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MEYER Family History

The German surname Meyer, of which there are several variants (Meier, Maier, Mayer, Mayr) derives from the root Latin 'maior' (greater or superior) through Middle High German ?meiger?, which indicates a high official/civil servant/bailiff (cf. English ?mayor?) and later an overseer, tenant (farmer) or householder.

Jewish (Ashkenazic) surnames, which began to be adopted in the 18th century, include Meier, Mayer &c., and various meanings have been ascribed, including from the Hebrew first name? Meir? which means ?shining, enlightened?.

In Germany the name is most frequent in Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony), concentrated in considerable numbers in and around the cities of Hannover, Hamburg and Bremen. It is the fifth most numerous German surname.

The name was brought to the U.S.A. in the late 17th century, into New York State; others soon followed, arriving in New Jersey, New York &c. in the 18th century. By the time of the 1920 Federal Census, the surname was found principally in the states of New York, Illinois and Missouri.

During integration in the U.S.A there was bound to be confusion with the Irish surname Meyer, from Irish Ó Meidhir (probably from the Irish ?meidhir?, meaning ?mirth?).

Judging by contemporary U.S. Social Security Data, Meyer ranks as 163rd on the list, with 169, 664 bearers.

Two Famous Meyers

Joachim Meyer (1537-1571) born in Basel, was a master fencer, and writer of the authoritative groundwork on fencing, Gründtliche Beschreibung der Kunst des Fechtens, published in 1570. He was also a burgher of Strasbourg.

Helga D. Meyer (1944-2000) was a German opera singer (soprano) from Nuremburg during the 1970s. She later taught singing in the U.S.A. Oscar winning actress Sandra Bullock is her daughter.

Karl Meyer (b.1937) is an American Catholic Worker activist and pacifist. Originally from a Vermont family, he is a founder member of the Nashville Greenlands Catholic Worker community in Tennessee.

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