The Meaning and Origin of the word "German"

A proposed antidote to hatred.

For over two thousand years, the true meaning and origin of the word "German" has been distorted, twisted, and buried - with tragic results that climaxed in arrogance, and two world wars that devastated Europe. It is time for the word's true meaning and origin to be restored, both to realign those of such heritage with the objectives and character of their fathers, and as a reminder of the noble nature of that heritage.

The question is, who first coined the term German? And when? Was the word something that Germanic peoples called themselves? Or was it a name given them by neighboring peoples? Or was it a combination of the two? I suggest it is the latter, based on evidence from what is perhaps the most widely-read Latin account.

The German story begins in 58 BC. Julius Caesar mentioned a newly-encountered people that year as "Germanis" in the very first paragraph of his report of his north-European campaigns. For Roman history, and the Latin language, this mention by Caesar was the earliest use of such a word for a northern European people.

Prior to Caesar's campaigns in northern Europe (which started shortly after 60 BC), the peoples in that region included Gauls, Celts and Teutons, with no mention of Germans. Yet in 58 BC, Romans encountered this new people for the first time.

It is worthwhile to consider what German means in Latin: genuine, real, brotherly, and thorough. How and why did such meanings attach themselves to such a newly-introduced word describing a foreign people? Were the traits of the newly-encountered German people really that distinct and noteworthy? Apparently so. These newcomers, although initially treated as enemies, gained Julius Caesar's trust so swiftly that by 52 BC, they were recruited as his personal bodyguards. And they served so faithfully that a number of subsequent emperors likewise recruited their own bodyguard among the German people.

So whoever one deems these earliest Germans to have been, they entered the scene in 58 BC, and Roman leaders quickly acknowledged them as brotherly, genuine, and fiercely loyal. The question then arises, from whence did these stalwart newcomers come?

As partial answer to that question:
The first known use of the word German in northern Europe traces to ancient Latin, in the word germanus. As an adjective, it meant genuine, real, brotherly, sincere, having the same parents, sisterly, and thorough. As a noun, it simply means brother. And in Spanish, a language largely derived from Latin, the parallel words hermano and hermana likewise mean brother and sister. Yet as mentioned above, the word German is also the word used in Latin histories to describe a newly-arrived people in the north. Which leads us to ask, why would the word the latin word meaning brother/sister also refer to a specific people newly arrived in Europe as of 58 BC?

In response, the ancient word coined by Julius Caesar in northern Europe in 58 BC, precisely contemporary with Hagoth, just happens to be the word that many faiths use to refer to one another: brother, sister. Even the English word "germane" has a similar meaning - the idea of being closely related. So to be a newly-arrived German in ancient Europe, more specifically in 58 BC, involved a people who considered themselves brothers and sisters, and who radiated that affinity to other peoples in Europe, with lasting impact.

So brother, sister, the term of affinity used among modern millions of neighbors today is a restoration of an honorable tradition. Those who call themselves Germans today can reflect upon the noble reality that their very name reminds them of their bond of brotherhood and sisterhood to all of mankind.

Those advocating a hatred of other races betray the very core of their otherwise noble Germanic heritage that first surfaced in northern Europe in 58 BC. And all so-called Germans who persecute any other race forget their own noble, valiant heritage which once taught the brotherhood of all mankind.

All of mankind.

For those claiming that Germans had been there for centuries, and who question the assertion that the Germans were instead a new people, around 100 AD, Tacitus, in the 2nd chapter of his Germania, specifically said, "The name Germany, on the other hand, they say, is modern and newly introduced from the fact that the tribes which first crossed the Rhine and drove out the Gauls, and are now called Tungrians, were then called Germans. Thus what was the name of a tribe, and not of a race, gradually prevailed, till all called themselves by this self-invented name of Germans, which the conquerors had first employed to inspire terror."

There, Tacitus is translated to say of the Tungrians "which first crossed the Rhine." His original Latin was "qui primi Rhenum transgressi," literally meaning "who/that/which/how/why/bywhatmeans/whereby/wherewith/insomeway first the Rhine(or running/flowing) moved across." G1:2

The Tungri are not mentioned by Caesar, however, the Tencteri are, and their name is believed to mean "the faithful." They were allied with the Usipites/Usipii (whose name some believe to mean in Celtic: "good horsemen" or "good riders", while others like myself believe the Sip/Sep root in their name is equivalent to the ancient Sef/Scef patriarch mentioned in scores of Germanic family trees and origin accounts). It was after and because of Caesar's attack of the Tencteri and the Usipites under truce, and his slaughter and enslavement of many of them, supposedly the earliest Germans encountered by Caesar, and certainly the first people cited by him to specifically use the word Germans when describing themselves, that Cato proposed in the Roman Senate that Caesar should be arrested for war crimes against the German people and handed over to the Germans for punishment. The Usipii and Tencteri were apparently on close terms with the Si-cambri/Su-gambri, believed by this author to be associated with the matriarch Gambara mentioned in Lombard origin accounts, just as I believe the Ebur-ones were associated with Gambara's son, Ybor.

Copyright John D. Nelson, 2016