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About the origin of the surnames in Winkelsteg, in East Styria (Ost-Steiermark) in Austria (Österreich) 1816.

Extract: "The Forest School Master" (Authorized Translation from "Die Schriften des Waldschulmeisters" by Peter Rosegger publication 1901, by G.P. Putnams's Sons New York and London, The Knickerbocker Press. Peter Rosegger (+1918) was and is the Styrian home poet. In his book "Die Schriften des Waldschulmeisters" (The Forest School Master), Peter describes the way of life of the forest school master, Andreas Erdmann.

Due to old records that was found, he started the study of Erdmann, following his participation in Napoleons Russian War, as School Master in Winkelsteg in East Styria.

Peter Rosegger's book, "The Forest School Master" has been translated into 35 languages.

The Forest Schoolmaster


A few weeks ago I visited all the huts, carrying with me a note-book. I questioned the fathers about their households, the number in their families, the year of birth and the names of the little people.

The birthdays can usually be remembered only by events and circumstances. This boy was born in the summer when the great flood occurred; this girl, the same winter that straw bread had to be eaten. Such incidents are striking landmarks. Designation by name is not of frequent occurrence. The male inhabitants are called Hannes or Sepp, Berthold, Toni, or Mathes ; those of the female sex are named Kathrein, or Maria, the last of which is converted into Mini, Mirzel, Mirl, Mili, Mirz, or Marz. It is much the same with other names; and a stranger coming here must submit at once to such a change, according to the custom of the people. For a while they called me Andredl; but that they found too long a name for such a small man, and to-day I am only Redl. Very few know anything of a surname. Some have either lost or forgotten theirs, others have never had any. These people need a special form by which to designate their ancestry and relationship.

Hansel-Toni-Sepp ! That is a household name and by it is meant, that the owner of the house is called Sepp, whose father was named Toni, and grandfather Hansel.

Kathi-Hani-Waba-Mirz-Margareth! Here Kathi was the great-great-grandmother of Margareth.

So the race may have existed a long time in the solitude of the forest. And thus a person is often known by half a dozen names, and each one drags the rusty chain of his ancestors after him. It is the only heritage and monument.

But this confusion must not continue. The names must be prepared for the parish-book. New surnames will have to be invented and it will not be difficult to choose those which are fitting. We will call the people after their characteristics or occupations; that is easily remembered and preserved for the future. The wood-cutter Paul, who married Annamirl, is no longer Hiesel-Franzel-Paul, but briefly Paul Holzer (woodman), because he transports the tree-trunks upon a slide to the coal-pit, which work is called wooding. The tinder-maker and his descendants, do what they will, shall remain Schwammschlager.

A hut in Lautergraeben I call Bruennhuette (spring hut), because a large spring flows before it. Why then should the owner of the hut be named Hiesel-Michel-Hiesel-Hannes? He is a Bruennhuetter, as well as his wife, and if his son goes out into the world, whatever his occupation, he shall always remain a Bruennhuetter.

An old thick-necked dwarf, the coal-driver Sepp, has for a long time been called Kropfjodel. I recently asked the little man whether he would be satisfied to be registered in my book under the name of ]oseph Kropfjodel. He assented quite willingly. I then explained to him that his children and grandchildren would also be called Kropfjodel. At that he grinned and gurgled, "Let him be called Kropfjodel ten times over, that boy of mine !" And a little later he added mischievously: " The name, thank God, we have that at least! Oh, if we but had the boy as well!" The new names meet with approval, and each person bearing one carries his head higher and is more independent and self-sufficient then formerly.

Now he knows who he is. But everything depends upon keeping the name in good repute and doing it honour.

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Last update: 6-Jan-96
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