There are many German proper nouns – do you already know some? In this article, you will learn all about German proper nouns. Discover interesting facts about geographical proper nouns and how to correctly write proper nouns of institutions!

How do I define proper nouns? A Definition for Learning

Let’s start with the question, what exactly is a proper noun? The term ‘proper noun’ includes a word you already know very well: noun. Each of us has a name. Our name is always something special and unique. And the same applies to proper nouns.

Note Proper nouns are names for specific, individual beings or things.

For example, there is only one city called Hamburg in Germany. A proper noun assigns a specific name to a person or a city. Of course, there are several people named Lisa Müller in Germany – but each proper noun refers to a specific individual.

What types of proper nouns are there?

Names include not only people and cities but also geographical features such as countries or streets, certain means of transport (the Titanic), institutions and organizations (the University of Bamberg), artistic works (the Mona Lisa), and some historical events and epochs (the French Revolution, World War II).

Some groups of words are often confused with proper nouns, but they are not technically names. According to Duden, these include terms for

  • Months and days (the First of May “der Erste Mai”, Christmas Eve “der Heilige Abend”)
  • Animals and plants (the Large Copper as a name for a butterfly)
  • Diseases (cataract “der Graue Star” as a name for an eye disease)
  • Set phrases (the grey mouse “die graue Maus” or the stowaway “der blinde Passagier”).

In summary: Proper nouns include the names of countries, continents, rivers, mountains, lakes, streets, schools, cities, people, or pets. Also, historical events and epochs or proper nouns of institutions belong to this category.

Are Eigennamen (proper nouns) nouns?

Yes, a proper noun is a noun. So, what do you think is the spelling rule for proper nouns? Capitalization or lower case?

According to German orthography, proper nouns are capitalized. This is the first important rule you should remember. More about the use of articles with proper nouns and how they are declined will be covered later.

Compound Proper Nouns

Do you have an idea what compound proper nouns are? They differ between simple and compound proper nouns. Simple proper nouns consist of only one word. An example is Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany.

Compound proper nouns, as the name suggests, consist of several parts. An example is the Schwarze Meer or die Chinesische Mauer. Can you explain what bipartite proper nouns are now? Great! Bipartite proper nouns consist of two parts.

Let’s look at some examples of compound proper nouns!

Typical German Proper Nouns

Institutions, Organizations, Facilities, and Media:
  • Second German Television “Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen”
  • German Trade Union Confederation “Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund”
  • Dermatological Monthly “Dermatologische Monatsschrift”
  • Academy for Early Music Berlin “Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin”
  • International Olympic Committee “Internationales Olympisches Komitee”
  • Federal Statistical Office “Statistisches Bundesamt”
  • Social Democratic Party of Germany “Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands”
  • Salzburg Cathedral Bookshop
  • Clinic for Internal Medicine at the University of Rostock “Klinik für Innere Medizin der Universität Rostock”
  • United Nations “Vereinte Nationen”
  • German Bundestag “Deutscher Bundestag”
  • Christian Democratic Union “Christlich-Demokratische Union”
  • General German Automobile Club “Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobilclub”
  • German Publishers and Booksellers Association “Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels”
  • German Red Cross “Deutsches Rotes Kreuz”
  • Berliner Zeitung
  • Deutsche Bank
  • Deutsche Bahn
  • Die Zeit
  • Saxon Latest News “Sächsische Neueste Nachrichten”
  • Süddeutsche Zeitung
  • Deutsche Post
  • Hotel Four Seasons
  • Gasthaus zur Neuen Post
  • Zum Goldenen Anker
Parties, Associations, Clubs:
  • German Publishers and Booksellers Association “Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels”
  • International Olympic Committee “Internationales Olympisches Komitee”
  • German Red Cross “Deutsches Rotes Kreuz”
  • German Trade Union Confederation “Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund”
  • United Nations “Vereinte Nationen”
  • Christian Democratic Union “Christlich-Demokratische Union”
  • General German Automobile Club “Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobilclub”
  • Social Democratic Party of Germany “Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands”
    Businesses, Companies, Cooperatives, Restaurants, Shops:
    • Deutsche Bank, Deutsche Post, Deutsche Bahn, Hotel Four Seasons, Gasthaus zur Neuen Post, Zum Goldenen Anker, Salzburg Cathedral Bookshop
    Newspapers and Magazines:
    • Berliner Zeitung, Saxon Latest News “Sächsische Neueste Nachrichten”, German as a Foreign Language “Deutsch als Fremdsprache”, Dermatological Monthly “Dermatologische Monatsschrift”, Die Zeit, Süddeutsche Zeitung

    Watch out! The proprietary spelling of companies (and their products) often does not conform to German spelling rules. Many companies have their own spelling, but you should adhere to the spelling rules when writing such proper nouns: Facebook instead of facebook, Amazon instead of amazon, Whatsapp instead of WhatsApp.

    The Genitive with Proper Nouns Proper nouns can be declined by case (Kasus) and number (Numerus). A sentence with a declined proper noun in the genitive might read:

    Die Sterne des Großen Bären sind deutlich sichtbar.

    The formation of the genitive of names ending in s, ss, ß, x, z, or tz often poses problems. We will show you the options for writing proper nouns in the genitive correctly.

    When names are used without an article, the apostrophe is the most commonly used form to make the genitive clear: Felix’s sister “Felix‘ Schwester”, Ringelnatz’s poems “Ringelnatz‘ Gedichte”. This also applies to names from other languages that are written differently but also end in a sibilant: Joyce’s influence “Joyce‘ Einfluss”, Cruise’s last role “Cruise‘ letzte Rolle”.

    Often, as a substitute for the genitive, a prepositional phrase with von + name is used: das Auto von Laura, die Werke von Aristoteles.

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