The Early History and
Germanic Origin of
(And Similar Spellings)
By Gerald L. Kisabeth, July 2000
The primary purpose of this work is to
establish the early Germanic origin of our Küschwert ancestors.
This heading names "Küschwert" in
the title but equally represents other spellings of the medieval name. Since
the early written records our original surname has had over 73 various
spellings. Among the modern variants used today Kisseberth, Kissenberth,
Kisabeth, Küspert (Kuespert), Kispert and Kisaberth are the most common.
The first known written record takes place
between 1442 and 1451 when a Kunz Küschwert is mentioned as being a wealthy
citizen in Wunsiedel documents. It is with Kunz Küschwert that we begin our
surname. He is considered the probable progenitor (an originator of a line of
descent) of our family. In June of 2000 I received a genealogical printout of
research conducted by Karl Reichert of Nürnberg which lists a Jacob Küschwert
in 1453 as a citizen of Sinatengrün, a tiny village about 2 miles from the
larger town of Wunsiedel. It is with these two individuals that our surname
The Fichtelgebirge is the location of our
ancient Küschwerts. This area is one the most beautiful places in the world.
Located in Oberfranken (Upper Franconia) in Northeast Bavaria near the Czech
border, The Fichtelgebirge loosely translated simply means "spruce or
pine mountains." This chain of mountains is arranged like a horseshoe
around an inner hill-landscape. The highest mountain is the "Schneeberg
(Snow Mountain) with its peak rising to 3,447 feet above sea level. The
Fichtelgebirge have dense pine forests and are dotted with resorts which makes
it truly a most picturesque place to live and to visit. The rugged mountains
are composed mainly of metamorphic rock and were once rich in a variety of
minerals, but now only lignite and iron are found in large quantities. Selb,
the chief town of the region, is a major center for porcelain production. We
have had several Küspert ancestors involved closely with the porcelain
industry namely Georg Küspert a local well-known artist. Other major
industries include cotton textiles, forestry, granite quarrying, and tourism.
Some of the towns and villages associated with
our surnames are Wunsiedel, Selb, Schönwald, Weißenstadt, Marktleuthen,
Thiersheim, Marktredwitz, Tröstau, Ebnath, Richenbach, Röslau, Sinatengrün,
Breitenbrunn, Wertheim am Main, Nagel, Leipzig (the univeristy), Brand, Bad
Alexandersbad, Thierstein, Kirchenlamitz, Wampen and Hohenberg a. d. Eger. All
are located in the Fichelgebirge area of Northeastern Bavaria except the town
of Wertheim am Main which is to the west where the states of Bavaria and
After researching our surname history for over
16 years I have decided to finally record my findings to date (July 2000).
This is a culmination of close to 100 years of research spanning three
generations. Dr. med. Fritz Wilhelm Kisseberth (1913-1995) did extensive
studies on the family name and whom I consider first and foremost the leading
authority as to the origin of our unusual surname and its variants. Before him
his father Friedrich Wilhelm Kisseberth ( 1880-1951) had started the research.
The interest was initiated during the time of the National Socialism movement
in the 1930’s when each German family had to prove their "Aryan"
ancestry back at least three generations. Another ancestor, Professor Fritz
Kissenberth released his genealogical findings in the form of a beautiful
family tree chart ( Ahnentafel ) Kissenberth in 1913.
Since 1984 I have concentrated my efforts to
only the Kisabeth - Kisseberth - Kisaberth - Kissenberth spellings of our
surname. But in 1998 I realized without studying the additional surnames of Küspert
and Kispert I would not be presenting a complete picture of our surname
At this time I would like to explain a little
about surnames. Before record keeping began, most people had only one name,
such as John. As the population increased, it became necessary to distinguish
between individuals with the same name. The problem was usually solved by
adding descriptive information. John became John the smith, John son of
Matthew, John the short, or John from Heidelberg. At first
"surnames" applied only to one person, not to the whole family.
After a few generations, these names became hereditary and were passed on from
generation to generation.
The bulk of European surnames in countries such
as England and France were formed in the 13th and 14th centuries. German
surnames originated slightly later. The norm is that in the 11th century
people did not have surnames, whereas by the 15th century they did. The first
hereditary surnames on German soil are found in the second half of the 12th
century. However, it was not until the 16th century that they became
stabilized, that is, virtually universal and fixed in form from one generation
to the next.
Of all the research done on our current
spellings nothing is known about the origin of the name Küschwert. It has
never been researched. Our actual surname, Küschwert and its variants, died
out sometime in the 1600’s eventually giving way to the more common modern
spellings of Kuspert - Kispert - Kisseberth - Kissenberth - Kisaberth -
Kisabeth we use today.
In Dr. Kisseberth’s studies he mentions some
possibilities as to the origin of the name Kuschwert. It is conceivable that
the word "kuren" in the sense of "to choose" or "to
elect" could have significance. To choose a "schwert" (sword)
is present. The antiquated form of "kuren" is "kiesen."
This word form is another possible origin of the name. Very simply "Kuschwert"
means to choose a sword or a sword that chooses.
Heinz L. Zulauf, a native German Genealogist
suggests ; "Ein Schwert, das kürt." (a sword that elects or
chooses). He lists a possible sequence of names over time could be: Küschwert,
Küschbert, Küsbert, Küspert, Kispert. Mr. Zulauf thinks that our Dr.
Kisseberth’s breakdown of "kuren" and "Schwert" is very
close to the truth on our surname meaning.
Another possible origin of the name Küschwert
in the opinion of Don Watson who heads up the Hessen on-line Genealogical
Research group offers quite an imaginaive interpretation. He says that Kues =
kiss and that
Swerdt = sword. A knight kneeled and kissed the
sword of his King or Lord. He also mentions Pert = point, point of the sword
& Berth = the scabbard, the place the sword was kept. The idiom changed
over time and across boundaries. For example, basically the Küschwerts who
stayed in the Fichtelgebirge area became Küsperts and Kisperts while those
who migrated to the west to Wertheim am Main became Kisseberths and
In his book German-American Names, George
F. Jones gives simple meanings to given names, significance and origin. In his
opening paragraph Mr. Jones states;
For example, the German dictionary tells us
that the word Kuss means "kiss," but it does not tell us that the
name Kuss is most often a shortened form of Dominicus. This could have
significance for our origin. In his dictionary we take kuss=kiss and schwerd,
schwert or schwerdt=sword. Thus, we again arrive at to kiss or to choose or
elect a sword.
In order to establish some sort of closure to
our surname origin I would like mention another possible theory, possibly the
most factual but with some unanswered questions. Max Gottschald in his book "Deutsch
Namenkunde" (Berlin 1971) shows under the main stem Geisel ,
der kurzere Stamm GIS: Gisbert, Giesebrecht, Gies/bert(s), brich, Gis/bert,
bier, Kispert, Küspert, Kisse(n)berth. What does all this mean? He is telling
us that our surnames come from the root word Geisel which is actually Gisbert
or Gilbert.Here is a clipping from an old newspaper series titled "Gilbert-
"In ancient times hostages were the chief
prize of warfare for they could be exchanged for great ransoms. Teutonic
tribesmen spoke of hostages as Geisel that the personal name Giselbert, then
Gilbert evolved. Since hostages were generally persons of noble birth the name
has a regal flavor."
From "A Dictionary of Surnames" (1988)
by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges:
English (Norman), French, and Low German: composed of the
elements gisil = hostage, noble youth + berht = bright.
Geselbert, Gisbert, Gilbert, Giese, Geisel
"Darauf weist schon Fischart hin, wenn er
sagt: "Westfalen heißen Gisbart". Giselbert hieß ein lothr. Herzog
des 10. Jh., ein Schwiegersohn Schwager Kaiser Heinrichs I.; Giselbert, Graf
von Lützelburg, 1104, war ein Schwager Kaiser Heinrichs II.; Geselbertus oder
Giso hieß ein Aachener Schöffe um 1250, Gisbert der erste Abt von Maria
Laach um 1130, hl. Bischof von Meaux, 1015, Fest 13, Februar, Gilbert oder
Gisbert ein Heiliger aus England, der Stifter des Ordens der Gilbertiner,
1189, Fest 4. Februar. Auch heute ist Gisbert im Rheinland hin und wieder als
VN anzutreffen. Die Mehrzahl der unten angeführten von altd. Giso und Giselo
abzuleitenden Kf kann im Einzelfalle, besonders wenn sie aus dem Oberdeutschen
kommen, auch zu Giesel-her, mar Giesmar usw. Gehören.
FN: Geisebert, Kisbert, Kispert, Küspert,
Kissenberth (Mittel und Oberfranken)."
A rough English translation:
"Fischart knew where of he speaks, when he
says; "Westfalens are named Gisbert". Giselbart was the name of a 10th
century nobleman, a son-in-law of Emperor Henry I; Giselbert, Count of
Lutzelburg, 1104, was a relative of Henry II; Giselbertus or Giso was the name
of a juror in Aachen around 1250; Gisbert was the first offical of Maria Laach
about 1130, Gilbert was also a Holy Bishop of Meaux, 1015 with 13 February as
his feast. Gilbert or Gisbert, a saint of England, founder of the Gilbertine
order, feast February 4th. Even today Gisbert can be widely found
in the Rhineland as a given name. A majority of names stemming from the old
Giso and Giselo, especially if they come from Upper Germany, can belong to
Giselher, Gisemar, etc…
FN: Geisebert, Kisbert, Kispert, Küspert,
Kissenberth are in Middle and Upper Franconia.
Gieselbrecht see Giese. Upper German. Gießelbrecht
(Bavaria – Allgaü region) Petrus Giselbrecht, Basel 1291, Giselbrecht of
Swidenicz, councillor, Brsl. 1297. Rhineland form Gilbert.
Two unanswered questions that I have concerning
the Küschwert to Geisel-Gisbert-Giese(l)brecht connection is;
There is no mention of our old medieval name of Küschwert in the
Geisel/Gisbert/Giese(l)brecht research instead they jump to the modern
spellings of Küspert-Kispert and Kisse(n)berth.
In hundreds of old written documents spanning over 600 years I have
never found our surname spelled beginning with a "G".
Mr. Ernest Thode, well-known German genealogist
who has written books on the subject, states that Onomasticians ( name origin
experts) can and do sometimes differ on origins of surnames.
He says that because we know the specific
origin of our Küspert-Kispert-Kisse(n)berth names coming from Küschwert that
this good specific information supersedes general speculation about surname
Mr. Wolfgang Fred Rump, a German genealogist
gives his opinion on the whole matter. He says that "surname
experts" will tell you that it could be this or that but NO ONE can tell
you for sure what a name meant in its original form as no one was there to
witness its birth or watch over the variations which occurred over the
centuries. Some ancestors move a few miles down the road and the local dialect
changes his name and sound to something else. If he moved further it might
come out completely different.
In June 2000 I sent a letter to one of
Germany’s top language centers, Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache e. V.
asking their experts to research our old name Küschwert in their library of
over 16,000 books on the German language and culture. This study can take up
to 6-8 months so we’ll just have to wait for their results hopefully by the
fall of 2000. This may bring some sort of closure to our surname origin.
Until we can get some more precise
information this is my opinion on our surname origin:
German (Bavarian-Franconian)- 15th
century (1442) Fichelgebirge, Oberfranken, Bayern.
Küren – to choose, to elect,
to kiss and Schwer(d)t - sword