Mainz Daily Photo

What’s in a name? #1704

More than you’d think.

I stumbled over Butterbergreul, an alleyway in Gonsenheim, last year and try as I might, I couldn’t trace the origin of the name.


And I don’t like being stumped.

I was talking about it to Uli Zawar, the charming and not unattractive proprietress of the Sonntags-Kind cafe/shop/magnet for littlies and their mums.

She asked around the older inhabitants of the village, also came up with nothing but put me in touch with Dr. Becker, the local historian.

Who put me in touch with Dr Rita Heuser from the Academy for Sciences and Literature in Mainz, where she’s working on a project to document digitally ALL family names (together with their meanings and interrelationships) in Germany, irrespective of their origin and working from high frequency to low frequency.
(I’ve worked out that that they’ll get to us – all 3 of us – in around 2036…..)

What she doesn’t know about names of streets, field names and dialect in and around Mainz isn’t worth bothering about.

She came up with the following:

We can exclude any links to similar names in northern, eastern and southern Germany.

“Butterberg” isn’t uncommon in this dialectic region and has a metaphorical association with particularly fertile land or – with a touch of irony – extremely poor soil. (They appear to have had real estate agents back then, too “Now, this plot of land might not LOOK like much, but the NAME – Butteracker! It’s bound to be the most fertile in the district”…).

There’s also “buttery” – soggy – soil.

Or a path along which dairy products were bought to market, similar to the Milchpfad in Bretzenheim and others. And it does have a slight incline – 2 metres over its 60m length, which is more than most roads in Gonsenheim.
You don’t get out of breath in Gonso….

Or a road lined with buttercups (which was the name country folk used to give to any yellow wildflower).

Me, I’m all for the buttercup story, but looking at old maps of Gonsenheim, the alleyway’s proximity to the outskirts of the medieval settlement and the incline, the dairy explanation takes a bit of beating.

Mind you, Dr Heuser said that her work’s all about exclusion and probabilities, so anything to do with the sorbic sun god is well off the mark, but pretty much everything else goes.

Buttercups it is, then……

This entry was published on 2 November, 2012 at 08:00. It’s filed under History, Mainz, People and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “What’s in a name? #1704

  1. Pingback: Why didn’t we ask Rudi in the first place…?! #1787 « Mainz Daily Photo

  2. Pingback: I’ve got it sussed….! | You Must Be From Away

  3. I agree with your conclusion!

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