German names from prehistoric and medieval times
- -ach, ("river"). Examples: Echternach, Salzach.
- -au, -aue (related to rivers or water), see German words Au or Aue. This meaning of -au (earlier spelling ow, owe, ouwe) describes settlements by streams and rivers. Example: Passau, the town Aue, rivers named Aue.
- -bach or Low German -bek ("stream", "beck" "bach/batch" as in: Comberbach). Examples: Amorbach, Reinbek, Wandsbek
- -brücken or -brück ("bridge"). Examples: Saarbrücken, Osnabrück, Innsbruck.
- -bühl, or -bühel ("hill"). Examples: Dinkelsbühl, Kitzbühel
- -burg ("keep", fort, borough). Examples: Hamburg, Augsburg, Luxembourg, Regensburg (on the river Regen), Salzburg ("Salt City", a Medieval name), Straßburg (Strasbourg).
- -berg ("mountain"). Examples: Heidelberg, Nürnberg (Nuremberg), Königsberg ("king's mountain", now Kaliningrad)
- -dorf or -torf ("village"). Example: Düsseldorf, Reinickendorf.
- -ey (island). Example: Norderney, Hacheney. In UK English can be ey as in: Hackeney, or noun: ait or eyot.
- -feld or -felde ("field"). Examples: Bielefeld, Mansfeld.
- -furt ("ford"). Examples: Erfurt, Frankfurt.
- -hagen ("hedged field or wood"). Example: Hanshagen
- -halde oder -halden ("hillside", "slope"; cognate to Norwegian Halden). Examples: Haldensee, Osshalden near Crailsheim
- -heim (South and Central Germany, Switzerland, Alsace), -ham / -am (Bavaria and Austria), -hem / -em (West), -um (North Germany) (all cognate to English home and the English place name suffix -ham). Examples: Alkersum, Bochum, Borkum, Pforzheim, Kirchham, Schiltigheim, Mannheim, Bad Windsheim
- -haven, or -hafen ("harbour", "port", "haven"). Examples: Wilhelmshaven, Bremerhaven, Friedrichshafen
- -hof or -hofen ("farmhouse(s)"). Examples: Diedenhofen (Thionville), Bechhofen
- -hufe ("hide"). Example: Grünhufe.
- -hut ("guard"). Examples: Landshut, Waldshut
- -hausen ("houses"). Examples: Mülhausen (Mulhouse), Mühlhausen, Schaffhausen.
- -ing or -ingen, -ungen, -ung, -ens (meaning "descendants of", used with a personal name as the first part; cognate to the English place name suffix -ing as in Reading). Examples: Göttingen, Straubing, Esens.
- -kirchen or -kirch ("church"and placename element: kirk). Examples: Neunkirchen, Feldkirch.
- Low German -oog (Northwest) or -öhe, -oie, -ee (Northeast) (= "small island"). Examples: Dutch Schiermonnikoog, Hiddensee.
- -roth, -rath, -rode, -reuth, or -rade ("clearing") cognate to English placenames such as: Murgatroyde, Bergerode, Harrod and so forth. Examples: Roth, Wernigerode, Overath. It can also be used as the prefix Rade-: Radebeul, Radevormwald.
- -stadt, -stedt, -stätt, or -stetten ("settlement", "town", "place"; cognate to the English place name suffix -stead as in Walstead). Examples: Darmstadt, Neustadt, Eichstätt.
- -tal or -thal ("valley", "dale"). Examples: Wuppertal, Roßtal, St. Joachimsthal
- -wald or -walde ("forest"). Examples: Greifswald, Regenwalde
- -wang, -wangen, or -wängle ("meadow"; cognate to Norwegian Vang) and English: Wetwang. Examples: Feuchtwangen, Ellwangen, Nesselwängle
- -wend, or -winden (meaning small Slavic settlements in Germanic surroundings). Examples: Bernhardwinden near Ansbach, Wenden near Ebhausen
- -werder, -werth, -wörth, or -ort ("island", "holm"). Example: Finkenwerder, Kaiserswerth, Donauwörth, Ruhrort
- Prefixes can be used to distinguish nearby settlements with an otherwise same name. They can be attached or stand alone. Both settlements that are to be distinguished can have opposing prefixes (e.g. Niederschönhausen and Hohenschönhausen), but it is also common to attach the prefix only to one of them (e.g. Stettin and Neustettin).
- Alt-, Alten- or Low German Olden- ("old"). Examples: Alt Eberstein, Altenberg, Oldenburg
- Groß- or Großen- ("greater"). Example: Groß Kiesow, Großenhain
- Hoh-, Hohen-, Höch- or Hoch- ("high(er)", "upper"). Examples: Hohenschönhausen, Hohkönigsburg, Höchstadt
- Klein- or Low German Lütten- ("little"). Example: Klein Kiesow
- Neu-, Neuen- or Low German Nien- ("new"). Example: Neuburg am Inn, Neuenkirchen, Nienburg
- Nieder- ("lower"; cognate to the English place name prefix "nether"). Example: Niederschönhausen
- Ober- ("upper", "higher"), or Oberst- ("uppermost", "highest"). Example: Oberhausen, Oberwesel, Oberstdorf
- Wendisch-, Windisch- (Slovene) ("Wendish") . Example: Wendisch Baggendorf, Windischgarsten. This sometimes refers (particularly in present and former Austrian territories) to the original language of the inhabitants. Other examples: Böhmisch Krummau (Česky Krumlov), Unter-Deutschau (Nemška Loka).
- Unter- ("lower"; literally "under"). Example: Unterliederbach
- Prefixes can also have a descriptive character. Examples are Lichten- or Lichter- ("open range", e.g. Lichtenhagen), Schön- or Schöne- ("nice", e.g. Schönwalde), Grun- or Grune- ("green", e.g. Grunwald).
- Prefixes can also be used to indicate an (earlier) possession of the site. Examples are Kirch- ("ecclesial possession", e.g. Kirch Jesar), Bischofs- ("a bishop's possession", e.g. Bischofswerda), Grafen- ("a count's possession", e.g. Grafenwöhr), Königs- ("the king's", e.g. Königs Wusterhausen, Königsberg), Kron- (possession of the crown, e.g. Kronstadt, Rügenwalde (once belonging to the princes of Rügen).
- The prefix 'Bad' indicates the place is an officially acknowledged spa. See Bad Kissingen, Bad Pyrmont, etc. Some places, like Aachen, don't use it although they could.
- Often the name of the village founder or of the first settler constitute the first part of the place name (e.g. Oettingen, the founder was Otto; Gerolfingen, the founder was Gerolf, Rappoltsweiler, the founder was Ratbald or Ratbert). Mostly in the former Ostsiedlung area, the locator's name was sometimes included as the first part of the name (e.g. Hanshagen, the locator was Hans).
Sometimes a descriptive word is attached to a new settlement, that was once budding of another one and except for the attached word has the same name.
- (...)-Siedlung ("settlement")
- (...)-Hof ("farm"), sometimes carrying an additional Roman number (e.g. Sanz Hof IV)
- (...)-Ausbau ("expansion")
Also, a river or the province can be attached to a settlement to distinguish it from a (even distant) one carrying the same name. The distinguishing word is added in parentheses or connected to the name by an der, am, ob der ("at"), auf ("upon") or in, im ("in"), or separated by a slash. Examples are Frankfurt an der Oder (also written Frankfurt (Oder), Frankfurt a.d. Oder, Frankfurt/Oder, Frankfurt/O.), Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bergen auf Rügen (also written Bergen (Rügen)) and Lauenburg in Pommern (also Lauenburg i.Pom.), Neustadt / Saale, Neustadt an der Waldnaab, Kochel am See, Frankfurt am Main, Freiburg im Breisgau, Lindau im Bodensee, Weilheim unter Teck, etc.
The old Germanic Gaue districts were established by Charlemagne; earlier German spellings were Gowe, Gouwe. One can still find the old Gouwe (Gau) for example in Haspengouw (Dutch name of Hesbaye) or Gäu as in Allgäu.
German names from modern times
They usually follow the established patterns.
- Wuppertal ("Wupper dale/dal/valley"), Karl-Marx-Stadt ("Karl Marx city", name for Chemnitz during the DDR era), Wilhelmshaven ("William's haven/harbour", referring to King William I of Prussia).
German placenames deriving from other languages
- Celtic names, used in prehistoric times in the southern and western parts of the German language area. Examples: Mainz (from Latin Moguntiacum, derived from a Celtic name), Remagen (from Celtic Rigomagos "king's field", Latinised as Rigomagus), Wien (Vienna) (from Celtic Windobona "fair bottom country" [Latinised as Vindobona] or Celtic Wedunia "forest brook" [Latinised as Vedunia]), Zürich (Zurich) (from the Celtic word turicon, derived from turus; the antique name of the town in its Romanized form was Turicum.)
- Latin names:
- from classical times, when the southern and western parts of the German language area belonged to the Roman Empire. Examples: Koblenz (from Confluentes "joining rivers"), Köln (Cologne) (from Colonia "colony"), Aachen (from Aquae "springs"), Augsburg and Augst (from Augusta "city of Augustus" and the Germanic suffix -burg).
- from medieval times, when Latin was the language of church and administration. Examples: München (Munich) (from monachus, "monk", ultimately from Greek μοναχός - monachos), Münster (from monasterium, "monastery", ultimately from Greek μοναστήριον - monastērion), Neumünster, Fraumünster, Grossmünster. See also minster.
- Slavic names: Prior to the medieval Ostsiedlung, Slavic languages like Polabian, Sorbian, Pomeranian, and Slovenian were spoken in the eastern parts of the Holy Roman Empire. The German settlers and administration in many cases adopted existing Wendish placenames, for example Rostock (from Old Polabian rostok, "river fork"), Dresden (from Sorbian Drežďany), and Berlin (possibly from a Polabian word meaning "Swamp"). For the same reason, many German placenames ending in -anz (e.g. Ummanz), -gard (e.g. Burg Stargard), -gast (e.g. Wolgast), -itz (e.g. Lancken-Granitz), -ow (e.g. Gützkow), and -vitz or -witz (e.g. Malschwitz) have Slavic roots. Due to spelling and pronunciation changes over the centuries, the original Wendish term in most cases is not preserved. Also, some placenames combine a German with a Wendish term (e.g. Altentreptow). The German suffix -au can be related to the Slavic -ow and -ov when derived from the Old German spelling (u= w =double u; e.g. Prenzlau was earlier spelled Prenzlow).
- Germanic toponymy
- Celtic toponymy
- German exonyms
- German names for Central European towns
- List of English exonyms for German toponyms
- List of European exonyms
- Grundwörter in Ortsnamen (German)