THE ZIEGENFUSS NAME
Taking the sounds of a language and turning them into written words was a great task.
In the English language, the spelling of written words with proper usage and letters was not
standardized until after 1755, when Samuel Johnson published the first dictionary. European
languages, such as German, underwent the same process. The standardization of the German
language began with the publication of Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible from Latin to
German in 1545. These facts help to partly explain the spelling of family names spoken by
German immigrants to English clerks who were not fluent in the German language. When an
illiterate immigrant in 1738 from Beedenkirchen, Germany named Hans Jacob Ziegenfuss
pronounced “Zehfuss” to an English clerk in the port of Philadelphia, the clerk
phonetically wrote down what his English ears heard: “Zifus” and “Sefues.” His male children
are listed “Seiefues” (“Ziegenfuss”), and his wife and daughters are listed”Seikefues” and
“Seikefus”. So, began the variations in the spelling of our family name: such as Sigafoos,
Sekafoose, Zickefuse, Zeigenfus, to mention a few. Within the previous generation of my
branch of the family, I have both Ziegenfus and Ziegenfuss. My father Robert E. Ziegenfus Jr.
dropped the extra “s”, probably to simplify the spelling. His brothers Gilbert and Gordon kept
the double ”ss”.
Ulli Ziegenfuss submitted the article on “Ziegenfuss” to Wikipedia, writes that the name can be “traced back to the 15th century. . It is a relatively rare name, which arises in Germany particularly in the Rhur district (Castrop Rauxel), in the Eichsfeld and in the Odenwald. Etymologists interpret the prefix ‘goat’ in surnames such as goat foot, goat leg, goat neck etc. in the form of dryly, thin and etc. Probably the first person with this name had thin, possibly also whitish legs, so that it was used first as a nick name or as a surname later by his descendants. “
In the second volume of “Etymologisches Worterbuch der Deutschen Familiennamen”
(c.1957) Professor Josef Karlmann Brechenmacher states that the early German spelling
was “Ziehfuss”. I translate the article as reading:
“Ziehfuss (pulling foot) is the stunted form of Ziegenfuss (goat’s foot),
see this article on the line of descent on the Odenwaldi (Oden Forest)
Ziegenfuss, in itself following 1659 Ziefuss, then since about 1700
was written Ziegenfuss”, in the Deutsches Geschlecterbuch,
Geneaologisches Handbuch Burglicher Familien, Vol. XCVIII (98)
page 688 and following. S. Zehfuss. (This is a 209 volume publication of hundreds
of German family genealogies published in the 1930’s, and is now available on CD-
The Wikipedia article states that our origin begins “in the Eichsfeld area in Thungaria. Some people were mentioned in documents of the Protestant Reformation, e.g. Claus Zeegenfoess in 1525 whose home was burned down together with the monastery Beuren by rebellion farmers in the Peasant’s War. In the Turk tax lists of 1542 and 1548 and 1604 “Ziegenfusses” were mentioned in Goslar. The oldest well known denomination of the name took place in 1470 in the land register of the nearby city Muehlhausen.”
Volume 98 (published in 1937) of the Deutsches Geschlercterbuch is currently ( 2002- 2003) out of print, but photocopies are available from the printer, C.A. Starke Verlag in Germany. Our part in this volume was submitted by Robert Ziegenfuss, a senior assistant headmaster/teacher in Dresden. The chapter is titled “Zehfuss, Ziegenfuss from Werningerode near Eichfeld”. His research indicated that many new families came into the depopulated Odenwald following the Thirty Years War (1618-1648 between the Catholic and Protestant princes of Germany). Among them was Balzer Ziegenfuss, an inhabitant of Geisleden near Heiligenstadt, and his four sons, from the Catholic Eichsfeld, himself from the closed Lutheran earldom of Erbach belonging to the little abandoned village of Raidelbach His name was written by the clerk of the court in the public papers as “Ziehfuss” and “Zehenfuss” and later as “Zehfuss”. Then, since 1701, the name became known all at once as “Ziegenfuss” in the church records of the pastors of Reichenbach in the region of Raidelbach. It is thought that the change from “Zehfuss” to “Ziegenfuss” was because it was from an unformed dialect which was misunderstood in their new homeland. “…the change from Zehfuss into Ziegenfuss in 1701 was one through readjustment of the primary (original) name.”
According to all information, our early roots are in the Odenwald. The Encyclopedia
Britannica article on the Odenwald states it is a :
“wooded upland region in Germany, about 50 miles long and
25 miles wide, situated mainly in Hesse Land (state) with small
portions extending into the states of Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemburg.
…It extends between the Neckar and Main Rivers and overlooks the
Rhine Valley….The range is bounded against the Rhine by a rich
and densely settled ancient migration route called the “Bergstrasse
(literally “mountain street”) along which Bensheim, Heppenheim,
and Weinheim are the major towns. The wooded heights overlooking
the Bergstasse are studded with castles and medieval ruins….
much of the range is contained within the Bergstrasse-Odenwald
The standard German spelling is “Ziegenfuss”. The name is a combination of
the word goat (ziege) and foot (fuss). The “n” is an addition to combine the words and their
pronunciation. Ziegenfuss generically means “goat foot”. It has been suggested that it referred
to someone with small feet1. More exactly, a “ziege” refers to a female goat , while a male
goat or billy goat is a “ziegenbock”. A goatherd who tended the goats is a “ziegenhirt.” Goat’s
milk cheese is “ziegenkase.” A goatee is “ziegenbart”. The translation of the Ziegenfuss name
is certain, but its significance is difficult to establish.
In a 1901 publication, Oscar Kuhns did a study of Pennsylvania German family names
(Ziegenfuss is not mentioned.) He found that Pennsylvania German family names were
derived from three sources: (1) personal names, (2) occupations and (3) the place where a
Those derived from personal names: such as Albrecht: of distinguished race;
Bernhard: strong as a bear; Conrad: wise in council; Eckert: strong as a boar; were examples.
Many double names were shorted: Kuhn (from Kunrat) , Hein (from Heinrich) Ott (from
Ottman). In addition, to the purely German personal names, are many names taken from
people in the Bible -Peters, Hensel (Johnnes) Bartel (from Bartholomew). Others took names
from saints of the church: Jorg (George); Brosius (Ambrose); Bastian (Sebastian). It is
probable that the Ziegenfuss name was not derived from this category of names.
Names derived from the occupation of individuals: such as Becker (baker);
Brunner (well-digger); Schreiber (writer); Weber (weaver); Ziegler (brick-maker); Zimmerman
(carpenter). This category seems more likely in seeking the meaning of the Ziegenfuss name.
Some from earlier generations said the Ziegenfuss’ came originally from Baden Baden, and were goat herders and shepherds. They say the name “Zehfuss” means “pull foot” (“ziehen”= pull and “fuss” = foot). The pull foot was a wooden handle with a hand on it to pull the wool on the back of the sheep or goat and/or was an instrument to call the flock to “turn tail” (pull foot) and draw them toward the herdsman. Since Biblical times, people have kept goats for milk, cheese, meat, wool and leather as part of the family’s economy. Two she-goats can supply enough milk to sustain a family during a year. Goats can live on coarse thin growth and in smaller quarters than sheep and cows.
There is nothing in the Deutches Geschlecterbuch to indicate that the Ziegenfuss’ were crossbowmen, or people who improved the design of the crossbow as a weapon. However, since it could be relevant to the term “goat’s foot” I have included it. In the late medieval period, the crossbow was the first hand-held weapon that could be used by an untrained soldier to injure or kill a knight in plate armor. In the development of the crossbow, someone came up with the idea to attach a two-pronged metal fork to their waist belt to re-set the string of the crossbow. This two-pronged metal belt fork was called a “goat’s foot”(or gaffle). The type of crossbow designed to be used with a “goat’s foot” is fitted with a stirrup (resembling a handle) at the front. The crossbowman would fit the string into the “goat’s foot”on his belt, put a foot in the stirrup and tread down to re-set the crossbow. Whether this crossbow refinement has any relevance to our family name remains to be established in actual fact.
Pensylvania German names were also derived from the place where the
individual lived or from where a person came. For example a Bachman: lives near a
brook; a Berger: lives on a mountain; Boehm: a Bohemian; Beyer: a Bavarian. There
was a small village in Bohemia, and a manor in West Prussia named Ziegenfuss. If this
information is correct, then the name could be one of geographic origin and location.
During the Middle Ages the houses were not numbered as they are now, but had
signs painted on them, something after the manner of hotels and inns. It might be that our
ancestors could have resided at a house with the sign of a goat’s foot on it, and as a result of the place of their habitation been named Ziegenfuss ever since then. There is nothing in our factual genealogical history to indicate this information has any relevance to the origin of our family name.
At best, the exact meaning and significance of the Ziegenfuss name remains elusive. I offer this known information on the Ziegenfuss family name to you and definitely want to know of any substantive information on the subject of our name.
Sources of my information are:
Deutches Geschlechterbuch, Genealogisches Handbuch Burglicher Familien, Bande 98, p 689-735, C.A. Starke Verlag, Limburg an der Lahn , Germany, 1937
(Of special interest is the vocation of each person is listed in our chapter.)
Etymologisches Worterbuch der Deutschen Familiennamen, Vol. K-Z, by
Professor Josef Karlmann Brechenmacher, C.A. Starke Verlag, Limburg
a. d. Lahn, c.1957, p.858.
The New Cassell’s German Dictionary, Funk & Wagnalls, N.Y. 1962
Oscar Kuhns, “The German & Swiss Settlements in Colonial Pennsylvania: A Study of
the So-Called Pennsylvania Dutch” N.Y. 1901 and 1914. The Aurand Press,
Harrisburg, Pa. As quoted in “Early Life of the Pennsylvania Germans” by A. Monroe Aurand. The Aurand Press 1946. (The Aurand Press is now in Lancaster, Pa.)
Roget’s Thesaurus 623:10
http://www. the beckoning.com/medieval/crossbow
Encyclopedia Britannica: Goats, Odenwald
Written by: Rev. Dr. William J. Ziegenfus,
12696 Covington Creek Drive
Jacksonville, FL 32224
Home Phone 904-250-5308
New information and corrections are welcomed !
September 24, 2011