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A Schultz By Any Other Spelling

Know your German surnames

Marc Tracy
April 06, 2011
Debbie Wasserman Schultz at the beginning of this year.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz at the beginning of this year.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Writing about Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whom President Obama named the head of the Democratic National Committee, is a copy editor’s nightmare: There are so many different ways to spell that surname! And, as with most German Jewish names, there is the confusion as to whether the name’s owners are Deutschen or landsleit. Forthwith, a taxonomy:

Schultz: This is the spelling that gets by far the most Google hits (over 40 million), so it should be your default; its most famous adherent is probably Howard Schultz, the Starbucks honcho. It is derived from the German Schultheiss, a title that was essentially the equivalent of “mayor” in medieval Germany. So there were probably not too many Jewish ones of these, and indeed there are many non-Jewish Schultzes. Then again, Howard is Jewish, and so is Debbie, and it certainly is not strange to have a Jewish Schultz.

Schulz: This gets the second-most Google hits. It also connoted an official of some kind—it’s the German equivalent of the English surname Constable—and many Schulzes, including the most famous (Charles, of Peanuts), are not Jewish. But some are: The Polish novelist Bruno Schulz was killed in the Holocaust.

Shultz: This gets scarcely over four million Google hits (i.e., not many). At this point, unless you are going for Reagan-era Secretary of State George P. (who was not Jewish), you are probably misspelling one of the two above.

Shulz: Not even 500,000 Google hits. This is probably most useful if you are trying to do Yiddishkeit hip-hop, as in the lyric, “Got more shoes than Brooklyn’s got shulz,” which I just made up.

Bottom line: If you are writing this surname, you almost certainly want that c following the S. Of course, Debbie Wasserman Schultz was born Debbie Wasserman—Wasserman being another one of those could-go-either-way German surnames (although it tends to go the Jewish way more often than Schul(t)z). And let’s not get started on Wasserman vs. Wassermann … .

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.