Like Smith, the most common name in England, the most frequent surnames in Geneva and Zurich come from professions. In some parts of Switzerland common names also relate to geography or places.
An example of a well-known name with geographic origins in Switzerland is the royal Austrian name Habsburg, which has its home in the eponymous Swiss commune in the canton of Aargau next to the Aar river. Around 1020 count Radbot built the Habsburg castle there. Shortly after the family started adding “von Habsburg” to their title. There is no agreement on the origin of the castle’s name but one theory suggests it comes from the German word for hawk (Habicht). Another that it comes from the old German word for a river crossing known as a ford (Hab).
The most common name in the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino is Bernasconi, a name that comes from the town of Bernasca in the Italian province of Como, near the Swiss border. Some believe the name is derived from the old German word for bear (Bern).
According to an article in the Tages Anzeiger the most common name in Switzerland is Müller. Among the 2.7 million listings in the directory search.ch there are 21,427 Müllers, concentrated mainly in the German-speaking cantons. Müller translates to miller in English, someone involved in milling, the process of turning grain into flour.
The most common name in Geneva is Favre, French for blacksmith. There are nearly 2,300 Favres listed in Switzerland, 300 of whom live in the canton of Geneva.
In Vaud the most frequent surname is Rochat, a diminutive of the French word for rock (roche). The name most likely refers to those who came from rocky places. There are 1,278 Rochats in Switzerland and 73% of them live in Vaud, mainly high in the rocky surroundings of the Jura mountain range.
The most common family name in Neuchatel is Jeanneret, a name belonging to the famous modernist Swiss architect Corbusier, born in the town of Chaux-de-Fonds in the canton. In his quest to stand out he dropped his common birth name of Jeanneret-Gris in favour of Corbusier, a derivative of his mother’s father’s name. Close to half of the 680 Jeannerets in Switzerland live in Neuchatel.
The most frequent name in the canton of Fribourg is the very Swiss name of Aebischer, the surname of Patrick Aebischer, president of EPFL, the Lausanne-based technical university. Nearly 50% of Switzerland’s almost 1,000 Aebischers live in Fribourg. The name also belongs to a farm in the commune of Frauenkappelen in the canton of Bern, thought to be the origin of the name. Local researchers think the name might be derived from the German name for a rowan tree, a tree found in the area.
Bern is home to nearly half of Switzerland’s 6,073 listed Gerbers. Gerber, the canton’s most common name, is German for tanner or leather dresser. A canton-wide Gerber get-together would require a very large hall. There are 3,006 Bern-based residents listed with this name.
The cantons of Zurich, Basel, Lucerne and Aargau all have high concentrations of Müllers. Of the 21,427 Müllers listed on search.ch, 22% live in Zurich, 8% in Basel, 9% in Lucerne and 14% in Aargau.
Other well-represented surnames in Switzerland are Meier (13,983) – meaning Mayor, Schmid (12,709) – meaning black smith and Keller (9,631), a name that comes from middle high German and means a cellar man or cellar master, a title sometimes given to the overseer of a food store in a monastery or castle.
And if you are wondering where Roger Federer gets his name, Feder is the German word for feather and federer refers to someone who works with feathers. It is thought this name comes from professions involving feathers, which were used for quills (pens), arrows, and upholstery. Bird hunting is another possibility. It is a relatively uncommon name in Switzerland occurring only 241 times in the search.ch data.
To see the most common names in other Swiss cantons click here.