"What's in a name." to
quote Shakespeare. The study of family names can give insight into family
heritage and history. Surnames were not common in Europe earlier than 1000
A.D. People were identified by what we now call nicknames. These nicknames
identified the person to the satisfaction of the people who knew him
locally. A man named John with a white beard or hair might be called John le
White. John's son would be called just that, "John's son." If his name were
David then his son might be called David's son or Davidson.
The Norman's carried the practice of retaining a family name to England at
the time of the Norman conquest in 1066. The practice grew slowly; however,
and really did not become common practice until required by more extensive
government records. Family names most commonly derive from four sources:
First is Patronymics or derivation from the fathers name, such as
McJunkin and McClanahan, or O'Carney. The Mac and O' prefixes are used
in Scotland and Ireland to mean "son of" and "grandson of" or
The Welch used "ap" so that a name such as "ap Harry" meaning "son of
Harry" might eventually become "Parry." Endings such as "er", "y", "ey",
"ie", or "ley" were diminutives meaning "little" so a son might be
called "Bailey" or "Crumley" or "Gregory." Eventually the "son" suffix
became simply "s" in some cases such as Stephens.
A second major source are names derived from occupation or office. For
example, Wheeler for a man who made wheels. A Lentz meant a
peasant-soldier or "lance man," "Smith" from a blacksmith.
A third source of family names was from places. A cairn is a "pile of
stones" so Carney--"One who lives near a mountain of stone." Briggs is a
corruption of Bridge for someone who lived near a bridge. Ledford from a
path leading across a stream. Cheyne, Duchesne, MacChesney and
eventually Chesney come from the Norman-French for an Oak Grove or a
series of French towns with these names. They would have come to mean
"strong as an oak" or "stout of heart."
A fourth source is from description or action. John the Wyte became John White. Brown might be for brown or dark red hair. Black might derive from dark hair or swarthy complexion. Someone addicted to the oath "by God" in English" or "per Due" in French became Bigott, Pardew, Perdue, Purdue and Purdy in England.
Kinser or Küntzer are names from the Palatine states or what is now
Southern Germany and the first syllable, 'Kien,' in old German, means a
pine or Scotch fir tree that burns very well because of its' high resin
content. Before the invention of electricity pine torches were used for
light. A reasonable assumption would be that the name Kinzer or Küntzer
would mean one who makes or sells pine torches. i. e. torch maker or
Occasionally the name MacKinser has appeared in research materials.
There seemed to be no explanation for a name of German origin having a
Scottish suffix until one Kinser cousin told us his family had moved
first to one of the Scottish channel islands for a number of years
before immigrating to the American Colonies. Perhaps they adopted the
Scottish custom of adding the Mac meaning 'son of' to the child's name.
There are many names
we cannot fit into any of these categories. Perhaps because we cannot follow
the development of the name from its original meaning. Names also changed
with locations as people moved. In some countries, particularly in
Scandinavia, each farm had a name that the residents adopted so that a man
moving from one to another would change his surname to fit the farm where he
The lack of education among the common people also led to a wide variety
of spellings of names. Officials wrote the name as they heard it on various
documents, each one spelling the name as he interpreted it. In tracing
family trees we find that most family names stemming from common ancestry
are spelled in several different ways. In one instance the name Kinser is
spelled three different ways on immigration documents filled out by
different officials at the Port of Philadelphia on the same day for the same
Many people on immigrating to a new country changed their names to fit new
circumstances. For example, many dropped the "Mac" or "O'" before their
names on entry into the American colonies. Some simply changed to English
words meaning the same as their name did in the old country. White for Blanc
or Brown for Brun or Broun, for example. Of course others changed names to
leave behind an unsavory past or to avoid being found in their new country.
Some simply adopted names they liked. Others adopted English sounding names
to avoid ethnic discrimination.
All in all coming to a new land offered a chance for a new beginning in
many ways and many immigrants felt a change of name would improve
opportunities in their new home.
Early German names may be confusing to researchers. Some common variations
of names and their English equivalents are given on this page.
German name variations
Origin of the Kinser Name.
Kinser Risinger(9589) did extensive
research on her branch of the Kinser clan and wrote a book on them. In a
letter to Opal in 1963 Mrs. Adolf Kinzer of Heidelberg, Germany gives
the following derivation of the Kinser name. Kinzer or Kienzer are names
from southern Germany and the first syllable, 'Kien,' in old German,
means a pine or Scotch fir tree that burns very well because of its'
high resin content. Before the invention of electricity pine torches
were used for light. A reasonable assumption would be that the name
Kinzer or Kintzer would mean one who makes or sells pine torches.
In her letter Mrs. Adolf Kinser adds there are Kinzers, related to her,
living in Germany, France and Switzerland. She states that her husband's
family originally lived in Thueringen but were driven away from their
hereditary home during the Thirty Years War(1618-1648).
Adolf Kinzer's great-grandfather was born September 9, 1795, in
Namborn, Saar. Namborn is located just south of Wolfersweiler where our
Kinser ancestors came from. He married a Marg. Bugard and after her
death married her sister, Maria Bugard. Their fifth son, Johann, born in
1830, was Adolf's great-grandfather. This son emigrated to Anneville,
France. Constant wars between France and Germany split the family and
resulted in Kinzers fighting on both sides in the World War II.
Mrs. Risinger's family tree is descended from a Michael Kinser(3075)
born in Wythe County, Virginia on January 20, 1803, and living near
St. Paul's Lutheran Church. This Michael is descended from the Johan
Jacob Küntzer who arrived aboard the 'Samuel' and is a cousin or brother
to the Kinser from whom the Tennessee branch of the family descends.
Michael and his children migrated to Indiana at about the same time our
family line moved to East Tennessee.
Andreas Küntzer from Germany
(also a 'Kinser cousin') gives another possible interpretation of the
origin of the name Kinser or Küntzer, the original spelling. He says
"Küntzer is another form of Kunz. Kunz on the other hand is the pet name
of Konrad. This surname developed from the equally sounding German name.
Konrad was in the Middle Ages one of the most popular German names. Do
you know the German words "Hinz und Kunz"?? It's from the Middle Age too
and means "everyone"." My mothers family name was Hinze. Isn't that
funny ?? He also mentions that the 'ue' in Kuentzer is equal to the 'ü'
in Küntzer. The two are equivalent in German usage. Andreas has a family
web page at
http://www.stammreihe.de with his family genealogy. His family is linked to us on the family tree
and the alphabetical indexes.
An interesting study would be the how and why of the concentrations of
the various spellings of the Kinser name. Most of the East Tennessee
Kinsers use that spelling while Kincer seems to be concentrated in
Virginia. Kinzer is more common in Middle Tennessee and the Mid-West.
The older spellings such as Kintzer and Küntzer seem to have remained in
the Pennsylvania area. Some other spellings such as Kinsor and Kinsar
are relatively uncommon.
One or two researchers have tried to identify
Kinder as a variation of the Kinser name but I do not believe this to be
true. In every instance where I have encountered the Kinder name it is a
separate and distinct family. Kinder also occurs in German records
meaning "child of."