Note to visitor: It is quite true that Mozart is not a Canadian name. But my delving into the etymology of the composer's surname is similar to what I do in my book “What's in a Canadian Name?” and therefore this is the place for this information. It is, of course, not in the book, but is, so far, unique to this website. Enjoy!
The Surprising Meaning of his Surname
Oops! Mozart’s Given Name Amadeus is Ungrammatical Latin
Wagner called him “the greatest musical genius who ever lived.”
Not too shabby kudos-wise.
Many music lovers agree with Wagner’s possibly intemperate encomium. In general when doling out praise, the common superlative ought to be viewed as a fool’s label, but in the case of Mozart, I am one among millions of music listeners who concurs.
In his 35 years on earth, Mozart composed more than 600 works, including 21 stage and opera works, 15 Masses, 41 symphonies, 25 piano concertos, 12 violin concertos, 27 concert arias, 17 piano sonatas and 26 string quartets. Many are masterpieces never surpassed. One of the compendia of his scores runs to 23,000 pages of notated music.
Again, not too shabby oeuvre-wise.
2006 is the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. Already hundreds of net pages sing of Wolfgang Amadeus, Salzburg's most famous resident. Some of these fond scribblings comprise the most flocculent passages of musicological piffle ever tapped into a word processor. Other sites are eager to explain his given names. But not one website has tackled the complex origin of Mozart’s last name. So, with all due lack of humility, let Uncle Billy be the first on the web. But before I analyze the surname Mozart, I’ll look briefly at his given names.
Sorry, Mozart, but Amadeus is Bad, Ungrammatical Latin
Amadeus is a frequent type of Medieval Latin given name. Ama is the simple imperative singular of the verb amare ‘to love’ + deus Latin ‘god.’ Amadeus commands the named child to “Love God.” English Puritans used similar names for their children, given names like HateSin, LoveGood and FleeVice. Truly. Those are recorded English given names! There is no accounting for denominating taste once a deity wags the holy finger of approval.
As often with the linguistic confections of monks and ministers, the Latin is wrong, ungrammatical, but accepted down through the errant centuries because it was “a lovely Christian thought.” Yeah, right. Names that comprise Latin sentences should be in Latin. That does not seem too much to demand of the monkies and priestlets, now does it? The imperative sentence ‘Love God’ in Latin is Ama Deum. Amare is a transitive verb and takes an object in the accusative case. Deus is nominative; Deum is the accusative case thereof. So, that’s that. Amadeus is mistaken Latin. But don’t worry, disaster fans. Things get much worse when we arrive at the roots of the word Mozart.
Two-Part Warrior Names
Wolfgang is an ancient Teutonic warrior binomial, as we onomatologists like to murmur, lolling before burning pine logs, tossing into the flames a choked toad as an offering to Wotan and sipping a Schnapps while we paint our privates blue with wode. Teutonic warrior names contained two elements, chosen from a culturally agreed-upon list of German root words. Many Indo-European languages including Sanskrit, an ancient language of India, made up given names in this manner. Sometimes the two roots in the name made a kind of sense; for example, Reinhart can be construed as rein + hart, the German word for pure ‘rein’ + the German word for hard or tough ‘hart.’ It isn’t too odd to dub a boy child whom you wish to grow into a warrior with a moniker that means ‘pure and tough.’ Eberhart contains two German roots that mean ‘strong as an Eber, that is, a boar.” Some modern English names began as Germanic binomials, for example, Richard has ancestors like Ricohard and Reichart, comprised of Ric, Reich ‘power’ + hard, hart ‘strong.’ Another male warrior name with different roots stems from Old English and became the name Randolph , from Anglo-Saxon rand ‘shield’ + Anglo-Saxon wulf ‘wolf.’
Wolfgang originally meant swift-of-foot or literally ‘ran like a wolf,’ Gang being part of the German verb gehen ‘to go.’ Another way to interpret Wolfgang is ‘wolf path,’ habitual track through the woods taken by wolves. The wolf was also a common totemic animal of Teutonic tribes and thus other positive attributes of the wolf were thought to have been conferred on a newborn child named after the animal. North American aboriginal people have names somewhat similar, for example “Wolf-Who-Stands-in-Water.” Meanwhile back in the Black Forest, being a Teutonic totemic must have been quite a burden for a poor wee wolfie.
His Many Given Names
Mozart was baptized as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. With a resonant moniker like that he could have bottled and sold patent medicine elixirs to rheumatic American cowboys in the Old West. Mozart’s first two given names are his Roman Catholic saint name. St. John Chrysostom (in registry Latin: Johannes Chrysostomus) was a 4th century Christian father of Antioch, named in Greek chrysostomos ‘golden-mouthed’ because of his early-shown and remarkable eloquence.
Theophilus was a name of the man who stood at the baptism as the boy’s godfather. A Latinized Greek adjective, theophilos means ‘loving God.” Amadeus was an attempt to translate Theophilos into pure Latin. As I explained above, the attempt failed. Wolfgang was a name used in the family, the name of his mother’s grandfather.
Mozart as Surname
Mozart begins with the Early New High German word moz, pronounced motz or mutz. It was a dialect word for mutton. Moz also meant a wether, a castrated ram. But the most widespread use was as an insult. If you called a man ein moz, you called him a castrated ram, a fool, a ninny, a useless jerk.
As words move across a culture, they gain new meanings. Sometimes speakers from one part of Germany would travel to another part and hear what sounded like a word in their native dialect, but what was in fact a different word. This happened to moz, long before it ever became Mozart. And this amalgamation occurred probably in Swabia. Moz was combined with a slightly different word in the Old Swabian dialect where motz meant ‘dirt for brains, stupid fool.’ Motz may have arisen as a clipped form of the standard German noun Schmutz ‘dirt.’
Now, as we’ve seen in other essays about names on this site, surnames evolved chiefly from first names, location names of ancestors’ homes, and nicknames of ancestors. In another German dialect our target word appears as Motsch ‘a dwarf, a stupid person.’ So, there was a trio of insult words. The earliest written appearance of this word as a man’s name is at Wurttemberg in 1284 CE as Motze. In 1314 we find it already as a byname in a parish register: “Gebhard dictus Motze.” Remember this is before most surnames. So this gent was ‘Gebhard called Motze.’
In German linguistics, Moz or Motz or Motze is termed a Spottbezeichnung, that is, a mocking nickname. His fellow villagers called Gebhard a Motze because there were by then five or six Gebhards in the village and some vocal way had to be found to differentiate the five persons, both in daily life and in a last will and testament. One of the chief causes of the rise of European surnames was the need to be precise and specific in bequeathing property and goods to the correct persons. The growing lower middle class of the High Middle Ages began, as feudalism declined, to actually have goods and property worth passing on to their children and relatives.
A poster for "The Magic Flute" by Marc Chagall
Who Will Rid Me of My Meddlesome Name?
When a European found himself labeled with an embarrassing nickname, he had several courses of action. Dump the nickname completely. Change his name to Schmidt and go about his business. But, human nature being contrary and people having a strange affection for their names however odd and ill-fitting they may be, total change of name did not always seem desirable. People liked to try to keep a fragment of their original name. Thus they took the insulting nickname and attempted to dignify it by some manner of verbal disguise. Often a spelling alteration would do the trick. Let’s look at one Elizabethan family that genealogists have been able to follow for 400 years. Their first surname under Queen Elizabeth the First was Pig. Robert Pig. Now watch how each generation tries to get past the starkness of the swinish reference: Pig > Pygge > Pyghe > Swine > Swain. And so they are called to this day: The Swains. Not a curly piggy-wig’s tail left in the name! This is not to claim that every Swain is a Swine. No indeed. As a surname Swain has other roots not found in a barnyard.
The Mozart family did the same thing. They gussied up an embarrassing surname so that their family name would not mean ‘ninny’ or ‘fool.’ They added the Germanic warrior ending –hart to Motz and Motze. Motz + Hart = Mozart. They did it early, frequently proof of how deeply they disliked their original name. Here are some of the spellings of the family name with their dates in registry documents:
Mozart was a family name in the district around Augsburg by the middle of the 14th century. Four hundred years later in 1756 the great composer was born from this same Augsburg stock.
© 2012 copyright William Gordon Casselman
Reviews of my Book
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A Great New Review of My Latest Book!
October 26, 2011
Welcome to the Enchanted Forest
By WB Johnston
This review is about Bill Casselman’s latest e-book about words: Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A Word Lover’s Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems (Kindle Edition)
“Wade Davis, lately of National Geographic, once described each living language as “an old-growth forest of the human spirit.” Once you decide to enter the kleptomaniacal woods of our mother tongue, what you need is more than a tour guide. This is no Disney-fied ‘keep-your-hands-inside-the-car-at all-times’, point A to point B, clear-cutting mining of language. You, here, are in the hands of Sir William of Cassel, a genuine shaman modestly posing as a simple lover of words.
In the best of the spiritual tradition, Bill is the shape-shifter who constantly leads you to all the places you need to find in your soul. Every page is a new country, an invitation to an excursion into the wonderland of rich connections with the myriad of sources of what so often we unthinkingly wield as a prosaic tool.
Pay absolutely no attention to anyone who tells you that this book is anything but pure gold. It’s simply not true, sadly, that all the world loves a lover. Particularly someone whose love is so boundless.
But Sir William is fearless. You don’t earn your keep as a medicine man if you have a thin skin. While I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone could walk away from this book unmoved by its wit, its wisdom and the beautiful transparency by which the author celebrates the glorious romp of our almost unlimited linguistic exuberance, I have to sadly conclude that once in a while, you do meet someone who can’t see the forest for the trees, eh?
Read this book. Leave it on the sofa instead of the $%#!*$% TV remote. Maybe someone you care about will pick it up, even just for a moment, and fall in love with their heritage?
Leave it on your desk at work and trust that someone will riffle through it when you are out at lunch. Shamans are magicians of the highest order. The work of their hands and hearts is game-changing. Or, hey, put it on your Kindle and just feel comforted that you can wander back out into the forest with Bill even in the middle of a boring lecture.
(Casselman replies: Thank you so much, Dr. J., for the kudos.)
Jenni French of San Francisco, California writes on her blog “My Corner of the Universe” for March 19, 2011:
Casselman, Bill. Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A World Lover’s Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2010.
“I admit it: I’m a word nerd. I love words: weird words, long words, obscure words, funny words. This book is right up my alley. With chapters like “Nautical Words,” “Creepy Words,” and “Edible Words,” I have enjoyed every page of this book.
And the author has quite a way with words, so I have found myself rereading many sentences in this book and slowing my progress through it.
My current favorite sentence is found in a discussion of dog hybrid breed names: “What a revolting concatenation of cutesiness and smarmy nomenclatorial treacle parading under the name of canine hybrid breed names” (19).
I’m sure I’ll have another favorite sentence in a day or two.
This book is just that good and just that entertaining.”
(Author Bill Casselman replies: “Thanks, Jenni!” )
Just a reminder that this book contains my ALL-NEW word essays, none of which are available anywhere else in print or online.
Cindy Lapeña on her blog “Creativity Unlimited” of July 19 ,2011, writes:
Posted by mimrlith in 365 Things to Look Forward to.
Tags: 365 things to look forward to, books, reading
19. Starting a book
To a certified bibliophile like me, a.k.a. bookworm, one of the most exciting things to look forward to is to start reading a new book. In fact, sometimes the prospect of starting to read a new book is so exciting that I have to hurry to finish the book I am currently reading, just so I can start a new one.
If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s a book, especially if it promises to be a good one. Of course there are certain books I just won’t touch or be seen with, but at the risk of being hung by my thumbs by fans of such literature, I will not mention any genres in particular. . .
Seeing a book with a title that totally captivates me, like Where a Dobdob meets a Dikdik (yes, that is a book title!) has me so worked up, I just can’t wait to dive in. I imagine all sorts of deliciously fancifully outrageous words with a title like that. Is it obvious? I just love books on words. You won’t believe how many dictionaries I own. Or books on lexical oddities and other lexical explorations. Yes, I am a logophile of sorts. I love the new words I pick up from new books. I relish finding out the meanings of all manner of words and phrases and expressions. What could be more fun?”
(Replies author Bill Casselman: Please scroll to bottom of page or click here to link to a free seven-page preview of my book, Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Dear Mr. Casselman,
A search for the origins of an improbable-looking word, paraprosdokian, led me to the first piece of your prose I have had the pleasure of reading, “The Bogus Word Paraprosdokian & Lazy Con Artists of Academe.” I have just placed an order for Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik, Canadian Words & Sayings, and As The Canoe Tips, and will add more of your titles as I finish these.
I have just retired from a 40-plus year career in book publishing, the last thirty years spent as director/editor of a number of university presses, attempting to sort the genuine writers from the “Lazy Con Artists of Academe.” Sad to say, the latter have so over-bred the former that I could no longer see the rare gem in the avalanches of offal that daily swamped my office and desk. I visited your website and spent far too long there; it was a pleasure to meet a real writer through his work.
. . . I revisited the paraprosdokian page, and have finally quit laughing again at “Casselman’s Conclusion.” You were not unkind to the “profligate prof-lets.” During my years as an acquisitions editor, in rejection letters I often quoted Prof. Moses Hadas, classicist at Columbia University, who wrote a young scholar in response to having been sent the prof-let’s first book, “Thank you for sending me your book. I will waste no time reading it.”
I know I will enjoy your books. Keep up the good work.
University of New Mexico Press, among others
real meaning of Mozart's surname
meaning of Mozart's names
Mozart - what the name means
etymology of thesurname Mozart