Hertzke – anno 1905

In today’s time, every person has a fixed surname that is passed down from generation to generation. However, in the past, when the population numbers were lower, and there was less need for individual distinctions, identification was primarily based on first names. In the 8th century, as settlements grew, and more people shared the same first name, the necessity arose to use bynames for better identification. These bynames could have various origins, whether it be based on one’s place of origin, occupation, special skills, or physical characteristics.

Let’s imagine there were two men named Johann in a village. One of them worked as a weaver, so he was called “Weavers Johann,” while the other man, due to his exceptional strength, received the byname “Strong.” Over time, these bynames evolved into the surnames we know today, resulting in names like “Johann Weaver” and “Johann Strong.”

Modern surnames, as we know them, have been established in Germany since the 15th century. They no longer serve to indicate individual traits or characteristics but are inherited from generation to generation, originating from the once-used bynames.

Hertzke in Prussia

Distribution of the surname Hertzke in Germany

There are many spellings for the last name. In the past, names were often written down based on how they sounded, with little emphasis on consistent spelling. This is further complicated by the fact that the surname Hertzke originates from present-day Poland, which introduces different language versions into the spellings. In Germany, there are approximately 85 individuals with the name spelled with a “t” and 325 without the “t.” The distribution of Hertzkes is clearly visible on the map to the left (Name Distribution 2019, Ancestry.com). Another surname distribution map from the Verein für Computergenealogy clearly shows the distribution of Hertzkes and Herzkes in 1890 and 1996, primarily concentrated in Northwest Germany to Northwest Poland.
I collected the following variants so far:


Due to the geographical proximity between Germany and Poland, there exists a transitional region between the German and Polish populations. Therefore, diminutive forms such as -ke (German) and -ek (Polish) are considered equivalent. This explains why there may be another variant of the Hertzke surname, known as Hertzek or Hercyg. Interestingly, a significant number of Herczegs can be found in Hungary.

In my own Hertzke family lineage, there have been various spellings over the centuries, with the name switching only between Hertzke and Herzke. The further back in history we go, the more often the name was written without the “t.” In 1905, the official spelling was finally established 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
sig. 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.