My father’s family is from Ostfriesland, an area of Northwest Germany bordered by Holland and the North Sea. Their language was Frisian/Low Saxon. They were the people of Beowulf, and they invaded the British Isles early and were in turn invaded by the Romans, the Franks, the Saxons, the Vikings, Germanic tribes, and so on. My ancestors were simple, poor farmers, and my did they have funny names.
I have tried to build family trees using the data bases in Ancestory, and I have found the most wonderful and weird names (actually, Wiard is one of their names). I can only imagine the trouble people had to go to to do this genealogy work, since there was a very unusual naming system, called Patronymics, used in the area until Napoleon invaded and ordered everybody to settle on a permanent last name. The system didn’t die out until the 1830’s. According to a German researcher named Ines Weissenberg, this is how first names were derived in Ostfriesland:
The first male child was named after the paternal grandfather.
The second male child got the name of the maternal grandfather.
First and second daughter were named after paternal and maternal grandmothers.
The third son was named after his father.
The fourth son was named after the father’s paternal grandfather.
The third daughter was named after the mother.
The fourth daughter was named after the mother’s paternal or even maternal grandmother.
Then, there were also other aspects of choosing a first name such as reusing a deceased child’s name for the next child of the same sex and naming the first daughter/son of a subsequent marriage after the deceased former spouse. These rules expressed the belief that a person continued to live through the descendants.
Last names were even more confusing, since your last name was usually your father’s first name. If a man called Harm had three sons named Gerd, Jan, and Menno, their last name would be Harms, indicating they were Harm’s sons. If Gerd had children, their last name would be “Gerdes”. Jan’s children would have the last name “Janssen”, and Menno’s children would have the surname “Mennen”. Last names changed from generation to generation. The same names were used for first and last names.
One of my ancestors named Okke Poets had a son named Poet Okkens. Lubbe Habben, a far distant grandmother, had a daughter she named Gretje Lubbens. Zeede Ecken and her husband Riko Fredrichs name their son Ecko Riken, after her father, Ecko Focken.
Gertien, Taalke, Gretje, Geert, Geske, Mimke, Trienke, Lauke, and Evertje are some of the more wonderful women’s names I have found in my family. Freerk, Harm, Weert, Wiard, Folkert, Heyke, Okke, Ullfert, Harrameke were some of the men’s names. Ostfriesland is no further than about 50 miles from places like Bremen, where people had names like Otto, Lena, Ernst, and Dora.
My name, using this system, would be Tilla Jacobs. My husband would be Christian Williams. Our son would be William Christians. Daughter would be Evelyn Christians. How confusing.
Go back a couple of generations and figure out some family names for yourself using Patronymics.