This is just one example, but I have plenty of records, for multiple families. The wife is

| Anna `<something>` geb `<maiden name>`

but coming up on 15 or 16 Anna in the same family tree in the same 50 year timeframe is odd to me. So is Anna the first name or middle name?

enter image description here

  • 2
    Your example image doesn't really match your question: ux. Anna Gerdruth geb. Rüppel = (wife) (given name) (married surname) born (maiden name). If you usually see multiple given & middle names, then an example of that would be better. And in that case the "Rufname" (everyday call-name) is often underlined.
    – bgwiehle
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 23:52
  • Sorry, that was just a single record. I have a bunch from different people. It just seems odd that there are so many Anna's. I guess the question could have been Was Anna a very common name?
    – Justin808
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 23:54
  • 3
    Anna a common name? Oh yeah! Relative frequencies of favourite names varied with region and religion and time-frame, but Anna, Maria, and Elizabeth were especially well-used in German-speaking areas.
    – bgwiehle
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 23:59

2 Answers 2


It is not uncommon to find repeating first names in German families. Some of my German ancestors chose St. Mary as their family's patron saint, and every girl got the first name "Maria" for several generations. Most went by their middle name in daily life, which is also quite common.

Maria Agnes Jostpille, born 18 Apr 1830 (daughter of Georg Hermann Menke and Maria Catharina Jostpille), She married Georg Heinrich Guhlker.

I. Maria Agnes Jostpille, born 31 Mar 1862. She married Johann Heinrich Birkemeier.

A.  **Maria** Anna Agnes Jostpille, born 26 Apr 1895

B.  **Maria** Anna Jostpille, born 10 Mar 1897

C.  **Maria** Paula Jostpille, born 11 Jul 1899

D.  Heinrich Paulus Jostpille, born 3 Jun 1903

E.  Wilhelm Heinrich Jostpille, born 22 Dec 1905

F.  **Maria** Theresia Paula Jostpille, born 20 Mar 1908

II. Maria Clara Jostpille, born 14 Aug 1864

III. Maria Caroline Jostpille, born 2 Feb 1867. She married Johann Wilhelm Erpenbeck

A.  Johann Wilhelm Erpenbeck, born 20 Jun 1892

B.  **Maria** Anna Erpenbeck, born 25 Aug 1895

C.  **Maria** Ida Erpenbeck, born 26 Sep 1897 

D.  **Maria** Theresia Erpenbeck, born 17 Jun 1899

E.  Anton Goswin "Tony" Erpenbeck, born 11 Dec 1901

F.  Otto Albert Julius Erpenbeck, born 25 Jun 1906

IV. Maria Theresia Jostpille, born 7 Oct 1869

V. Maria Elisabeth Jostpille, born 22 Apr 1873


As you've discovered, Anna is commonly given as a first name in German-speaking families.

The Wikipedia article German Name says in the section on Forenames:

The Vorname (in English forename) is usually given to a child by the parents shortly after birth. It is common to give a child several Vornamen (forenames), one of them intended for everyday use and known as the Rufname ("appellation name"). This Rufname is often underlined on official documents, as it is sometimes the second or third name in the sequence of given names on official record, even though it is the given name in daily use from childhood.

The genealogist James M. Beidler, author of Family Tree Magazine's The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide, explains the custom in this online excerpt Understanding German Language and Surnames:

... German children were given two names, and the second name -- not the first -- is what you will find in records. This is because German boys almost always were baptized with the first name Johannes (or Johann, abbreviated Joh). German girls were baptized Maria, Anna or Anna Maria. (This tradition started in the Middle Ages.) This means a family could (and commonly did) have five boys with the first name Johann.

You can see the high potential for confusion until you understand that the first name doesn't mean a thing. The second name, known as the Rufname, and surname would be used in marriage, tax, land and death records. So in a family with boys Johann Friedrich, Johann Peter, Johann Daniel, etc., the children would be called by (and recorded as) Friedrich, Peter and Daniel. Usually, the name Johannes marked a "true John" who would continue to be so identified.

In records about the "second wave" immigrants to the United States (19th - early 20th centuries), I've seen many cases where the immigrants swap their names around to follow American customs, putting their everyday name as their first name, with the former first name used as a middle name.

For more information:

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