Tuesday, December 23, 2008


My grandfather was born Johannes Ferdinand Schoenherr 108 years ago today in Flensburg, Germany, in a house subsequently destroyed during World War II. The house was a stone's throw from Nordertor, the city's old north gate - and somewhere on the left in the picture, I think.

I've always pronounced my surname "Show-in-hare", but I'm not sure if I should, after all. I know the first part ought to be pronounced as it is in the German phrase "Danke Schoen" - somewhere between "shern" and "shane", depending on the dialect (and, yes, I've left out the umlaut issues, for clarity's sake). And "herr" ought to be pronounced "hare" or "hair", not necessarily "her". Thus, "Shern-hare" or "Shane-hare". Right?

Well, I've been trying to ferret out the source. I haven't had much luck tracing my Schoenherr line back very far, but I recently found that my grandfather's grandfather, Carl Gottlieb Schoenherr, was born in or very near Kleinpelsen, Sachsen (about midway between Leipzig and Dresden), in 1834. For a yet-unknown reason, he left his wife and three sons (including my great-grandfather) in Flensburg and moved to America in 1866. By 1869 he was living in Missouri and finally settled in Carterville, where he worked as a blacksmith and saloon-keeper, and where he died in 1909. Then, in the wake of World War I-era anti-German sentiment, his sons (my half-great-great uncles or great-great half-uncles) legally changed their surnames to Shaner.

So I've been wondering if Carl Gottlieb Schoenherr pronounced his surname "Shay-ner" all along, rather than "Shern-hare" or "Shane-hare" - not to mention "Show-in-hare". And should I do the same?

I need a second opinion...


Anonymous said...

Funny, I always thought it should be shown-herr.

Ian Schoenherr said...

So does my sister!

Anonymous said...

The is a large avenue in Detroit that is called Schoenherr, and they pronounce it as Shane-ner. My wife is from the area, and she was confused by how I was insisting on mispronouncing it.

Anonymous said...

From my limited German, and being exposed a lot to Viennese dialect (not your Northeast high-German) I think one does pronounce the "h" but just barely. I was taught to pronounce the umlauted ö this way: you shape your mouth like you'd be saying O, but actually say a long E. The sound doesn't actually appear in English, so the "er" and "ay" pronunciations are both not-so-close approximations. I think one does NOT break the "schön" into two syllables: "show-in".
You know it means "handsome man" right?

Roger Reed

Ian Schoenherr said...

I do wish I could go back and rejigger my spellings and pronunciations: the reason I'm called "Yahn" is because my father was fond of Jan Vermeer. But my parents were concerned that people would call me "Jan" (as in Murray or Brady). So they named me "Ian" instead - and I'll answer to "Ee-in" but not very comfortably. And would if I could get my umlaut back, too, and just be "Jan Schönherr".