Mr. Rath, Meet Ms. Kamp…the origins of the Rathkamp Surname

My blogging software has a feature that shows me search strings people use to find my website.  Some of the search terms are pretty entertaining.  Like last week when somebody somehow found me by searching “pic of an old German family having a fight”.   Other times, I can see Google doing its job by pointing to my site as people are searching for specific information related to some of my more “obscure” distant ancestors.

One common search string has to do with the origins of my last name, Rathkamp.  I too have always wondered about the meaning of my surname, but didn’t actually find out until about a year ago.  I always had hopes that maybe Rathkamp meant “noble Viking warrior”  or “wise Saxon tribal chief”.    It turns out the origin of the Rathkamp name is a little less dramatic.  So for the 373 Rathkamps living in the U.S., I’m here to enlighten you.

I’m not fluent in German, but I’ll do my best to describe some different naming conventions and will try to correlate these to names to my own family tree.  Some German surnames were derived from jobs or professions such as Schneider (tailor), Bauer (farmer), or Zimmerman (carpenter).  Others were derived from a physical trait of the original bearer such as Tonne (big belly), Rothaar (red hair).  Other names were patronymic, meaning they were passed from a father to a son such as Leitzke or Niesl.  In both of these cases the “ke” and “l” at the end of each forms the diminutive of Leitz or Nies (a derivitive of Dionysus).  There are also examples such as Wadenstorfer or Neuberg which both probably refer to a home town.

In the cases of Waege and Rathkamp, each of these refer to physical characteristics of the land my ancestors either owned or lived on.  Waege or Wege refers to a “way” or a “walk” or “path”.

Rathkamp is formed by two different words:  rath and kamp.  Neither word is very easy to find in a German to English translator, so I’m guessing they’re both old German.   Kamp is derived from the Latin word Campus.  Traditionally, it referred to the strip of land around the walls of a city or castle.  Over time I think it morphed into meaning any type of field.  The closest comparison I can make in English for Rath is to “root or pull out”, in this case specifically trees or bushes.

So the moment you’ve been waiting for… Rathkamp refers to a field that originally was populated by trees or bushes.

So much for Vikings or Saxon kings.

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