Warum heißt Nürnberg “Nürnberg” ..?


Where does the name Nuremberg comes from?

The most famous landmark of Nuremberg until today of course is the “Burg”, Nuremberg Castle in the north of the old city, which is considered as one of the most outstanding strongholds in Europe. The castle which is erected on a sandstone rock which Germans had called the “Keuper” and dates in the third epoch of the so called Triassic period regarding the faith of geological religion groups (just kidding).

However the saying is that the name Nuremberg actually derives from an old German word “nor” which would mean “rock”. But actually there is no such known Old German or Middle High German word of the meaning “rock” or “stony” as assumed by local historians in the 19th century. To the contrary “nor” or “nur” as Lexer explains would mean “burrow” (wuehlen) in the way pigs do it. Another “nur” (pronounced as noor) means “to sneeze” (niesen), what also is not the most likely source for the name of a castle. Also “nar” or “nara” means “food” or “support”, as it is still to be found in German words like “Nahr-ung”, “er-naehr-en” (“nerien”) and the like, while “narro” means “Narr” (fool). The only term referring to the position would be “nol” or “nollo” what means “hill”, “summit”, “knoll” or “knob” (Gipfel, Spitze, Huegel), but the name of the city is not “Nolberg” or “Nullenberg”. The common German term for “rock” is “Felsen”, which already has been in use in Old German sources of the 9th century as “felis” which traditionally is derived from a Greek (?) “pella” although the proper Greek term for “rock” would be βράχος and “stone” as is commonly known is  πέτρα .

So the origin of the name Nuremberg actually is somewhat unclear. In Hebrew the name today usually is written as נירנברג (nirnberg). ניר (nir) has a lot of different meanings, for instance a sheet of paper or the cultivation of a field, but it also may be the thread of a weaver – all obviously have nothing to do with a stronghold on the top of a sandstone rock.  נור (nur, nor) in the broadest sense means “light” or “fire”, what in the best case would amount to a “fire rock” as motive for the naming. The local Franconian dialect however pronounces the city name as “nämberch” (try to combine a shorter and more tubby version of “name” and something like “bairkh” as in “baird” and the “ch” as in Scottish Loch), which can be found in medieval Hebrew scriptures as נעמברג (nemberg) what until today also is a Hebrew family name and may derive from the Hebrew word נעם (“na-im” but also “nay-m”), which means “pleasant” , “lovely”, “handsome” or just “nice”.

So if there is a Hebrew influence – which one may assume in the region after the year 1000, the “naym”-“berg” just would be the “nice rock” or “castle”. The term “burg” (the English equivalent “borough” today rather means district), what means “castle” or “baily” already is known in the Talmud and probably comes from the Greek πύργος which indicated a tower house as rest house or guard post. The Talmud additionally knows the term “burg” or plural “burgin” as depot or stack-room, especially for grain and crop and gives the crucial advise to establish בורגין (burgin) on hills because of the risk of flooding – a problem known until today.

In German the Hebrew word נעם may be found in “an-ge-nehm” what means “pleasant, lovely, etc.” : “Nice to meet you – sehr angenehm  – “נעים מאוד” – but the of course very unusual Hebrew interpretation of the origin of the Nuremberg (NÄMBERCH) city name takes the beauty of the rock and the castle for granted. Of course this will cause endless stomachache for many if not most Germanists, but that is perfectly normal if you consider the general history as well as Hitlers declaration of Nuremberg as “deutscheste aller deutschen Städte” (most German of all German cities) .

The most remarkable tower at the Burg however is the “Sinwell-Tower”. The name derives from a rare medieval German word “sinwell” meaning “round” and since the tower actually is a “roundish” one, the explanation is coherent – although the reading of “sinwell” (compare Old English “synwell”) indicates another understanding. However the ”Sinwel Turm” in medieval Chronicles explained as “der runde Turm auf der Nuernberger veste” accordingly also was called “Siml-Turm”, what, as is stated “reminds of Siml = Simon” (Matthias Lexer, Mittelhochdeutsches Handwörterbuch Bd. 2, Sp. 936) . Quite more common than “Simel” for “Simon” especially in Southern Germany was the familiar form for Samuel: Sanwil, Senwil, etc.

So the Sinwel – Tower at the Nuremberg castle stronghold which quite a while has been the royal residence of German emperors (hence the name “Kaiser-Burg”) also may be a “Samuel Tower” …   

However, from the Burg you will have a pleasant, lovely, nice view to the old city of Nuremberg at the foot of the sandstone hill. Don’t miss it.

Comparison: the picture above shows the colored version of the Nuremberg castle as a woodcut detail from the famous “Schedelsche Weltchronik” (Schedel’s World Chronicle also known as Nuremberg Chroncle) by Hartmund Schedel (1440 – 1514). Quite a lot of his maps, published in 1493 are regarded as first ever illustrations of a great number of Cities in Germany and whole Europe. The second picture below however is from an earlier (maybe late 14th or early 15th cent.) rare Hebrew source, which by experts is regarded as a book on “astrology”.

In my view a number of details as well as the sequence of the depicted structres suggest that it may be an older illustration from Nuremberg castle, which either willingly is simplified for the matter of the manuscript which deals with military questions or actually shows a quite less built-up previous state of the compound.

מין כל הערים בגרמניה” כמו אדולף היטלר הסביר: “נירנברג העיר הגרמנית ביותר”
אבל השם העיר אולי יש נעים שורש בשפה עברית

ואולי לא…

One Response to Warum heißt Nürnberg “Nürnberg” ..?

  1. Margit says:

    Wohl dem, der sich (ver)bergen kann auf dem zur Burg gewordenen Berg!

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