The Butzke surname is German and originates from the historically prominent Kingdom of Prussia (German: Königreich Preußen).
All of us have a surname (family name) that we inherited from our parents, traditionally from our fathers. Many of us know very little about where these family names come from and what they originally meant. Some family names can be associated with physical places and locations while others can be indicative of a particular trade or profession. My research into the origins of the Butzke surname has taken me on a fascinating journey into history.
At its peak, The Kingdom of Prussia made up two-thirds of the land and three-fifths of the population of the German Empire when the Empire was formed in 1871 as seen in figure 1.1 Prussia itself was made up of provinces which included Brandenburg, East, and West Prussia, Pomerania, Posen, and Silesia. Following World War II, the state of Prussia was officially dissolved by formal decree of the Allied Control Council on 25 February 1947 and the area that was once Prussia is today part of Germany, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Denmark, Belgium, Czech Republic and Switzerland.2 It is important to understand this historical context in order to become familiar with the various geographic regions since you will not find Prussia on any map of Germany today.This former kingdom in Germany grew out of a small country on the south-east shores for the Baltic. This forested area east of the Vistula was originally inhabited by a Baltic people known as the Prussians. In the thirteenth century, this region was conquered by the Teutonic Knights. In the fifteenth century, the Duchy of Prussia was founded which eventually passed to the Electors of Brandenburg in 1618. The Electors of Brandenburg subsequently took the title of Kings of Prussia in 1701. Prussia became a strong military power during the eighteenth century and eventually displaced Austria as the leading German power in the nineteenth century.
Dictionary of American Family Names
One of the very first resources that I discovered that had information regarding the Butzke surname is The Dictionary of American Family Names (DAFN). The editor states in the introduction that DAFN “is the first attempt to explain the history and origin of the 70,000 most frequent family names in the United States”.3 The purpose of DAFN is to fill the gap in knowledge that we do not have about the origins of our family names. The authors estimate that over 85% of Americans will find an entry for their family name in DAFN (DAFN, ix).
The entry for the Butzke surname in DAFN is:
Butzke (140) German: from a short form of the Slavic personal name Budislaw. GIVEN NAMES German 10% Hans, Horst, Lorenz, Otto (DAFN, 263).
Each entry in DAFN contains a specific structure. Let’s examine this entry in more detail.
The first field, which DAFN calls the Headword, is the surname with no accents or other marks or phonetic characters as it is found in American name lists (DAFN, ix).
The second field is a number in parentheses called the Comparative Frequency. This number represents how often the headword can be found in the sampling of 88.7 million names. I find this data point to be one of the most interesting in the entry. DAFN used a sampling of names which represents one-third of the population in the United States in 1997 (DAFN, ix). The comparative frequency number for the Butzke surname means that 140 individuals bear the surname.
The third field is the Explanation which may give the following pieces of information for any given headword: Language of Origin, Original Spelling, Region, Typology, and Etymology (DAFN, ix). The language of origin states that it is of German origin. There is no original spelling or a region associated with the surname. The topology, which indicates if the headword comes from a personal name, nickname, or place name, states that Butzke is a short form of a Slavic personal name. The etymology, which is the linguistic history of the headword, is not included for the Butzke surname. This would be the form and meaning of the word the surname is derived from which in this case is Budislaw.
The fourth field is Cross-references that refer to other entries in DAFN where more information can be found (DAFN, ix). There are no cross-references for the entry on the Butzke surname.
The final field in each entry is called Given Names. This is a limited list of the given names that are associated with a surname from the sample data used by DAFN. These names are used as a diagnostic to determine the level of confidence that a surname is from a particular country of origin. DAFN calls this the Diagnosis and Confidence Measure (DAFN, x). This means that based on the given name evidence of the 140 unique entries that there is a 10% level of confidence that the Butzke surname is German. This does not mean that 10% of the individuals who bear the Butzke surname are of German origin.
The DAFN methodology used to create each entry is sound. One particular concern that I have is with the explanation given for the origin of the Butzke surname. Since it is one of the less common names in America, this makes it more difficult to find information on the origin of the name. In addition to this, there are no sources given to justify why the name is of Slavic origin. DAFN does have a chapter as part of the overall introduction titled German Family Names, but it does not give any further insight as to why the name would be of Slavic origin.
As my research continued, I turned to the German genealogy site run by the Association of Computer Genealogy (German: Verein für Computergenealogie). This German genealogy super site has a number of large resource sections along with several URLs which are used interchangeably throughout the site. I will simply refer to this site as CompGen since the main landing page uses the domain compgen.de. One of the main resources on the site is GenWiki which is the main collection of their information pages. Part of GenWiki is a listing of German surnames. Each surname page contains several sections that may or may not contain relevant information.
The Butzke surname page on GenWiki lists the origin of the name as East Prussia (German: Ostpreußen). In addition to being included in the subcategory of East Prussian surnames, the Butzke surname is also included in the subcategory of surnames from Memelland. This last point is interesting because it gives us a clue that the surname may originate from a specific region within East Prussia. Memelland is the northernmost region of East Prussia and is today known as the Klaipéda Region which is in modern-day Lithuania.
There are three interpretations of the meaning of the surname:
- Lithuanian "bučius" meaning "fish trap"
- Prussian "budit" meaning "to wake up"
Compare to Lithuanian "busti" meaning "awake"
- (Rather Unlikely) Prussian "bučut" meaning "kissing"; "bučis" meaning "the kisser"
Latvian "bučot" meaning "kiss"
These variants of the surname are listed: Butcze, Butz, Butze, Butzer, Butzki, Butzko.4
In the Baltic region of East Prussia, there were several native languages spoken by the Baltic tribes before the conquest by the Germans. Prussian was the language spoken by the Old Prussian tribes. Of the old Baltic languages spoken in this region, only Lithuanian survives today as a spoken language. Many Prussian and Lithuanian based surnames were influenced by regional and dialectical differences in education. Over time these surnames transitioned from their original forms to German and vice versa. There are also certain linguistic characteristics that are peculiar to this region. For example, there are specific ending for male names in the Prussian, Lithuanian, Slavic and Kurilian-Latvian languages. More specifically, the name ending of ke and ko are two examples of name endings for Prussian male surnames.5
The Association of Computer Genealogy provides a wealth of information and resources in addition to the surname pages on GenWiki. Their study into the origin of German surnames extends to analysis of the linguistic characteristics of a name.
The Butzke surname can trace its roots from the Old Prussian and Lithuanian languages and originates geographically from East Prussia, possibly from the Memelland region.
While the DAFN entry gives us a possible clue into the origin of the Butzke surname, there are no specific references cited as to why the surname is of Slavic origin. In contrast, GenWiki cites numerous sources from which they base their conclusions on. This gives me a higher level of confidence that the information found on GenWiki is not only more accurate but more plausible.
robert w butzke
2. Christopher Clark, Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 (London: Penguin Books, 2007).
3. Patrick Hanks, ed., Dictionary of American Family Names, vol. 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), ix.
4. “Butzke (Familienname).” Verein für Computergenealogie, GenWiki. Last modified February 18, 2009. http://wiki-de.genealogy.net/Butzke_(Familienname).
5. “Endungen und Besonderheiten baltischer Familiennamen.” Verein für Computergenealogie, GenWiki. Last modified September 19, 2016. http://wiki-de.genealogy.net/Endungen_und_Besonderheiten_baltischer_Familiennamen.