In German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

, von fɔn is a preposition which approximately means of or from.

When it is used as a part of a German family name
Family name
A family name is a type of surname and part of a person's name indicating the family to which the person belongs. The use of family names is widespread in cultures around the world...

, it is usually a nobiliary particle
Nobiliary particle
A nobiliary particle is used in a family name or surname in many Western cultures to signal the nobility of a family. The particle used varies depending on the country, language and period of time. This article is dedicated to explain how noble families of different countries identify themselves by...

, like the French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

 and Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

"de". At certain times and places, it has been illegal for anyone who was not a member of the nobility to use von before their family name
Family name
A family name is a type of surname and part of a person's name indicating the family to which the person belongs. The use of family names is widespread in cultures around the world...

. However, in the Middle Ages the "von" particle was still a common part of names and was widely used also by commoners, e.g. "Hans von Duisburg" meant Hans from [the city of] Duisburg
- History :A legend recorded by Johannes Aventinus holds that Duisburg, was built by the eponymous Tuisto, mythical progenitor of Germans, ca. 2395 BC...

. The Dutch
Dutch language
Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

Van (Dutch)
Van is a preposition in the Dutch and Afrikaans languages, meaning "of" or "from". It is also a common prefix in Dutch surnames , as in Vincent van Gogh or Marco van Basten...

", which is a cognate
In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. This learned term derives from the Latin cognatus . Cognates within the same language are called doublets. Strictly speaking, loanwords from another language are usually not meant by the term, e.g...

 of "von" but does not indicate nobility, can be said to have preserved this earlier meaning.

Germany and Austria

The abolition of the monarchies
A monarchy is a form of government in which the office of head of state is usually held until death or abdication and is often hereditary and includes a royal house. In some cases, the monarch is elected...

 in Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 and Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

 in 1919 meant that neither state had a privileged nobility, and both had exclusively republic
A republic is a form of government in which the people, or some significant portion of them, have supreme control over the government and where offices of state are elected or chosen by elected people. In modern times, a common simplified definition of a republic is a government where the head of...

an governments.

In Germany, this meant that in principle von simply became an ordinary part of the names of the people who used it. There were no longer any legal privileges or constraints associated with this naming convention, although in practice, many people with von in their names are still listed in telephone book
Telephone directory
A telephone directory is a listing of telephone subscribers in a geographical area or subscribers to services provided by the organization that publishes the directory...

s and other files under the rest of their name. (e.g. Ludwig von Mises
Ludwig von Mises
Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises was an Austrian economist, philosopher, and classical liberal who had a significant influence on the modern Libertarian movement and the "Austrian School" of economic thought.-Biography:-Early life:...

 would be under M in the phone book rather than V).

In Austria, in contrast, not only were the privileges of the nobility abolished, their title
A title is a prefix or suffix added to someone's name to signify either veneration, an official position or a professional or academic qualification. In some languages, titles may even be inserted between a first and last name...

s and prepositions were abolished as well. Thus, for example, Friedrich von Hayek became Friedrich Hayek
Friedrich Hayek
Friedrich August Hayek CH , born in Austria-Hungary as Friedrich August von Hayek, was an economist and philosopher best known for his defense of classical liberalism and free-market capitalism against socialist and collectivist thought...

 in 1919 when Austria abolished all indicators of nobility in family names. On this issue, also see Austrian nobility
Austrian nobility
Historically, the Austrian nobility was a privileged social class in Austria. The nobility was officially abolished in 1919 after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Former noble families and their descendants are still a part of Austrian society today, but they no longer retain any specific...


In contrast to the peerage of the United Kingdom, the aristocracies of the German speaking countries was held to include untitled gentry, although the names of nearly all the families falling into this category did include "von" or "zu", or both. Again unlike typical families in the peerage, all members of German aristocratic families were usually considered to be noble.


Generally, the growth of the Tsardom of Russia
Tsardom of Russia
The Tsardom of Russia was the name of the centralized Russian state from Ivan IV's assumption of the title of Tsar in 1547 till Peter the Great's foundation of the Russian Empire in 1721.From 1550 to 1700, Russia grew 35,000 km2 a year...

 into the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 was accompanied by greater or lesser extent of German names’ inflow. Two main channels of such penetration were a) the absorption of territories where Germans constituted a part of local nobility like Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

, Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, Baltic region
Baltic region
The terms Baltic region, Baltic Rim countries, and Baltic Rim refer to slightly different combinations of countries in the general area surrounding the Baltic Sea.- Etymology :...

 etc. and b) the state-supported immigration of Germans into Russia.

As a rule, the members of the local nobility who have found themselves in Russia as a result of geopolitical shifts have preserved their privileges in the Empire. Their names were enlisted in the State Register Of Noble Families as soon as the required documents were provided. Particle von was preserved as well; as soon as hyphen
The hyphen is a punctuation mark used to join words and to separate syllables of a single word. The use of hyphens is called hyphenation. The hyphen should not be confused with dashes , which are longer and have different uses, or with the minus sign which is also longer...

 becomes broadly used in 18th and 19th century, it is used to separate von (eg. , von-Wiesen). Yet from the 20th century and on this particle is written separately, as in the German origin. In the Baltic region, the German language continued to be used alongside with Russian, so the "language environment" was friendly enough there to keep these names from "localization".

Meanwhile some of those whose ancestors came to the Russian service from abroad individually and who settled themselves in Moscow and core Russian provinces, sooner or later found it easier to adjust their names to the local speaking mode. But unlike immigrants to the U.S.A. during the 18th to 20th centuries who usually lost their nobility particles and often simplified the remaining parts of their names, immigrants to the Tzarist and Imperial Russia did not "lose" their noble particles while some of their core family names may have experienced insignifical changes.

At the end of 16th century, after the Livonian War
Livonian War
The Livonian War was fought for control of Old Livonia in the territory of present-day Estonia and Latvia when the Tsardom of Russia faced a varying coalition of Denmark–Norway, the Kingdom of Sweden, the Union of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland.During the period 1558–1578,...

 Ivan IV of Russia
Ivan IV of Russia
Ivan IV Vasilyevich , known in English as Ivan the Terrible , was Grand Prince of Moscow from 1533 until his death. His long reign saw the conquest of the Khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Siberia, transforming Russia into a multiethnic and multiconfessional state spanning almost one billion acres,...

 invited Baron Berndt von Wiesen from the Livonian Brothers of the Sword
Livonian Brothers of the Sword
The Livonian Brothers of the Sword were a military order founded by Bishop Albert of Riga in 1202. Pope Innocent III sanctioned the establishment in 1204. The membership of the order comprised German "warrior monks"...

 for a Russian service and granted him some landed property
Landed property
Landed property or landed estates is a real estate term that usually refers to a property that generates income for the owner without the owner having to do the actual work of the estate. In Europe, agrarian landed property typically consisted of a manor, several tenant farms, and some privileged...

. In the 17th century his descendants wrote their names as , sounds like Fon Vissin). Circa 1660 one of them adds -ow , yet in the 18th century this suffix is lost, and the middle consonant changes sz . Finally, in the 18th century Ivan Fonvizin decides to merge the particle von with the core, thus giving a start to a new Russian family of a German origin. His son, Denis Fonvizin
Denis Fonvizin
Denis Ivanovich Fonvizin was a playwright of the Russian Enlightenment, whose plays are still staged today. His main works are two satirical comedies which mock contemporary Russian gentry.-Life:...

  became a playwright, whose plays are staged today.

Nordic countries

In the Nordic countries
Nordic countries
The Nordic countries make up a region in Northern Europe and the North Atlantic which consists of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden and their associated territories, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland...

, von is common but not universal in the names of noble families of German origin and has occasionally been used as a part of names of ennobled families of native or foreign, but non-German, extraction, as with the family of the philosopher Georg Henrik von Wright
Georg Henrik von Wright
Georg Henrik von Wright was a Finnish philosopher, who succeeded Ludwig Wittgenstein as professor at the University of Cambridge. He published in English, Finnish, German, and in Swedish. Belonging to the Swedish-speaking minority of Finland, von Wright also had Finnish and 17th-century Scottish...

, which is of Scottish origin
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...


Non-noble use

The preposition originated among German speakers during the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 and was commonly used to signify peoples origins simply from the name of the place they originated from or the name of their father
A father, Pop, Dad, or Papa, is defined as a male parent of any type of offspring. The adjective "paternal" refers to father, parallel to "maternal" for mother...

, as the concept of surname
A surname is a name added to a given name and is part of a personal name. In many cases, a surname is a family name. Many dictionaries define "surname" as a synonym of "family name"...

 did not start to come into common usage until later on. As the preposition became associated with nobility, however, only a minority of families using "von" in their names were commoners. It is incorrect, strictly speaking, to use the word untitled to refer to such families, because "untitled" and "non-noble" do not mean exactly the same thing in the German speaking world. However, it can be said that almost all German nobles use von, but not all users of von are noble. Nonetheless, many individuals of no titled descent choose to add the particle to their name.

Ancient nobility

Some very old noble families, usually members of the Uradel
The German and Scandinavian term Uradel refers to nobility who can trace back their noble ancestry at least to the year 1400 and probably originates from leadership positions during the Migration Period.-Divisions of German nobility:Uradel : Nobility that originates from leadership positions held...

do not use von but are nevertheless still noble.

Also, a very few German families were elevated to the nobility without the use of the preposition von. This was the case of the Riedesel
Riedesel is a German family name that began to appear in legal documents in the early 13th century. They were of the knightly class, though not all had the official status of Ritter or knight. Its exact geographical and temporal origins are uncertain. However, all of the early references are from...

 Freiherren zu Eisenbach who received their baronial dignity in 1680.


The prefix "von" is not capitalized in German-speaking countries, unless it begins a sentence – for instance, "A book by von Humboldt", but "Von Humboldt wrote this book."

For capitalisation in Dutch and Flemish usage, see "Van
Van (Dutch)
Van is a preposition in the Dutch and Afrikaans languages, meaning "of" or "from". It is also a common prefix in Dutch surnames , as in Vincent van Gogh or Marco van Basten...



In Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual...

's novella Death in Venice
Death in Venice
The novella Death in Venice was written by the German author Thomas Mann, and was first published in 1913 as Der Tod in Venedig. The plot of the work presents a great writer suffering writer's block who visits Venice and is liberated and uplifted, then increasingly obsessed, by the sight of a...

, the protagonist is a famous novelist formerly named Gustav Aschenbach who has recently been ennobled and so acquired the name von Aschenbach.

Outside of fiction, Lars von Trier
Lars von Trier
Lars von Trier is a Danish film director and screenwriter. He is closely associated with the Dogme 95 collective, although his own films have taken a variety of different approaches, and have frequently received strongly divided critical opinion....

, Diane von Fürstenberg
Diane von Fürstenberg
Diane von Fürstenberg, formerly Princess Diane of Fürstenberg , is a Belgian-American fashion designer best known for her iconic wrap dress. She initially rose to prominence when she married into the German princely House of Fürstenberg, as the wife of Prince Egon of Fürstenberg...

, Erich von Stroheim
Erich von Stroheim
Erich von Stroheim was an Austrian-born film star of the silent era, subsequently noted as an auteur for his directorial work.-Background:...

, Josef von Sternberg
Josef von Sternberg
Josef von Sternberg — born Jonas Sternberg — was an Austrian-American film director. He is particularly noted for his distinctive mise en scène, use of lighting and soft lens, and seven-film collaboration with actress Marlene Dietrich.-Youth:Von Sternberg was born Jonas Sternberg to a Jewish...

, Dita Von Teese
Dita Von Teese
Dita Von Teese is an American burlesque dancer, model, costume designer, author and actress.-Early life:...

 (note non-standard capitalization) and Denise van Outen
Denise van Outen
Denise van Outen is an English actress, singer and television presenter. Her most notable roles to date are as a presenter on The Big Breakfast, and as Roxie Hart in the musical Chicago on both the West End and on Broadway.- Early life :Born Denise Kathleen Outen in Basildon, Essex, she is the...

added the von/van to their name by their own choice.
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