I'm doing some research on family history. I am trying to track some people that came to the U.S from Germany in 1737 on the ship "Charming Nancy". Here's the link:


Close to the bottom of the list are the names:

  • Thomas Spiri
  • Sara
  • Anna Eva, 27
  • Hans Peter, 26
  • Hans Henrich, 24
  • Hans Jacob, 21
  • Hans Thomas, 20
  • Hans Nickel, 16
  • Johan Jacob, 14

I'm trying to decide if the term "Hans" is an English/American version of a German term for men of some age (maybe 16?) or older. For example, the first name "Thomas" with no age given might be a very young boy (under the age of 14?). Where, Sara with no age might be a young girl. And, Johan Jacob, 14, a boy, does not have the "prefix" Hans.

Can anyone point to a source/reference for this problem?

Edit (08/01/2011) ==========================================

After more research, it is possible that the first two names (both without an age) in the list are the names of the parents of this group. They didn't make the trip to America, but it could have been the names that would have identified "the group".

3 Answers 3


It was a common practice among many German and Swiss families of that time to give two names to a child. Most often the first one was a saint's name, and the second was the name by which the child was known. For boys, the predominant saint's name by far was the German form of John (Johann or Hans). See other entries on that passenger list for other examples. Note that Johann or Hans is almost never a second name, but occurs in the first position.

See A History of Middle Names, the Western Europe section here, or the Middle Names section here.

  • I'm still digging, but this seems to be going in the right direction. These guys were from the Hesse region of Germany. Apparently there was an overpopulation problem and a lot of religious friction. Their American descendants, and possibly some of those in the above list, were Baptist preachers, which means the children weren't Baptized until the child made the decision. This seems to be consistent with your links, especially your last link. Is it possible that all boys were given the first name Johan when they were born, which was changed to Hans when they were Baptized?
    – bill_080
    Aug 1, 2011 at 14:48
  • Ran out of room in the above comment.... It also looks like the name "Anna" in Anna Eva can be viewed like "Hans". Like that link said, all of these people seem to drop their first name in all documents except church documents. And, I can't prove it yet, but it is likely that these people were "sponsored" to go to (or come to) America by their church. So, all documents tied to this trip might be viewed as "church documents".
    – bill_080
    Aug 1, 2011 at 15:03
  • Yes, a Johann Peter in one source might be listed as a Hans Peter elsewhere and a Peter some other place. Hans was an abbreviation (or nickname) for Johann, and it is not easily predictable if they were considered distinct names in any particular time or place by any particular person. It probably wouldn't be a case of "changing" from Johann to Hans, just different expressions of the same name, like James and Jim.
    – mgkrebbs
    Aug 1, 2011 at 19:18

It's not a term for men of some age, it's just a very popular name in the German language, the way David, or John, is in the English language. Wikipedia explains:

Hans is a masculine given name. In German, Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, Icelandic and Swedish, originally it is short for Johannes (John) but is also recognized in Sweden, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands as a name in its own right for official purposes.

  • The only problem with that is, why didn't they list "Johan Jacob" as "Hans Jacob"? I realize that would list two "Hans Jacobs", and maybe that's the reason. Also, I found this: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Hanse Maybe in this case, "Hans" is short for "Hanse" (German merchants)? It turns out, these guys came from the area where the Hanseatic League was dying off. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanseatic_League
    – bill_080
    Jul 30, 2011 at 2:01
  • 1
    The key is the word "originally" in there. By 1737, we assume, "Johannes" and "Hans" were considered different names.
    – GEdgar
    Jul 31, 2011 at 3:31
  • 3
    Johann Sebastian Bach's brothers were named Johann Christoph, Johann Balthazar, and Johann Jakob. I believe it was not an unusual practice in Germany at the time to give all your sons the same first name, and varying middle names. So maybe what's unusual here is that Johan Jacob isn't named Hans. Jul 31, 2011 at 18:26

"Hans" is short for Johan (John).

There is no hard and fast rule, but an adult would more likely be referred to as Johan or Johannes.

A young man or boy would more likely to be referred to as Hans, just as "Johnny" might be the equivalent English reference. But note that in the list above, a 14-year old boy was referred to as Johan.

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