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World’s Longest Surname
Status: Seems to be true
Charles Haberl e-mailed me with a question about the world's longest surname. Here's the main part of his message (it's kind of long):

There's an bit of internet lore circulating around that the Guinness World Record for Longest Name in the world belongs to a Mr. Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorffwelchevoralternwarengewissenschaftschafe rswessenschafewarenwohlgepflegeundsorgfaltigkeitbeschutzenvonangreifeudurch ihrraubgierigfeindewelchevoralternzwolftausendjahresvorandieerscheinenersch einenvanderersteerdemenschderraumschiffgebrauchlichtalsseinursprungvonkraft gestartseinlangefahrthinzwischensternaitigraumaufdersuchenachdiesternwelche gehabtbewohnbarplanetenkreisedrehensichundwohinderneurassevonverstandigmens chlichkeitkonntefortpflanzenundsicherfeuenanlebenslanglichfreudeundruhemitn icheinfurchtvorangreifenvonandererintelligentgeschopfsvonhinzwischenternart Zeus igraum Senior, who was born in Munich in 1904 and lived in Philadelphia for most of his life. Apparently he shortened his name to Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff, and subsequently went by Hubert Blaine Wolfe, but the "Senior" indicates that he passed some form of his name to his son.

Note that misspellings are rife (the Wikipedia entry for his name is "Adolph_Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenberdorf," but within the entry he is identified as "Adolph Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorf" - neither of which are correct.

If you poke around, as I have, you'll find that the book in which this bit of information is contained is variously described as "old," "from the 70s", and even "published in 1978." The most amazing thing about this name is the translation of the content after "Wolfe Schlegel Steinhausen-Bergedorf," ("wolf" "mallet" "Steinhausen (a common placename)" and "Bergedorf (a borough of Hamburg)") which translates to

"...who before ages were conscientious shepherds whose sheep were well tended and diligently protected against attackers who by their rapacity were enemies who 12,000 years ago appeared from the stars to the humans by spaceships with light as an origin of power, started a long voyage within starlike space in search for the star which has habitable planets orbiting and whither the new race of reasonable humanity could thrive and enjoy lifelong happiness and tranquility without fear of attack from other intelligent creatures from within starlike space."

On one forum (allsearch.de's AllMystery forum, in German) this is identified as "medieval German" and advanced as possible evidence for the extraterrestrial origins of mankind. I'm more inclined to view it as someone (possibly Mr. Wolfe-Schlegel Steinhausen-Bergerdorff himself)'s idea of a practical joke on the Guinness people.

My question is, does this man actually appear in the Guinness Book of World Records, as the holder of the world's longest name, or is this a bit of unsubstantiated internet trivia? Furthermore, was the text after "Bergerdorff" part of the original Guinness account, or was it subsequently added on? The Guinness website is useless in this regard (it doesn't feature any entry for "longest name") and I don't have a copy of the 1978 Guinness Book of World Records or indeed that for any other year.


Here's my answer: By a very odd coincidence, I own only one edition of the Guinness Book of Records, and it happens to be the 1978 edition. And it does indeed mention Mr. Wolfe. The entry about him states:

The longest name used by anyone is Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff, Senior, who was born at Bergedorf, near Hamburg, Germany, on 29 Feb. 1904. On printed forms he uses only his eighth and second Christian names and the first 35 letters of his surname. The full version of the name of 590 letters appeared in the 12th edition of The Guinness Book of Records. He now lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., and has shortened his surname to Mr. Wolfe + 585, Senior.

I assume that the 12th edition (which I don't own) gave the full, long version of Mr. Wolfe's name. The other part of Charles's question (was this a practical joke on the Guinness people?) is harder to answer. Mr. Wolfe's birthday (February 29, 1904) seems a bit suspicious, but 1904 was a leap year, so it could be true. For now I suppose we'll have to trust that the Guinness people did their homework and weren't the victims of a hoax.
Literature/Language
Posted by The Curator on Fri Oct 21, 2005


This reminds me of the Monty Python sketch about the documentary about a German poet whose name took over two minutes to pronounce, and ended ". . .Of Ulm". The interviews with his elderly relatives took so long due the name length, they died waiting for the name to finish.
Posted by DFStuckey  in  Auckland New Zealand  on  Fri Oct 21, 2005  at  02:47 AM
Medieval German had a word for spaceship? Yeeees....
Posted by outeast (paul in prague)  on  Fri Oct 21, 2005  at  02:56 AM
Why is it that nobody remembers the name of Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfernschplendenschlittercrasscrenbonfrieddiggerdingledangledongledungle
bursteinvonknackerthrasherapplebangerhorowitzticolensicgrander
knottyspelltinklegrandlichgrumblemeyerspelterwasserkurstlichhimblee
isenbahnwagengutenabendbitteeinnurnburgerbratwustlegernspurtenmitz
weimacheluberhundsfutgumberabershonedankerkalbsfleischmittleraucher von Hautkopft of Ulm?
Posted by Doctor Psi  on  Fri Oct 21, 2005  at  04:10 AM
If you copy the character string from the message that was originally received and use a program like Word to count the number of characters is comes up with more than 600 so I find it unlikely that this, long surname, is real. Although it could just be inaccurately copied by Mr. Haberl.
Posted by Ceredur Crysane  in  Center of the Universe  on  Fri Oct 21, 2005  at  09:24 AM
I remember seeing the entry for this gentleman's full name in the Guiness book in the early 1970s, when I was a child. I think the man also appeared on a Guiness World Records tv show hosted by David Frost sometime back then. I no longer have my 1970s era Guiness book, but I note that the quotation from the webmaster's 1978 edition says that this was the longest name "used" by anyone. That doesn't necessarily mean it was his name at birth. There are some long place names, like that city in Wales with the 100-or-so letter name, but for a surname?
Posted by T. Cotter  in  Virginia  on  Fri Oct 21, 2005  at  04:31 PM
Apparently even Guiness says he didn't use this whole name, except presumably when entering "Longest Name" contests, so I wonder if this really qualifies. It seems to me your name is what everybody calls you and what your mail has written on the envelope and so on. Special names that you hardly ever or never really use shouldn't count.

Since anybody can give him or her self pretty much any name they want, it would be very easy to acquire the world's longest name, especially if there's no requirement that you actually use it every day (just imagine Adoplph Blaine Charles Etc.'s mother calling him to dinner). I could just attach all my ancestor's surnames to mine until I got one long enough, or I could even take this guy's name and add a syllable or two to it. Then I'd have the longest name for a day or so, until somebody added another syllable to my name and used that.
Posted by Big Gary in Dallas  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Fri Oct 21, 2005  at  04:58 PM
His friends just call him "Pepe".
Posted by booch  on  Fri Oct 21, 2005  at  05:17 PM
The "longest name" question is a lot like the "longest word" topic. Kids on the playground used to say (wrongly, it turns out) that the longest word in English is "antidisestablishmentarianism" (which describes an opinion opposed to ending the "establishment," or status as the official religion, of the Church of England). However, since in English, as in most languages, you can make words longer infinitely by adding prefixes, suffixes, and other morphemes (word parts), there is no such thing as a "longest word." How about "antiantidisestablishmentarianism" (the position of those who disagree with antidisestablishmentarians)? But antiantiantidisestablishmentarianism would be an even longer word. Etc., etc.
Posted by Big Gary in Dallas  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Fri Oct 21, 2005  at  05:20 PM
Gary, you're exactly right about the pointlessness of trying to determine the longest name or longest word.

What I find interesting is Guinness's involvement. Were they the victims of a prank? Why did they ever give this name official status as the world's longest?
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Fri Oct 21, 2005  at  05:59 PM
On a different subject, when I was ten years old I got to be in the audience on an episode of the British show Record Breakers, hosted by the writers of the Guinness Book of Records, Norris and Ross McWhirter. There was a part of the show where audience members could ask them questions, so I put up my hand and actually got called on by them. My question: "What was the longest eclipse ever." I can no longer remember their reply, but they knew the answer.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Fri Oct 21, 2005  at  06:03 PM
Alex said:
"...What I find interesting is Guinness's involvement. Were they the victims of a prank? Why did they ever give this name official status as the world's longest?"

I think a whole lot of the stuff in the Guiness book is of questionable validity and/or not very carefully researched. Remember that the Book of World Records was originally written as a promotion for the pubs owned by the Guiness brewery behemoth, and was (I guess) never intended as a scholarly reference work.
Posted by Big Gary in Dallas  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Fri Oct 21, 2005  at  07:00 PM
I remember when National Lampoon announced that the IRA had set a world record for assassinating editors of the Guiness Book of Records, after the provisional IRA blew up one of the McWhirter twins (I've forgotten which one). The old record was 0, and the new record was 1.

Tasteless, but indisputably true.
Posted by Big Gary in Dallas  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Fri Oct 21, 2005  at  07:20 PM
that is indeed, on long name.
Posted by thunder  in  England  on  Sat Oct 22, 2005  at  09:57 AM
You know what, I think he had to shorten his surname to wolfe because how the hell else would you fit a 600 character name on a credit card? hmm?
Posted by Blood For Nothing  in  Somewhere in the Arctic  on  Sat Oct 22, 2005  at  10:54 AM
When I pass his name through Word Count, I get 606 characters. I think some of these may be orthographic mistakes (Bergerdorff should really be Bergedorf, I think) but there's still room for an extra word here or there. I wonder which words have been added? Was the story about the shepherds and interstellar travel really was part of the text of his name, as recorded by the Guinness people? It seems an odd name to bestow upon someone in 1904, but apparently that was the form of the name on his birth certificate and passport.

That Zeus at the end of his name (before igraum) really should come before the "Wolfe..." part - it was his last middle name (one name for every letter of the alphabet).
Posted by Charles Haberl  in  Astoria, NY  on  Sat Oct 22, 2005  at  01:01 PM
Collecting names happens to be a particular interest of mine, and I'm surprised I've never come across this one before. I just checked the online catalogue of the University of Toronto, where I'm a student, and it looks like they have most, perhaps all of the old editions of the Guinness Book of Records in the stacks. I should be there later this week, so I'll take a look and report back.

I've been visiting this site for ages but have been pretty quiet (I think I posted once or twice as a guest; I'm not sure what version of my name I used). Hopefully this will finally give me something to contribute.
Posted by Sometimes Josie  on  Sun Oct 23, 2005  at  01:20 AM
Well actually the longest word in the english language is 'Smiles'...


...There is a mile between the 2 S's

(Thankyou i'll be here all week!)
Posted by Rob Parkhouse  in  Bristol  on  Sun Oct 23, 2005  at  07:02 AM
Charles said:

"It seems an odd name to bestow upon someone in 1904, but apparently that was the form of the name on his birth certificate and passport."

Am I missing something? Where does it say that this name was on his birth certificate and passport?

...and:
"That Zeus at the end of his name (before igraum) really should come before the "Wolfe..." part - it was his last middle name (one name for every letter of the alphabet)."

This alphabetical thing also makes me suspicious. If Mr. Wolfe... was German, as has been implied, why wouldn't his parents give him one name for each letter of the GERMAN alphabet? German has several characters that are not used in English, such as "ss," "oe," "ae," and "ue," (they don't look like single letters here because I don't have these keys on my American computer, but in German they are individual letters). Some of these seldom or never come at the beginning of a word, but still, if you want to be comprehensive, you should work them in.

Also, some of these names have distinctively English forms: "Charles" rather than Karl, "John" rather than Johannes, and so on.
Posted by A. Big C.D.E.F. Gary H.I.J.K.L.M.N.O.P.Q.R.S.T.U.V  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Sun Oct 23, 2005  at  09:57 AM
I agree that the given names he was, er, given seem unusually Anglo-Saxon (with the exception of Adolph, Zeus, and a few others in between). I don't know for a fact that his full name appears as such on his birth certificate or passport, but this site seems to imply that it does. Surely he must have produced some form of ID for the Guinness folks?
Posted by Charles Haberl  in  Astoria, NY  on  Mon Oct 24, 2005  at  12:33 AM
I'm highly sceptical as well, and not just becausee of the "Raumschiff" and the strangely unbavarian given names.

First of all, although German is known for having "long words" formed by stringing other words together, there are still rules. You can't just take the spaces out of a sentence and call it a word; and 600 characters is pushing it in any case.

Second, the "story" part of the name is highly babelfishy. Some of the spelling problems are due to imperfect copying, but in other places the most likely explanation is that someone was translating word-for-word by dictionary, with little attention to fancy linguistic stuff like polysemy, agreement or even noun/verb distinctions.

For instance, "vor Altern" is very suspicious, ("ages ago"?); "Menschlichkeit" is the wrong sense of "humanity" ("Menschheit" would make sense in this context); there are case and genus errors all over, some plurals are creatively formed by just adding "-s", and let's not even discuss "Stern welche gehabt bewohnbar Planeten Kreise drehen sich" ... This phrase is not, nor has it ever been, a card-carrying member of the German language.

The "shortened" version consists mostly of suffixes that do appear in names (-stein, -hausen, -berger, -dorff), but they make little sense crowded up like this.

My (completely undocumented) explanation is that this guy had an uncommonly long name by Philadelphian standards, was teased about it, jokingly added further name-like elements, and didn't know when to stop.
Posted by secret cranky office temp  on  Thu Nov 10, 2005  at  10:27 AM
Whatever happened to Mr F'tang F'tang Ole Biscuitbarrel??
Posted by Nigel Pond  on  Fri Nov 11, 2005  at  10:46 AM
I researched this story and discovered it originated with an AP press release from June 25th 1964. It can be found in several North American newspapers printed that week.

The story was written by Norman Goldstein and originally titled "What's in A Name? 666 Letters."

Hubert was a 47 year old linotype operator, married with two children. In the article, the result of an interview, he said that he liked to be unique, not "part of the common herd," and for this reason used a strange surname. He was not himself a German citizen but was of "German descent," hence his many English first names and the incorrect German grammar used in the surname.

The article makes no reference to the age of the name. Hubert did not claim it was Medieval. In fact, it is obviously a 20th century creation because part of it runs "tungsteinundsiebeniridiumelektrischmotors" - which roughly translates as "tungsten and seven iridium motors," the propulsion engine of the alleged spacecraft!

So, we are left with a story about an eccentric man of German descent who chooses to use an unwieldy name of his own invention, or at least tells a reporter that he does.

I'll be writing up the full story at my webpage, so please check there from time to time to see if it's available.

http://anomalies.bravepages.com/

Best wishes,

Chris Aubeck
Posted by Chris Aubeck  in  Madrid, Spain  on  Thu Feb 23, 2006  at  03:25 PM
Well, I'm a German and I have to tell you that this is a great hoax. Even if this name really made it into the Record-Book, the name is fake.

It's all about starships and strange creatures on planets (aliens) - and I don't think these were topics up to date in 1904. And even in German the sentence makes no sense. It sounds like an englishspeaking picking German words out of an dictionary.
Posted by yetused  on  Tue Mar 14, 2006  at  11:40 PM
In response to the reader who couldn't find the correct name on Wikipedia: I have an entry in which you can find another version of this person's name. The link is:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfe+585,_Senior

I merely repeat this information without additional comments. Then again, the name just doesn't look real to me, except maybe the 35-letter version.
Posted by Desmond Hobson  in  Lakewood, CA  on  Sun Jun 25, 2006  at  01:53 PM
It also reminds me of Monty Python's election night sketch. Sounds like he could be a candidate for the Silly Party.
Posted by SC  in  Los Angeles, CA  on  Fri Mar 09, 2007  at  03:45 PM
I actually had the misfortune of having this name burned into my brain as a memory excercise when I was bored at the local library as a child. It was indeed in the Guiness Record Book circa 1978. My memory's still pretty good for the full name, and there is always a mistake or two from the version I remember in the different versions I've seen on the web, but for the most part the spellings are close to the original source. I remember being annoyed at the time that there were 591 characters in the Guiness reference that I memorized, not 590 as promised. That made me feel like it was useless to memorize it if it had a typo... lol. What can I say, I had no life.

It was fun, but I didn't take German til years later so he pronunciation I use in my head to remember it is decidedly un-German, and I didn't know the space-alien translation. I think that's hilarious.

Good for him pulling one over on Guiness.

The multiple -stein-hausen-berger-dorff senseless endings remind me of Keven Kline's Man-fred-jen-sen character from Fish Called Wanda.
Posted by Mike  in  Tampa  on  Wed Mar 21, 2007  at  11:38 AM
It doesn't take much German language knowledge to realize that this name has no authentic German origin. Transcription errors notwithstanding, at one point, the name says "mit nicht[t]" in place of "without". This is roughly equivalent to saying "together not", instead of using the proper German word, "ohne". Any second- or third-year high school German student would be familiar with the proper construction.

Of course, this only proves that the name did not originate from a native German speaker. Whether Mr. Zeus actually gave himself that name or not remains to be proven.
Posted by Jason Crandall  in  Portland  on  Tue Jul 10, 2007  at  02:16 AM
well i haven't read all the other responces because my eyes started to hurt(also why im having issues typing) but the "antiantiantidisestablishmentarianism" can not be a word in the english lauguage because words are not aloud to have more than 3 prefexes. that word has 4. therefore it is not a real english word.
if anyone else has already said that. sorry.
Posted by RJfingrl  in  Libertyville, Illinois  on  Tue Dec 11, 2007  at  08:02 PM
Does anyone have a pronouncation8-/ ??

Thanks
Posted by Areese110795  in  Pennsylvania  on  Fri Jan 04, 2008  at  07:03 PM
I realize this site was posted in 05 but I am just now reading it. The name is true. I happen to know of some descendants of his. They live in a German community here in Texas. The name has been shorten to Wolfenbarger since the other is so long.
Posted by Jennifer  in  Texas  on  Wed May 14, 2008  at  07:00 PM
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