whole family (or to the couple, depending on the context), it will say, for example, "Abraham Reimers."  Also, there are a few surnames that take the -en suffix, for example, "Johann Koopen" would refer to the whole Johann Koop family (or to the couple, depending on the context).


  1. Thank you for posting this, Steve. That is very interesting. I have not yet studied the Mennonite records in German language yet (I am working on the US side first), but I am somewhat familiar with genealogical records in German language in other parts of Europe (specifically, Austria/Austro-Hungary). A couple of observations and questions:
    (1) Some of the Austrian records refer to a women last name in the same format as for the man. Other records use the female version, which is made by adding the suffix “-in”, to mirror, for example, occupations: Lehrer/Lehrerin, Verkäufer/Verkäuferin, Arzt/Ärztin. I have not come across the “-sche” suffix, but appreciate that any custom eaily varies across time and geographical location.
    (2) I imagine that in German, as in Slavic languages, there may be various ways of designating the last name of a woman. One is to make it into a feminine form, such as by using the ending “-in”, as presented in (1). This would be comparable, in English language, to changing last names “Salesman”, “Waiter”, and “Master” to “Saleswoman”, “Waitress” and “Mistress”. The second way of designating the last name of a woman is to use a possessive of the name’s name. This would be comparable, using the same examples, to “Salesman’s”, Waiter’s”, and “Master’s”. My understanding of German is limited, but I think that the possessive would be designated by the “-sche” ending. Thus, I believe the wife in your article was not referred to as “Mrs. Abraham Reimer”, but rather “Mr. Abraham Reimer’s [wife]”.

  2. Aside: I was surprised when I first came across the fairly common Mennonite name “Warkentin”. Do you have any idea why the last name is in the feminine form?

    1. There's a long article about the Warkentin surname at - unfortunately written without paragraph breaks, so I gave up skimming it. But it might answer your question.