What’s in a Name?

After spending yesterday with das Glück, I became a bit curious about the name of the street where I live – Gluckstrasse – because to the non-native ear this sounds like it might be Glückstrasse. Instead, it is named for the composer Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck (1714-1787). One contextual clue that Gluck rather than Glück was involved, is that to get to Gluckstrasse you make a turn off Wagnerstrasse. Now it could be der Wagner, the “cartwright” or “wainwright” but I’m guessing it isn’t because even in 1881 Wagner (Wilhelm Richard, 1913-1883) was better known as a composer than as a profession! (In fact, this site claims that he is the most influential composer who ever lived.)

This led me to do a bit of research on my own family name, Hirs(c)h, which happens to be German. I found several interesting origins in the Duden Lexicon der Familiennamen: Herkunft unde Bedeutung von 20 000 Nachnamen (and no, I’m not getting a commission but perhaps I should look into this…). The first entry indicates that the name comes as a result of being a hunter by profession. From what I can understand of the additional information given, the deer is considered both curious and equipped with secret knowledge (for more on the deer as a symbol see this site on “the sacred hart”). I’m not sure hunter is a good fit for me, but if I think about hunting in the metaphorical sense and then add to it this bit about curiosity and secret knowledge, then I do see a resemblance. The second entry suggests that the name dates back to 1304 when a Bürger from Worms called Jacobus took this name. Which in a roundabout way is related to the third entry which offers what is most likely the source of my name, the Bible.

Der Hirsch appears in Genesis 49:21, one verse in the Blessings of the Sons of Jacob:

“Naphtali is a deer let loose;
He uses beautiful words.” – New King James Version

Naphthali ist ein schneller Hirsch
und gibt schöne Rede. – Luther Bible 1912

As a writer, I like the reference to words here (especially coupled with the curiosity and secret knowledge from above!). According to this Jewish encyclopedia site, there are a number of variations on Naphtali: Cerf, Harris, Harrison, Hart, Herschell, Hershkovitz, Hertz, Hertzen, Hertzl, Herz, Herzl, Hirsch, Hirschel, Hirschkovitsch, Huzka, Zewi. I wonder if my grandfather had had this encyclopedia to hand when he was searching for a name change in order to appear less German (his metal-plating factory did 100% war work in WWII), he might have chosen Harrison or Hart?

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2 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. kwhirsh says:

    A deer let loose – the first bit of advertising on Bundesliga footballers’ jerseys was the stag of Jägermeister: http://www.dw.de/ein-hirsch-ver%C3%A4ndert-den-fu%C3%9Fball/a-16707531

  2. […] has been recorded!). For me, there is the additional issue that while my last name is German (see What’s in a Name), the spelling was changed during WWII to appear less German, making it Hirsh, ohne C – where […]

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