How Germans feel about German umlauts (ä,ö,ü)

Uber and the German umlaut Ü

Uber has a hard time in Germany. Not only tried some German state governments to ban the company from German streets, but Uber also faces civil disobedience and already had to pull out of three German cities.

More shocking than the fact that the Uber service has caused so much uproar is something else:

How come Uber has survived so long? How can a word survive that has the umlaut points scraped off?

Über is a German preposition meaning over or above. Uber on the contrary without the umlaut points is just weird to look at. And I’m not the only German that feels this way.

Every time I see the word, I can’t take my eyes off it. Do you know that feeling when something is so ugly and disgusting that you can’t look away? You want to but you just can’t. The word uber is terrible, outrages and appalling. Where did the points go? Uber, you can’t do that to 100 Million German native speakers!

 

What do you need the points for?

What do Germans actually need the points for? The English alphabet has 26 letters. The German alphabet has 26 letters plus ü, ö, ä and ß. This is how German kids learn it in school. 26 letters plus umlauts and eszet. That might lead to the wrong impression the umlauts may not be as important when they don’t even count as part of the alphabet.

In fact, they are necessary to distinguish between singular and plural (ein Haus, zwei Häuser) or present and past (lügen, log, gelogen – to lie, lied, lied). Umlauts are proper sounds that have a meaning to Germans. They are letters like a,o,u or any other letter, at least when you are in Germany. They are so important to Germans, we even have them on our keyboards.

 

 

Müller or Muller?

Living in an English speaking country and having a surname containing an umlaut, I can tell you first hand how it feels getting your points chopped off.

In Germany my surname is Müller. Here in Australia it is Muller, Mueller, Muler, Mular and any other combination. You name it.

Müller is the most common name in Germany as well as in the German speaking Switzerland (Gruber In Austria). It also is an occupational name and translates to Miller.

Once Germans cross the border to a non German speaking country, umlauts are usually transcripted to become more Qwerty compatible. The official transcriptions for countries that don’t use umlauts are as follows:

ü turns into ue
ö turns into oe
ä turns into ae
ß turns into ss

Müller is supposed to be transcribed into Mueller. Most of the time, people just chop off my umlaut points.

 

We need to remove those points

Getting the points removed really hurts my feelings. Even after pointing out my name should be spelled Mueller, it usually ends up being something else. It ends up being something else on my credit card, at the doctors or on the house bills. What my name morphs into, I usually find out the second time I use a service. It usually goes like that:

German: Hi, how you are going? Someone rang me to let me know my new glasses are ready to get picked up.
Sales person: Ah, yeah. Let me just check for you in the system. What’s your last name?
German: It’s Müller.
Sales person: Ah. How do you spell that?
German: M-u-e-l-l-e-r
Sales person: I can’t find you in our system.
German: Maybe it’s M-u-l-l-e-r
Sales person: No, that’s not in our system either. I am sorry.
German: Really? Maybe it’s somehow else in your system? I got called up an hour ago, the glasses were ready.
Sales person: Na, there’s nothing similar in our system. Are you sure it was someone from this shop?
German: Yes I am very sure. I haven’t ordered glasses anywhere else.

Half a century later, we found my name in the system and the glasses in the drawer. This time my name was Murloer. I hadn’t had that one before. But actually, I can’t complain, at least there was some kind of official umlaut transcription, just an oe.

 

Leaving a country can be a problem

Once I even had problems to leave Australia for a trip to New Zealand. They must have put me down twice in their system. It was Muller as well as Mueller. While they were figuring it out, I was standing in front of the desk at immigration, paralysed and scared. In my head I was already squatting in some corner at a police station, all alone in a cold and pitch black room. Is this going to happen to me only because of the points? ‘Please, you can have the points, all of them. I don’t need them, really.’ was going through my head.

Well, I guess I just watched Australian border controls far too often. In the end they simply merged the two Müllers into one Mueller and I was good to board the plane, and definitely ready for a holiday.

 

My poor friends in Germany

Finally I can really feel with my Bulgarian friend in Germany who grew up with a Cyrillic surname and has been living with a Latin transcription of it since she moved to Germany. In Latin it still looks like some consonants randomly put together. “I always use your name” she told me once, “Whenever I order a pizza or book a table at a restaurant, I will book it under Müller. It’s much easier. I don’t have to spell it, I don’t even have to repeat it but I know every time, it will be easy to call up in what ever system they might have. Müller, such an easy name.”

 

Germans love their umlauts

Life is much better since I have a proper ID with my transcribed name on it. People tend to believe me now. But if you still think, ah those umlauts can’t be that important, look at the excitement in a Facebook forum for Germans living abroad after someone posted up some umlauts and the eszet.

“Today I am going to give you some letters, use them sparingly: ä ö ü Ä Ö Ü ß.”

followed by

“more, please more ääääää ööööööö üüüüüüü”

and

“I miss my umlauts! How do you do them?”

and

“I can only do ae, ue, oe, how boring is that?!”
german-umlaut-fb-forum-thegermanz

 

What does it mean for language learners?

What does it mean for language learner? Since umlauts are important for Germans, it’s a great idea to put some effort into learning the pronunciation of umlauts as well as vowels. You could listen to a German native speaker saying them several times, over and over again. I promise, you will hear a difference the more you listen to it.

“A and ä, o and ö, u and ü, a and ä, o and ö, …”

 

Do you live in Germany or somewhere else and have a fancy name no one is ever going to pronounce or spell correctly? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

 

 

52 replies on “How Germans feel about German umlauts (ä,ö,ü)

  • Thalia

    I am learning German and I guess it’s in a way easy for me to put the Umlauts because i do speak french so in a way they do remind me of French ones … so I do my best to correct them but speaking of the name I also understand the frustration.
    My name is Thalia and it has Greek origins hence the H in it … Me being Lebanese and you can’t imagine the atrocities people commit to my name especially when the take off the H … I feel as if they are mutilating a part of my own body or soul 🙂

    Reply
    • Anja Mueller

      Hi Thhhhhhalia, I had know idea, the h is so important in Lebanese! I hope I’ve never offended a Lebanese unknowingly by dishonoring their h, lol. Thanks for sharing this with us 🙂

      Reply
  • Bogdan Vitel

    Hey there! I came across your article while trying to figure out the proper way for spelling a German name. I am familiar with the non-umlaut equivalents although I admit I don’t know German, however my main concern, as ridiculous as it may sound, wasn’t how to correctly write the name but whether or not “Oeding” is the actual name or its just a compromise for lack of umlaut. It might just be one of those fringe cases.

    For instance, my family name, Vitel has been universally butchered across the globe, even back home!
    In my home country, we have a letter “t” with lower apostrophe, which is pronounced like the German “z”. Vitel with lower apostrophe in my language means calf so you can imagine the confusion! Fellow countrymen confuse and misspell my name and Anglophones don’t know how to write it haha. Personally, I’m more okay with “Vital” “Vidal” “Vetel” than calf haha.

    You know, the only place in this world that my name was properly pronounced and written right off the bat was when I had to sign for a temporary customer card at Metro in Nürnberg. Out of respect I learned to pronounce and write German words/names in their native form or check if I’m unsure and I’m trying to do the same for any other language I happen to come across in my daily life.

    Reply
    • Anja Mueller

      Well, Oeding is a tricky one. It’s not that there are no names with an accepted umlaut transformation (oe, ue, ae) at all in Germany. In fact, there are names like Goebel which coexists with its umlaut counterpart Göbel. If you turned the ‘oe’ into a beloved umlaut here, you could tread on someone’s toes too. Oeding seems to me one of those Goebels to be honest. It could well be the actual name rather than an attempt to survive in the English speaking world. Love the story about your name. Must be hard when even your fellow countrymen don’t get it right haha

      Reply
  • shelly

    I’m a learner of German, have been studying it for six years in school and now I’m in Uni and I’m aiming to get a degree in translation studies in it.
    But those Umlauts will be the death of me. No matter how much I listen or how hard I try, I just can’t get them right. I find ü and ö the hardest of them. Ä isn’t too bad. But gosh, I really have a hard time with them.

    Reply
    • Anja Mueller

      You poor thing! I’m so sorry that my beloved umlauts keep driving you up the wall 🙂 I promise you, it’ll click one day. Listen to natives say them and trying to speak them out loud yourself seems to be the only way to get your head around the umlaut issue. Don’t give up 🙂 and hanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

      Reply
  • Olli

    I don´t get why english speakers are so freaked out by our lovely umlauts
    It´s actually very simple an Ü is just a frensh U
    an Ä is an english A
    and Ö is a frensh E
    lö umlauts cän really make ün language learner fertig^^

    Reply
    • Anja Mueller

      Haha, good one. I like your advice, it mäkes sense! It’s quite interesting how similar some German and French sounds are, but put together it’ll be hard to confuse the two languages. Thank you for your comment. I’ll pass on your advice to my French speaking students 🙂

      Reply
  • Rich Hart

    I am pretty fluent in German but not, of course a native speaker. I like to hear and speak it because of my ancestors, the Kneidls, come from south Germany. No umlaut in that one, but it is quite rare in America.

    Anyway, I like hearing the umlaut but have a complaint about one (new) word in English: “Uber”, meaning super, or hyper. Such as: That food was uber good!

    This word is neither pronounced correctly nor spelled correctly! Whose lame idea was it anyway to bring it into English? Hah!

    Just my pedantic little complaint.

    Reply
    • Anja Mueller

      Yeah Kneidl sounds like it’s from the south of Germany. Haha, I’m glad I am not the only one having this issue with Uber. Such a little word and so much trouble! My German soul really wants to pronounce it über, every time I have to say it. But what can you do? Thanks for your little complaint, it made my day. 🙂

      Reply
  • Kristof

    The Germans are not the world champions using umlauts. There are more umlauts in the turkish language, than cows on bavarian meadows. A couple of years ago, I was working on some barcode stuff and wanted to test my work with a name containing lots of umlauts. So I asked my turkish collegue and he said: “Take my uncle’s name … Özgür Üzüntülü”.

    Reply
  • Braun

    I found this article really interesting, as I have German ancestry and have been learning German now for about 5 years (in school and on my own). From studying written family correspondence, I’ve noticed a gradual morphing in how words were spelled. Some of the written letters would use umlauts and their “oe” , “ae” , and “ue” substitutes interchangeably. Personally, I prefer the umlauts. Although my last name, Braun, doesn’t have umlauts, the family eventually had to change their pronunciation for the sake of English speakers. Even pronounced “brawn”, like the English word, it still gets misspelled now and then; “Brawn”, “Brown”, and even “Bronze”.

    Reply
    • Anja Mueller

      Glad you like the article. Braun, what a wonderful German name! Happy your family only changed the pronunciation, not the actual name. Going through old family correspondence must have been really interesting. Thank you for sharing your findings with us.

      Reply
  • Stefanie

    Very interesting Artikel, thats tru uber sounds weird. I am a German and I think, they should have taken the Umlauts away by the Rechtschreibreform and change it to ae oe ue. It is a problem in other countrys. My mom have a second name with a (and here is the problem, I don’t have this letter on my american keyboard lol) scharfen s, when she have moved to italy they have made in the townhall a B out of it. Sorry about my bad english, still learning.

    Reply
    • Anja Mueller

      Hi Stefanie, I agree, without the umlauts we wouldn’t have all those problems! They turned the ß into a B, that’s a good one too. Thanks for sharing it with us!

      Reply
  • Mueller

    I’m from England and my surname is Mueller (when my grandparents came to this country the umlaut was changed into “ue”).

    Not only does everyone spell it wrong but people can’t pronounce it correctly half the time either (they pronounce it “mew-ler” rather than “muller”).

    Sometimes I think it would be easier if the umlaut was translated into a simple “u” rather than “ue”.

    Reply
    • Anja Mueller

      Guten Tag Herr Mueller! Yes, I agree! Changing it into an ue rather than an u seems to make it harder for others to guess the spelling of the word. I wonder if you still pronounce your name the German way like Müller?

      Reply
  • Wolfgang

    Having a German last name with an umlaut in it has made it difficult to search my ancestry records since when I arrived in Canada, they replaced the u with the umlaut with ue.

    Reply
  • Juliette

    My surname is Fielke. Here it is pronounced ‘Filky’. I spend half my life on the phone saying “F for Fred, I for India, E for Echo…
    I usually have to do this a few times.
    I’ve always loved my grandmothers maiden name, Löwien. The family emigrated in the late 19th Century umlaut intact. Like many others, it was changed during WWI. It makes me sad that this was never reversed and that so few Aussie’s try to say names the way they are meant to sound.
    To me it is rude, if someone tells you their name, you learn to say it. You would not call Jane, Joan, because you knew more Joan’s than Jane’s. Lol
    My 2 cents worth.

    Reply
    • Anja Mueller

      Hi Juliette, I like the analogy and I also have to agree 😀 Löwien is indeed a beautiful name, and so is Fielke. It sounds very German, I like it a lot. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

      Reply
  • Brenda Toepfer

    Hello, I enjoyed your article! My surname is Toepfer. The umlaut was removed when my ancestors emigrated to the U.S. in the 19th century (so I was told). It makes me a little sad that I cannot use the umlaut legally since my surname was Americanized. Additionally, the pronunciation problems have been quite entertaining! (we pronounce it as rhyming with “gopher”, and other members of my family pronounce it like “tepfer”). I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce it properly and spelling it for someone on the telephone is always fun! T like Tom, O, E,, P like Peter, F like Frank, E, R. The pf confuses folks who were taught spelling using phonics. They always want to turn the pf into a ph. Fun! 🙂

    Reply
    • Anja Mueller

      Hallo Brenda, Toepfer, what a beautiful surname! Having an occupational surname myself (Müller/Miller), I love hearing about other families’ names that started centuries ago, so much history in just one word. Your spelling game sounds like fun! Thank you for sharing your story 😀

      Reply
  • Terry

    I came here (as a native Englishman, who did only a small amount of German in school…) because the nurse at my local surgery made me an appointment with a new Doctor she pronounced ‘Mewler’, because it was spelled Mueller. Thanks for the lesson. I may try German next on Duolingo!

    Reply
    • Anja Mueller

      Hi Terry, my pleasure. Yes Mewler seems to be a very common pronunciation for Mueller, I’ve heard it several times. Glad you liked the article, and congratulations to your new found hobby! 😀

      Reply
  • charlie

    Hi there, i kinda like the 2 dots in a name and I’m looking for a boy name. I thought about “Michälle” but is how is that pronounced and is it a girl’s name? I’m looking for a pronunciation of Mee-kell. Can you help ? Thanks so much!

    Reply
    • Anja Mueller

      Hallo Carlie, Love the idea! Michälle is indeed a girl’s name (I’ve only seen it as Michelle though) and would be pronounced ‘Mee-h-ell’ which the ‘h’ like in ‘human’ or ‘huge’, just a bit exaggerated. I just google boy names with umlauts and found these: Björn, Börge, Günther, Jürgen, Jörg, Jörn, Lönne, Matthäus, Mättes, Ömer, Rüdiger, Sönke, Sören. Hope it helps. 😀

      Reply
  • My name you can't read :)

    My native language is the same as Bogdan Vitel’s, who also commented here.

    I will use his case to explain what you could call a cultural gap between Germans and us. Now, the confusion regarding his name stems from the exact opposite attitude in our language regarding special signs like circumflex, cedillas and other similar critters that we use in writing: țșăîâ. It is totally common in our language to leave them out when writing colloquially, especially on the internet, in chats or forums, and people use context to guess where one of them belongs. So people assume there is one such cedilla in his name, even if he doesn’t write it.

    So you see, what you guys find totally abhorring we use as common practice in our own language. The benefit of this is not having to use a special keyboard (it’s even possible the trend originated from the lack of such keyboards, initially).

    In our culture, those cute little points above ü are just a nice touch that one can add if he feels in a generous mood. I bet the word uber was born just that way. Its birth happened either in our country (as my conationals tend to add their influence the world through illiterate memes) or in another country with the same attitude towards them umlauts. To add insult to injury, most of my fellow country-men see über and read uber anyway. Best case, ö sometimes turns into io and most of the times just reads o. Ä is clearly an a.

    And now for the other side of the medal: My name also contains a letter ț in it. I work in a German company. Just guess what my German colleagues read my name like. I’ll give you a hint: they ignore the cedilla 🙂 They hear me pronounce it every day during online calls. I never corrected anyone, but just make sure I pronounce my name clear and slow. Do I need to say it’s for naught? The sound for it even exists in German. From day one I refused to take grief from this. Let them call me whatever they want, as long as everybody understand it’s me who is being named in the sentence, I have to laugh however when they get creative about it.

    What I see worth taking from this is: if you delve into international waters, a little more flexibility regarding people’s natural inclination spares you a lot of grief. So what if they say your name wrong? It’s like forcing people to take a tongue-gymnastics crash-course just in order to be able to interact with you. How reasonable is that? And why is it offensive? Does mispronunciation diminish your person? Does your worth reside in your name? I would just say the worth of a person never comes from the outside.

    If you plan to change country of residence, I recommend changing the name to Miller. It doesn’t hurt the German ear as it’s pretty close tot he original (and way better than Muller), and I think it’s the best compromise in this case.

    I see way to often people getting offended over their name being mispronounced, erecting barriers over a small thing. A shame really.

    Reply
    • Anja Mueller

      Thank you so much for telling us your story. Germans actually focus on the correct pronounciation of foreign sounding names, they really want to get it right, so much it’s even a big part of soccer TV commenting. With your name, it might be that your Germans simply don’t realise that they pronounce your name incorrectly. Sometimes it’s hard to notice the difference especially when they don’t expect it to be different (it’s a ‘t’ right – just kidding). You might find that a more direct hinting will point them in the right direction 😀 I’m actually pretty happy with my name (no plans to change it just yet again after turning it into ‘Mueller’). The mispronounciation I find rather funny but what definitely makes my life harder is when people think they know better how to spell my name (and make up colourful variations) even after showing my ID but that’s actually pretty funny too, so all good 😀 Thanks for commenting, really enjoyed reading your comment!

      Reply
  • Freja

    One of my close friends is German and lives in Australia and also has her name (Schäfer) spelt or pronounced in so many different ways.
    I always hear people complaining about the pronunciation of umlauts (I live in England) which amuses me since despite the fact I don’t speak or learn German (yet) I’ve never had an issue with them. My school and college friends who took German and couldn’t pronounce or tell when there was an umlaut were all really annoyed abou that but I have no idea why it is. My friends would probably say it’s due to the fact that I am totally obsessed with football (or English and German football really) to the point that I watch the German games in German when they aren’t shown in English so I’ve been hearing umlauts and how they’re pronounced for years, no idea if that’s why but it would make sense.
    I mean if I hate seeing words that should have umlauts without any or at least without the e, then I can’t imagine how it must be for people have that happen to their own names.
    I always try my best to pronounce names right, I know I’m not 100% successful though but at least I’m not being purposefully ignorant.

    Reply
    • Anja Mueller

      Hallo Freja, Good on you for giving the foreign names a try, I’m pretty sure people will appreciate it 🙂 Who would have though watching soccer could be so helpful when it comes to umlauts, I will pass this on to my students at least to the ones that don’t appreciate me singing the umlauts to them 😀 Thank you for commenting, really enjoyed reading it.

      Reply
  • Grace

    My surname is Leffler. I’ve been told that it’s both a German and Swedish surname for a maker/seller of spoons. My surname is not what would strike an American as Germanic, or even that foreign. Then again, in America, surnames like Dahlgren, Gruensfelder, Charron, and Lebreton won’t automatically scream “I’m foreign!” I’m also aware that Loeffler and Löffler are other spellings. I have looked and found that there are some Lefflers in Germany, so I assume Leffler existed as a spelling variant. However, I have no idea if my surname was actually Leffler before America, or Löffler anglicized. I also don’t know how my family got the Leffler name, since most say it is a Low German and Swedish version of Löffler, yet my Austrian great great grandfather had this surname and was the one who brought it to America. I can’t find much records of him, but one listed his father’s birthplace as Germany, but that could have meant anywhere from Bavaria to Prussia. It also seems that my family does have trouble with spelling names correctly, as my paternal grandfather received the middle name Luis (Spanish and Portuguese with a different pronunciation) in an attempt to honor his grandfather Louis Leffler. Even my mother’s side suffers this, with Ruthven managing to become Ruffin.

    Reply
    • Anja Mueller

      This really made me laugh! Yupp, I could imagine sometimes an explanation can be as simple as that! It still sounds like an interesting family history, good on you for tracing it all back to your great great grandfather! I’m very impressed! Yes, I do think Leffler might just be a different spelling, wondering if the name and it’s variations can predominantly found in certain regions in Germany? That might help narrow it down to a certain region. Thank you so much for telling us about your name and your family history, very interesting.

      Reply
  • Ilse Loebler

    would you believe – the Australian Passport office hasn’t got a clue to what goes on with the German Language and its AOU with dots etc. I was married in Germany and my Certificate has the German Spelling but my drivers licence, Medicare card etc. etc. all have the English version with the Oe. Now I must get my marriage certificate translated because of 1 letter being wrong in their eyes. How ridiculous is that??? Time they woke up to what the world and languages is all about.

    Reply
    • Anja Mueller

      Hallo Ilse, you poor thing! That really sounds like more stress as it should be. Hope you get it all sorted soon and you finally get to enjoy one of the most beautiful moments in your life. Thank you for commenting!

      Reply
  • Fourie Schutte

    Hi, my surname is Schutte in South Africa. It’s German and should actually be Schütte.

    Can one still write it with the ü and it be acknowledged?

    I was born here in SA, but with our family history I take pride by adding those two dots. However now I’m uncertain if this might be forever lost.

    Reply
    • anja Mueller

      That’s an insteresting question Fourie, can you actually add those dots back on, officially? Just keep adding them I’d say, you just need to do it long enough 😀 Danke für den Kommentar!

      Reply
  • Ava Peeples

    I ran across your interesting article when trying to find out umlaut info in relation to doing genealogy and family tree traces on my Mom’s paternal family’s original surname, Müller. I’ve reached many dead ends and massive confusion because of the spelling differentials. I didn’t know until I read your article that Müller officially should be transcribed as Mueller which I believe will be helpful in narrowing down potential ancestors.

    My 3x great grandfather Müller was an ethnic German from the Alsace Lorraine who emigrated to New Orleans, Louisiana in the mid 1800s. He ended up in Indiana then Ohio where the last name was spelled both Muller and Mueller. My 2x great grandfather, who was a doctor in Chicago Illinois, had the last name changed to Miller during WWI due to the anti-German sentiment he encountered. Even though he was born and raised in the US, he had a heavy German accent because of the German enclaves he was reared in which were very common in Midwest America at the time.

    I’ve found that another branch of the family changed the Müller to Miler. Narrowing down the Müller/Mueller/Muller/Miller/Milers has been a tedious pain, but fascinating nonetheless!

    I live in Nashville, Tennessee where most people are of English, Scottish, and Irish heritage (like my dad). My Mom has stayed with a friend who lives in Melbourne and says it’s wonderful so someday I will visit. Even though I’m in the US, I’m going to read your blog because I think it has worldwide appeal and interest to all of us with German heritage.

    Reply
    • anja Mueller

      Thank you so much for your telling us about your family history. Glad you’re finally seeing through the different Müller, Mueller, etc. spellings. I know too well how quickly your last name can change into something completely different, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you found some more variations 🙂 So happy you want to keep reading our blog, that’s awesome! Yes, Melbourne is a nice part of Australia, you should totally come visit one day. Thank you so much for your comment, danke schön!

      Reply
  • Gina Squier

    I have similar problems with my surname. People either spell it wrong as Squire (even when I spell it for them) or pronounce it as squeer. I remember when I went to change my name on my driver’s license after I got married, the woman at the RTA counter argued with me over the spelling and tried to tell me it was wrong! When I told my husband later he said “Yeah you’ll get used to that.”

    I don’t have much luck with my first name either, quite often people seem to mishear it, especially on the phone and I end up being called any number of names including Tina, Xena, Lena, Katrina, Dina and Julie. Go figure. If they get the name right they usually spell it wrong eg. Gena, Geena. I’m so over it that I no longer correct people unless it’s for something important.

    Reply
    • anja Mueller

      Hallo Gina, Thank you so much for telling us about your experience, good to know I’m not alone haha! I can’t believe that they even argue with you about how they think your name should be spelled! Unbelievable! Never give up though, there will be that one in a million who will spell and pronounce your name correctly, at least that’s what I still hope for 😀 Danke schön und bis Samstag! Ich freue mich!

      Reply
  • Brian Meehan

    Hallo Anja!
    Those crazy umlauts got me in a bit of trouble – of the laughing sort. I went on an exchange program to Hildesheim in Germany after my freshman year of high school. While I excelled in German with the help of my Oma I still struggled a little bit with the exact pronunciation. Compounded with the jetlag and the anxiety about meeting my host family, my mouth failed me when I was asked about the weather in my home state of Maryland. I did not know the word for humid so I grabbed my trusty Pons dictionary and looked it up and exclaimed ‘Das Wetter ist sehr schwul’. There was a moment of silence followed by gut-busting laughter. I was informed that the word for humid is ‘schwül’ What I said was – ‘The weather was very homosexual”.. whoops..

    Reply
    • anja Mueller

      hahaha, what an awesome story, love it! Must have been a little awkward for you 😀 I bet you know how to pronounce them on point these days… Thank you for telling us your story 🙂

      Reply
  • Josh

    Hello Anja,

    Very interesting article to read! It was rather thought-provoking as my family is of German heritage, carrying the last name Braendler. I cannot seem to find any information whatsoever on ‘Braendler’, apart from those born in a small German town in South Australia. Would it have been likely that prior to immigrating the surname was Brändler, and then upon arrival was anglicised to Braendler? Was this rather common practice for immigrants to removed their umlauts?

    Reply
    • anja Mueller

      Hi Josh, it’s been a very common practice as that’s what you “have” to do when you move to an English speaking country since the umlauts are not part of the alphabet and the ae, ue and oe are the official “translations” for ä, ö, ü. There’s a great chance that the family name used to be Brändler if they were from Germany. Hope that helps. Thank you for your comment 🙂

      Reply
  • Chris

    Hi Anja!

    thanks for your nice post.. I have a conundrum:

    I currently live in Australia, having emigrated from South Africa 8 years ago.. My great, great grandfather moved from Germany to South Africa in the 1800’s. His surname was Böhmke, and in South Africa the ö was changed to “oe”. My family has always pronounced this like “Burma”, but I find that it is literally unpronounceable in Australia – most people can’t even get past the first letter – seriously!

    The most common pronunciation is “bomky”… imagine this in a school setting. I have two young children, and am giving serious thought to changing their surnames – childhood is hard enough, why add to the burden?

    I have no German connections or heritage beyond this distant link and of course I don’t speak German. Any thoughts or suggestions appreciated..:)

    Reply
    • anja Mueller

      Ah yea that’s a hard one, not sure what to recommend here but I totally understand your conundrum. Maybe other readers have gone through something similar and can help out here?

      Reply
  • William Theodore

    Back in 1872 when leaving Homburg my grand father,uncle and aunt with a surname of Krämer had their name changed to Kroemer. Should it have been Kraemer?

    Reply
    • anja

      Hallo William, yes, the original transcription would have to be “Kraemer” but I guess “Kroemer” is be easier to read, and also “künstlerische Freiheit” (artistic freedom) as we say in Germany! Thank you for your comment 🙂

      Reply

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