Name Changes


30. Januar / 2. Februar 2023


When talking about emigration we are inevitably confronted with changing surnames. More so when emigration is linked with adopting a foreign language.

The family group “Booser Stamm” has its origin in the village of Boos at the Nahe river in Rhineland-Palatinate. The “main case” in my text, the three brothers from Weinsheim, belongs to this group.

The “parallel case”, however, the family of Abraham Cörper from Pfeddersheim, belongs to the “Mölsheimer Stamm” originating from the village of Mölsheim near Worms, also in Rhineland-Palatinate.

In both cases the immigrants had to cope with the problem how to deal with the o-umlaut (ö) in their surname. As soon as their descendants became native English speakers, they decided to replace it with some other letter.

In the 19th century and later it was usual to dissolve the umlaut by replacing it with “oe”: Cörper > Coerper, Körper > Koerper. Most of the immigrants from Europe did it in this way. But I also found a case where just the two dots above the o were omitted: Körper > Korper.

In the 18th century people dealt with this problem in a different way. Both cases mentioned show it in the same way.

The original form found in the German church books was “Cörper”, sometimes also with an initial K.

The immigrants wrote their names either “Körper” or “Kerper” as is seen on the facsimiles of the ship lists. Only Andreas tried to write down “Cörper”. Unfortunately, he did it in a way that the reader believes that the name is “Sörger” or “Förger”.

In Abraham’ s case the name change resulted eventually in “Kerper”. In Paul’s, his son’s, will from 1778 the name reads first “Körper” and later “Kerper”. Here we have the name change in the same document.

That means that the descendants omitted the o from “Koerper”. His grandson Abraham, however, who settled in Virginia replaced “Kerper” with “Carper” whatever the reason for this was. Thus, he adapted it to the name other families in that state already had: the descendants of Johann Philipp in Carpers Valley.

As far as I know by now all descendants of Nicolaus adopted the surname “Carper”. Is there really no branch with the name “Kerper”?


Let us now look at another aspect.

In the family group “Booser Stamm” name changes also occurred although the people did not emigrate but stayed in Germany.

During my research I found a rule: In the center of this family group, in Boos, the traditional name spelling “Cörper” was always kept. Those branches settling at a more or less distant place changed the spelling in some way. Only the Cörpers in Duchroth, a neighboring village of Boos, stuck to the name form inherited from Boos.

An important branch changed to “Coerper”. All others replaced the initial C with K earlier or later: “Cörper” > “Körper”. Roughly spoken this change occurred around 1800.

Emigrants to the USA in the 19th century mostly made “Coerper” from “Cörper” and “Koerper” from “Körper”, respectively.

Concerning the Weinsheim brothers I believe to see the same rule applied. Their father Hans Wilhelm Cörper had taken the old tradition with him from Boos to Weinsheim. Andreas who was his second son stuck to it even in America whereas the younger sons Johann Nickel (Niklas) and Johann Philipp had no problem to write down “Körper” or “Kerper” into the ship lists.

How did it come that Rev. Stoever wrote “Cörper” into his church book? Did he ask how the name was written in the immigrant’s birthplace? Or did he invent the orthography believing that “Kerper” was merely dialect?


Another aspect of the surnames Cörper/Körper and Carper is that they have a meaning.

“Körper” is the German word for “body”. In earlier times it was often written with C.

“Carper” would be “Nörgler” in German. A carper is someone who uses to carp.

Why did the descendants of the Weinsheim brothers choose “Carper” as their surname and not “Kerper” as the descendants of Abraham did?

It is imaginable that their characteristic was to carp all day long. Perhaps it was just a joke to replace their name “Kerper” with “Carper”. Their German surname could have been replaced with a similar sounding English word because it sounded so funny. This is, of course, only a possibility.

In the end the Carpers returned nearly to the original form of the surname, “Cörper”. They had just replaced the “ö” with “a”. I doubt that they even noticed it.