Hertzke – anno 1905

Nowadays, everyone has a fixed surname, which is passed from generation to generation. But in the past there were far fewer people to distinguish, so for a long time there were only first names. As places grew in the eighth century and more people shared the same name, bynames were used to identify them. These could come from origin, a profession, an ability, or special characteristics. For example, if there were two Johanns in the village, the Johann who was a weaver by profession was called Weaver’s Johann, while the other had a lot of strength and was therefore named Strong. Thus, over time, they became Johann Weaver and Johann Strong. Family names as we know them today have been common in Germany since the 15th century. They no longer serve as an individual characteristic of a trait, but are inherited.

Hertzke in Prussia

Distribution of the surname Hertzke in Germany

There are many spellings for the last name. In the past, names were written by ear, so no one paid attention to uniformity. In addition, Hertzke comes from today’s Poland, which adds to the different language versions. In Germany there are only about 85 name bearers, which are written with t and 325 without t. The distribution of the Hertzkes can be seen well on the map on the left (Ancestry.com).
I collected the following variants so far:


Due to the proximity of Germany and Poland, there is a “transitional area” between German and Polish population, which is why the diminutive -ke (ger.) is equivalent to -ek (pl.). For this reason, another version of the Hertzkes may be called Hertzek/Hercyg. There are remarkably many Herczegs in Hungary.

Also my Hertzke line was spelled differently in the centuries, but it alternated only between Hertzke and Herzke. The further in the past, the more often without t. Then in 1905 it was made official in the birth certificate of my great-grandfather Carl Ernst Hertzke:

Translated from German:

To No. 149
By order of the Royal
District Court of Tirschtiegel of
November 16, 1905, the following is noted
The deceased and her
husband do not have the surname
Herzke, but
Tirschtiegel, January 3, 1906
The registrar
Gz. Wentzel

Correction of the surname Hertzke with t from 1905

But what does Hertzke actually mean?

There are several theories about this. I have summarized the most common ones:

  1. Hertel, Engelbert writes in 1935 in his book ‘Die deutschen Familiennamen’ (The German family names), page 139, the name Herzke goes back to the Old High German ‘Hardizo’ (𐌷𐌰𐍂𐌳𐌹𐌶𐍉). This is the Gothic adjective of hardus, meaning hard or severe. In the comparative and belonging to the grammatical gender neuter, the direct translation would be ‘harder’ or ‘stricter’ (Feist, Sigmund, Vergleichendes Wörterbuch der gothischen Sprache, 1939).

  2. Gottschald, Max on the other hand, derives in his 1932 work ‘Deutsche Namenkunde’ (German naming) the name Harzke from the Old High German ‘Hartwin’ (hard, strong).

  3. Kunze, Konrad gives in 1998 in the dtv-Atlas Namenkunde (naming) the interpretation for Her(t)z as a nickname with kosender function, like Honey, Baby, Her(t)z (heart). Mostly, however, as a short form of the call name Hart(wig).

  4. Dräger, Kathrin writes in 2017 in ‘Deutscher Familienatlas – Familiennamen aus Rufnamen’ (German Family Atlas – Family Names from Call Names) to Herzke that with the surnames with Har(t)z(-) competitions between names of origin to the low mountain range Harz and indirectly with the occupational name for the resin collector exist. With the families with Her(t)z(-) they exist with the Middle High German herz(e) ‘heart’ for a person with a (good, pious) heart and in the East with the Upper Sorbian occupational name herc ‘player, musician’ as well as with patronyms from call names with the Old High German, Old Saxon name member heri for ‘army’ + z suffix (see Zoder, 1968, p. 732).

Predominant is therefore the variant heart and the adoption of the characteristics hard or strict. Also regional differences as well as a parallel origin of the names are possible and should be considered with the interpretation of the own name.