Guidelines for Researchers


Given the case you are an American genealogist who does ancestry research. You find an ancestor whose surname was Coerper (Cörper), Koerper (Körper) or similar. This person came to America at a certain time. Now you want to find out where he or she came from in Germany (or more generally spoken: from a German speaking region).

You will see that this is a rather complicated subject. I will lead you step by step so that you become an expert in this matter. I cannot explain it in two sentences. You will have to be persistent.


Let us first define what we are talking about. The general form of our surname can be described as

[k1] [v] R [k2] ER

[k1] means a consonant, either C or K

[v]  means a vowel: ö, oe, e; in English speaking countries also o, a, i or u.

[k2] means a consonant, either P, B, F, V or W


When you search for the origin of an immigrant to America whose surname was Coerper (Cörper) or Koerper (Körper) or similar it is essential to know some facts.


First fact: Although such surnames look so similar they can be devided into two groups: the „P group“ and the others which we could call the „B group“.

The surnames of the P group such as Cörper, Körper, Coerper and Koerper have another meaning, another origin, than the surnames of the B group. Let us first look at this.

The German word „Körper“ means the body. It is derived from the Latin word „corpus“ which has the declined forms „corporis“ or „corpore“ (as examples). Because of its Latin origin it was often written with a C: Corper, Cörper. Examples for this are numerously found in old documents from the period before 1800. There „Cörper“ is used in the meaning of body. About 1800 this writing was abandoned and only „Körper“ remained.

Shortly after 1400 we have the earliest evidence that this word became a surname.

Its development was quite similar. At first we find „Corper“, later „Cörper“. Until about 1800 this form of the name was prevalent. Shortly after 1800, at the beginning of the 19th century, most name bearers changed the spelling from C to K: Cörper became Körper (as an axample). They followed the trend of the time.

Only in some groups the old spelling was preserved. A part of the Boos group (Booser Stamm) and a part of the Ottersheim group (Ottersheimer Stamm) stuck to the C. (I belong to the Boos group.)

The surname Cörper/Körper belongs to the same category of surnames which mean the body or parts of it: Rumpf, Knie, Kopf, Bauch, Haupt.


In contrast to this, „Körber“, „Körfer“ or the other possibilities in the B group mean a profession. A „Körber“ is a man who makes baskets or sells them.

As far as I see, the other forms are dialect forms of the same word, regional variants you could say. But perhaps they can be devided into further subgroups. I did not investigate it in detail.


As „Körper“ and „Körber“ look very similar and sound very similar many people believe that they are merely two variants of the same surname.

You could call this the prejudice of the fundamental equality of the two surname groups.

This is one of the reasons why you find the name forms irregularly mixed in documents where the name is written by someone else than the name bearer.


Now we have arrived at a point where another important question comes into view: Who wrote the name?

From my experience I can say that the name bearers normally know very well how their name is spelled correctly. But unfortunately, such evidence is seldom before the Civil Record Offices were installed.

The surname is connected to a person from birth on. It accompanies you through your whole life. You develop some kind of relationship to it. You learn how to write it in your youth and stick to it all your life. This is in my opinion the normal case.

Moreover, the surname is a kind of heritage. You receive it from your parents and pass it on to your children. It connects the generations.

On the side of a person who has another surname the situation is quite different. Such a person deals with the name only for a short period of time and then concentrates on something else. They often did not ask how the name is written correctly but merely spelled it from their hearing. They invented for themselves a spelling for the moment. This was sufficient for them because everybody knew who was meant.

From the above said, my conclusion is that a name writing by the name bearer is far more reliable than any other writing.

In most cases such writing by one’s own hand means that the name was written on paper.

But it also includes the text on tombstones. The relatives of the deceased order a tomb stone and tell the stonemason what is to be written on the stone. Therefore, the name form you find there is equivalent with a writing on paper.


Now we go back to the immigrant.

My advice is: First find out how he or she wrote the name by their own hand or how it is written on a tomb stone. It also may help when you know how the descendants write their name. My experience is that the P in the middle of the name is preserved even when the rest of the name is altered.

Now you know whether the immigrant belongs to the P group or nor.

I can give you detailed information if „P group“ is the case.


Families of the P group have their origins in a zone within the region where German is or was the common language. This zone extends in the middle of Germany (as it was in earlier centuries) from the west to the east. „West“ means in this context the region of nowadays’ Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate), „east“ means Silesia which now belongs to Poland. The middle of this zone lies approximately in northern Hessen (Hesse) and Thüringen (Thuringia), also including northern Bavaria.

If such a name occurs in the region north of this zone or south of it the first name bearer of this group most likely came from the central zone.


These family groups were mainly Protestant, at least from the time of the Reformation on. Only the easternmost (in Silesia) and the westernmost (in the Eifel region) of them were (as I presume) Catholic. Additionally, the Ottersheim group which has its center in the south-east of Rheinland-Pfalz has developed a Catholic branch.

So it is helpful to know whether the immigrant was Protestant or Catholic.

The Protestants can be divided into two groups: Evangelical Reformed and Evangelical Lutheran.

„Reformed“ applies mainly to the groups from nowadays’ Rheinland-Pfalz, whereas the others were Lutherans.

So you can focus your search on a special region if you know the religious group they belonged to.


Genealogists are historians who concentrate on a narrow sector of historical research. Their goal is to describe what happened in the past. They try to approach the real life in those times as far as possible.

In our case family research is inevitably confronted with the question how to write the surname correctly. This question should be answered in a way as objective as possible, as near to real life as possible.

The most objective decision is to ask the name bearer himself because I believe that normally everybody has a clear opinion about the correct spelling of their own surname.

If it is impossible to find evidence for this we choose the spelling which can claim the highest probability for itself.

Additionally, the writings found in the documents can be mentioned. They may be helpful for other researchers, but they are irrelevant for the name bearer.


The two main guidelines are:

Rule one

Distinguish between the surnames which mean the body and those which mean a profession.

The first group names have a P in the middle. If not, it is a misspelling.

Within the other group there is a wider variation concerning the middle consonant: B, F, V or W.

Misspellings occur in both directions.

Rule two

Be aware of the writer: Was the surname written by the name bearer? Was it written on a tombstone according to the instruction of the relatives?

How reliable is the spelling? In the case of lack of evidence try to guess which spelling the name bearer might have used.