August 06, 2003
A Question For His First Press Conference

It's far from the most important question to ask a likely governor of California, but some of us language scholars want to know where Arnold Schwarzenegger got his name. 'Schwarz' or 'schwarze' is German for 'black' (the adjective), and 'Neger' is German for 'Negro' (the noun), that is, black African. 'Negger' with two Gs doesn't seem to have any meaning in standard German, so it seems extremely likely to be a dialect form of 'Neger', especially with 'Schwarze' before it. In sum, it looks as if 'Schwarzenegger' is redundantly emphatic and means 'black Negro'. (Perhaps not absolutely redundant: I was about to write "as if there were any other kind", but I suppose the name would exclude albinos of sub-Saharan African ancestry.)

So how did the visibly white Mr. Schwarzenegger get such an inappropriate surname? From his father, presumably, who got it from his father, who got it from his father, and so on. But somewhere along the line, it must have been new. Just as a Müller is likely to have had a small-m miller of grain somewhere in his ancestry, and a Klein (= 'Little') is likely to have had a very short ancestor at the time when surnames first became fashionable, it looks as if the future governor of California ought to have at least one African ancestor, in the male line. Such a forebear would have to be fairly far back to leave him so pale, though such racial mixing was surely extremely rare in Austria up to the last few decades -- not to mention quite dangerous in the Nazi period. Long before that, it may well have been socially acceptable, but Africans in Austria must have been few and far between until recently, especially since Austria never had a colonial empire. On the other hand, the Russian poet Pushkin (1799-1837) was one-eighth Ethiopian, so such marriages are occasionally heard of as far back as the early 17th century. Then again, perhaps the name is some kind of joke, as Katzenellenbogen (which means "Cats' Elbows") is reputed to be. If not, would Schwarzenegger (assuming he is elected) be the first African-(Austrian)-American governor of California?

Update: (8/7, 11:55 AM)

For those too lazy to read the comments:

It appears I have fallen into an error common among medieval scribes: misdivision. Terry Oglesby of Possumblog gives a link showing that the name is not Schwarze-Negger, with a mysterious extra G, but Schwarzen-Egger, "black plowman". That makes a lot of sense, and in that case 'black' presumably means either dark-haired or relatively dark-complected, with no reference to African ancestry.

Just to salvage something from this post: when I worked in a record store years ago, one of the employees liked to refer to Elisabeth Schwartzkopf as 'Betty Blackhead'. Of course the name has nothing to do with pimples, just dark hair.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at August 06, 2003 10:18 PM

Sorry to be such an idiot--I didn't mean to post this to the entry above, but, well, you know...

Anyway, this site might give an alternative meaning to Ahhnahld's moniker--not Schwartze Negger, but Schwartzen Egger, i.e. black plowman.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby on August 7, 2003 11:27 AM

I've always wondered how Swarzkopf came about.

Posted by: richard on August 7, 2003 11:55 AM

I think I can confirm the "black plowman" interpretation. At least, that's what Arnold has said in the past. I remember hearing him translate the name on the Arsenio Hall Show (hey, I was young). Arsenio, naturally, loved it.

Posted by: Mac Thomason on August 7, 2003 02:08 PM

Good Doctor --

Since we're talking language here, do you want to stand by 'dark-complected'?

Posted by: old maltese on August 7, 2003 02:28 PM

I remember A.S. giving the "Black Plowman" definition on Letterman a long time back, prompting this exchange:

Letterman: "Do the Kennedys mind having a... well, having a black plowman in the family?"

Arnold: "They better not!"

P.S. I've endorsed Arnold. I'm sure he's relieved.

Posted by: Andrew S. on August 8, 2003 04:09 AM

richard--alas, "schwarzkopf" probably (and very prosaicly) originates with an ancestor with black hair. Unlikely to be because of a bad skin condition...

Posted by: Andrew S. on August 8, 2003 04:11 AM

It's got to be Schwarzen-Egger, otherwise it'd make little sense. "Black" could refer both to hair color and low birth ("white bone" vs. "black bone") Katzenellenbogen seems to be a Jewish surname (to be precise, the people bearing it are presumed to be Jewish in Russia, Ukraine or Kazakhstan), and, as most Jewish surnames, must have been artificially created.

Pushkin's black great-grandfather (Abram Gannibal, once a slave in the Sultan's seraglio, then a godchild of Peter the Great), according to the latest research, appears to have come from somewhere in Chad (certainly not from Ethiopia anyway). At that time, the Russian term for dark-skinned people was "arap", apparently from "Arab" (sort of "blackamoor" perhaps). Only in the 19th century was it replaced with "negr" -- "Negro" or "black". Interestingly, Gannibal's (second) wife and Pushkin's great-grandmom was a German lady, née von Schoeberg, so the national poet was also one-eighth German.

Posted by: Alexei on August 8, 2003 06:55 AM

I too remember Arnold telling Arsenio what the name means. He said "farmer", at the time, I think, but the point remains.

Posted by: Dave on August 9, 2003 09:55 PM

Farmer would be "bauer". "Egger" is clearly "plowman", which is a bit more specific than "bauer".

Posted by: David Perron on August 14, 2003 09:44 AM

In your comment about "negger" in "Schwartzenegger" you state:

"'Negger' with two Gs doesn't seem to have any meaning in standard German, so it seems extremely likely to be a dialect form of 'Neger', especially with 'Schwarze' before it. etc., etc."

Subsequent postings then suggested the "egger" meaning, which seems logical, and with which you concurred. It is, however, interesting that despite your contention that "'negger' doesn't seem to have any meaning in standard German," when you enter "negger," by itself, in Google, you get endless pages of dreary hardcore German porn, with "negger" apparently meaning "neger". (Perhaps a native German speaker with a strong stomach could take a look at this and give us a translation.)

Has "negger" then come to mean, or be interchangeable with "neger", and if so, why? Has "neger" been transmuted -- as "negger" -- into something -- at least in the porn world --like "nigger?" Perhaps without pejorative, but rather pornographic connotations?

If so, something of a burden for a potential future governor -- even of a state like California.

Nicholas Dykema
Cleveland, Ohio

Posted by: Nicholas Dykema on August 25, 2003 01:16 AM

I would have assumed that it meant someone from a town called Schwarzenegg (there are lots of towns with -egg endings down south), but if Arnold says it's "black plowman," who am I to doubt?

Posted by: language hat on August 29, 2003 02:58 PM

Being a rank amateur at German, language hat has caused me to rethink. Langenschiedt's had got me convinced that Ahnuld was correct, but after doing a bit of Googling, I discovered that there's a town called Schwarzenegg in Switzerland. It's possible that Schwarzenegger is a Swiss transplant. The Protestant conversion of Switzerland did send many a Catholic in search of more hospitable places to live. Conjecture, but plausible.

So, even though Schwarzenegger does translate as "black plowman", it's entirely possible that it also means "one from Schwarzenegg". Just as "frankfurter" can mean "one who is from frankfurt" or "Frank(french?) ford".

Posted by: David Perron on September 3, 2003 02:55 PM

My German dictionary defines egger as "harrow." A harrow is an agricultural implement that is used to smooth over plowed land.

And that, gentleman, would seem to be the end of it!

Posted by: Ingrid on September 11, 2003 12:21 PM

Yes. Ingrid is correct. According to my Langenscheids Dictionary, Egge means harrow. The "er" ending indicates the masculine (as in person or 'man'). I think the "en" ending on Schwarzen indicates the Dative Case, meaning 'black of...'. If my thinking is correct, then "Schwarzen Egger" might mean black man of the harrow. One might make the leap from this to suppose that maybe the soil the 'man' was 'harrowing' was black (as it often is in very fertile regions). So, on a dry day when this 'man' was harrowing his field, it was also hot enough for him to have perspiration on his skin allowing the dry, black soil dust to adhere to his normally caucasian colored skin thus making it appear black. This man's neighbors saw him and henceforth he became known as Schwarzen Egger. A man of distinction.

Posted by: Doug Shattuck on October 3, 2003 04:11 PM

At last, I've found an explanation of the name. No source I've tried gave a satisfactory reason for the black-Negro translation, and none even treated the double "g" in negger. Thanks

Posted by: john craiger on October 8, 2003 04:52 PM

Another possible derivation is that Egg is a town in the austrian vorarlberg. A person from Egg would be an Egger, which is also a very common family name (Egger beer, etc). If it was necessary to distinguish between several Eggers, a dark-haired or dark-complected person might be styled "Schwartzenegger", which could then become the family name.

Posted by: John Hayes on October 11, 2003 05:24 PM

*HAHA* Schwarzenegger = Schwarzer Neger = black negro ?!?!?!

His family got this name from a town! or a castle! called "Schwarzenegg" in Austria. If Arnold says anything different, he lies

Posted by: Ahhnee on October 12, 2003 01:40 PM

Switching to Italian, I can understand Testarossa, but Testaverde??? Where does that come from?

Posted by: Laurent on November 5, 2003 05:16 PM

Testaverde translated is Green Head. So that person is Irish Italian.

If Vince says anything different he lies

Posted by: Linguisto on October 17, 2004 05:29 PM