Proper Usage of Von and Zu

Apr 2017
639
U.S.A.
#1
The German nobility particles von (descending from) and zu (resident at) were used by nobility before their surnames. Did the noble family's surname always refer to the lands they ruled? Example being Otto von Bismarck, did Bismarck indicate the name of his lands? If not, then was von simply used to refer to familial descent? I read an article that said zu was used to refer to an existing estate and when used in conjunction with von would mean the noble family was in residence at its ancestral lands; is this accurate?
Anyway, can someone layout the basic proper usage of these terms?
 

Willempie

Ad Honorem
Jul 2015
4,292
Netherlands
#2
Never heard of "zu" used separately with German nobility, but maybe a German knows better (since I don't have the habit of meeting many German nobles). Von is about the family and sometimes the area. "Von und zu" means the family still lives at the estate, so that is correct.
In any case the lowest nobility has at least "von" in their name, but it is not limited to that. Ie the emperors were Von Hohenstaufen even though the von is often omitted.
 
Dec 2011
1,221
#3
The German nobility particles von (descending from) and zu (resident at) were used by nobility before their surnames. Did the noble family's surname always refer to the lands they ruled?
To my knowledge, surnames of the "ancient nobility" ("Uradel") always refer to some kind of place. However, their names do not necessarily point to a place that is or was actually ruled by that family.
Example being Otto von Bismarck, did Bismarck indicate the name of his lands?
The Bismarcks are a case in point. As far as I know, the town of "Bismark" was founded by the first of the Bismarck family that came to Brandenburg from somewhere farther in the East. The first noble member of the family is supposed to be Nikolaus von Bismarck who was born in 1307, nonetheless, his fore-bearers, going back to the early 13th century, were already called "von Bismar(c)k". As many people did not have proper surnames, it wasn't uncommon to add the place where they came from. The town of "Bismark" was transferred, whether sold or otherwise, I don't know, to the family "von Alvensleben" during the 14th or 15th century. So, no, the name did not refer to the lands Otto von Bismarck ruled. It might even be the case that no one of the family ever ruled the town as a noble, but I am unsure about this.
If not, then was von simply used to refer to familial descent?
In the case of the Bismarcks, yes, it seems so. Nonetheless, after the Middle Ages, wealthy or "well-performing" families that bought or received a noble title often just started to carry a "von" between their given names and their surnames; the most famous example is probably "Johann Wolfgang von Goethe". Goethe's father was a tailor, so not exactly a great noble.

I read an article that said zu was used to refer to an existing estate and when used in conjunction with von would mean the noble family was in residence at its ancestral lands; is this accurate?
I am not sure whether it would necessarily be the "ancestral homelands", but if used in the manner of "Visgoth von und zu Panzer", yes, it would refer to both the family and their place of residence. In the form of "Visigoth von Tiger zu Panzer", it would refer to Visigoth of the family of "Tiger" residing at a place called "Panzer". When noble families branched out, both versions were used to indicate which branch of the family a person belonged to.
 

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