The German Surname Atlas documents the spatial distribution of German surnames in 2005 in a six-volume work containing some 2,000 annotated maps. The fourth volume in the series was recently published. It contains 439 maps documenting surnames that were first given to individuals in order to identify them by means of their place of origin (Westphal, Bayer, Elsässer, Görlitz, Buchheim) or residence (Westermann, Overkamp, Berg, Moser, Gruber). Overview maps show the overall distribution of, for example, about half a million bearers of surnames ending in -inger (Behringer, Eichinger) and of some 110,000 persons with surnames ending in -ow (Bülow, Grabow); other maps document the distribution of various forms of one German surname (Friese, Fries, Freese, Friske; Wiese, Wies, Wieser, Wisch). The present volume for the first time reveals systematically and comprehensively the spatial relationship between the wealth of place names and surnames in a particular country.
The first three volumes of the German Surname Atlas deal with grammatical aspects of names, such as the different distribution of vowels (Meier, Meyer, Maier, Mayer), consonants (Schmidt, Schmitt, Schmid, Schmitz), and the methods of name formation (Bach, Bacher, Bachmann). The last two volumes to follow will be devoted to names that evolved from occupations and nicknames (Becker, Beck, Pfister; Klein, Groß, Stark) as well as surenames derived from forenames (Burkhardt, Ebert, Merkel, Augstein).
The German Surname Atlas is a joint project of the University of Freiburg and Mainz University and has been funded since 2005 by the German Research Foundation (DFG). It does not only provide a new basis for the study of onomastics, but also offers valuable information on settlement and migration patterns and is thus an indispensable tool for other academic disciplines from social history to genetics.