c.500 - c.1100 AD

( wiso, -wiso )

Old High German Map

iven the many views regarding the origin of the surname Witzel, there is one view that, in my opinion, proves most consistent throughout the unfolding story.(1). It is a view that evolves out of the biographies and histories of the people and places of the early Middle Ages. It is a story of language and how it reflects the beliefs of its speakers. And as such, with some surprise, it finds a particular simplicity in a brief comparison of the Old High German (OHG) word wiso with its Anglo-Saxon (AS) counterpart, wita. So, simply stated, the early forms of the name Witzel can be seen as inherent personalized appellations for local leaders in these early Germanic communities. And from these nouns that describe leadership roles, names are formed and adopted. In this way, the OHG names Wiso(2), Wizo(3), and Wizzo(4) are found in AS as Witta(5) and Witto(6).

In both languages, wiso and wita are defined by synonyms that reflect leadership roles among the pre-Christian - and later Christianized - Germanic people. And despite the pagan significance of these terms, they remain vital descriptors of functions irreplaceable in Germanic society. As a result, they continue to be used unchanged in some regions; and in others, they take on modifications that place them in a Christian context. It must be remembered that it is only with the advancement of Christianity that the practice of writing reached these regions beyond the old Roman Empire. Without writing, these outlying areas continued to rely on verbal tradition. These older traditions, however, are to some degree reflected in the place-names of towns and villages in both Germany and England. Villages were fairly permanent and fixed; and their names would have continued in verbal accounts with only slight alteration. And when writing did reach these regions, legal and business transactions within these communities would have been among the first events recorded. And so it is with our story that along the frontier where Christianity advanced against the unconverted Germans, the names Wiso and Witta are primarily preserved: Closer to Rome, such names would have been deemed archaic by Latin writers; and in the hinterland beyond the reach of the missionaries sent forth, the names would have been merely passed on in an oral tradition that is to a great extent completely lost to us.

Another factor in our discussion revolves around the changes that occurred in the German language within central Germany during the 5th and 6th centuries. Certain influences changed the pronunciation of words in a very uniform way. When Latin writers arrived to record this new dialect of German, the result was a language different from that of neighboring Germanic regions. So it becomes understood that a more ancient German remained outside central Germany, of which Anglo-Saxon and Flemish are examples:

The main difference between Old High German and the West Germanic dialects from which it developed is that it underwent the Second Sound Shift or High German consonant shift. This is generally dated very approximately to the late 5th and early 6th centuries - hence dating the start of OHG to around 500. The result of this sound change is that the consonant system of German remains different from all other West Germanic languages, including English and Low German. Grammatically, however, Old High German remained very similar to Old English, Old Dutch and Old Saxon. (Wikipedia).

High German differs most noticeably from the other West Germanic languages in its shift of the p, t, and k sounds to ff, ss, and hh, respectively, after vowels and to pf, tz, and, in Upper German, kh under most other conditions. (Encyclopædia Britannica).

It is this change of t > ss in central Germany that transforms the AS word wita into the OHG word wiso and the name Witta into Wiso (Wizo). (A later shift of ss > ts, tz creates the names Witz and Witzel(7).). The name Witto can then be seen as a transitional form, with wito appearing in the Old Saxon language.

The words and definitions associated with the OHG word wiso begin to tell a story reflecting important changes that occurred in the German mindset, as the old beliefs and practices began to yield to the new -


wīso: (1) 12, ahd., sw. M. (n): nhd. Weiser (M.) (2), Führer, Leiter (M.), Weisel, Bienenkönigin; ne. wise man, queen-bee; ÜG.: lat. costrus Gl (Glossen (Glosses) (aus mehr als 1100 Handschriften zwischen 1. Hälfte 8. Jh. und 15. Jh., unterschiedliche ahd. Sprachzugehörigkeit), dux(8) Gl, N (Notker (980-1022, monk of St. Gall, aal.*), (viaticus(9)) (M.) Gl; Vw.: s. *bina-, fogal-, fora-, *reht-, spili-, wega-, weraltreht-, weralt-*; 270 Hw.: vgl. anfrk. *wīso?, as. *wīso?; Q.: Gl (9./10. Jh.), N, PN; E.: s. wīsen; W.: mhd. wise, sw. M., Führer, Oberhaupt (leader, head).


wīssago: (1), ahd., sw. M. (n): nhd. »Weissager«, Prophet, Wahrsager; ne. fortune-teller; ÜG.: lat. propheta NGl, pythonicus Gl; Hw.: s. wīzago*?; Q.: Gl (Ende 8. Jh.), NGl, NP; I.: Lüt. lat. propheta; E.: s. wīs (1), sagen, sagÐn; W.: mhd. wīssage, sw. M., Weissager, Prophet; s. nhd. (ält.) Weissage, M., Prophet, 271 DW 28, 1156; Son.: Tglr Rb = großes Reichenauer Bibel-Glossar (Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek Aug. IC = XCIX) (Ende 8. Jh.).


wīsil 6, ahd., st. M. (a?): nhd. Weisel, Bienenkönigin, Führer; ne. queen-bee, leader; ÜG.: lat. costrus Gl, (fucus) (M.) (2) Gl, (viaticus) (M.) Gl; Q.: Gl (11. Jh.); E.: s. wīsen; W.: mhd. wīsel, st. M., Führer, Bienenkönigin; nhd. Weisel, M., Weisel, Weiser (M.) (2), Führer, DW 28, 1074 wisila* 1, ahd.?, sw. F. (n)?: nhd. Linsenwicke,


fogalwīso: 1, ahd., sw. M. (n): nhd. Vogelschauer, Vogeldeuter, Augur; ne. fortune-teller from birds; ÜG.: lat. augur Gl; Q.: Gl (12. Jh.); I.: Lüt. lat. augur?; E.: s. fogal, wīso; W.: mhd. vogelwīse, sw. M., Augur.


wegawīso: 9, ahd., sw. M. (n): nhd. Wegweiser, Führer (leader*), Vorläufer, Wandersmann, Wanderer; ne. guide (M.), wanderer; ÜG.: lat. dux N, (praevius) (M.) Gl, (viaticus) (M.) Gl, viator Gl; Q.: Gl (Ende 8. Jh.), N; I.: Lüt. lat. dux?; E.: s. weg, wīso; W.: mhd. wëgewīse, sw. M., Wegweiser; Son.: Tglr Rb = großes Reichenauer Bibel-Glossar (Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek Aug. IC = XCIX) (Ende 8. Jh.).


weraltwīs: 4, ahd., Adj.: nhd. »weltweise«, weise, in der schwarzen Kunst kundig; ne. philosophic, knowing black magic; ÜG.: lat. gymnosophista (= weraltwīso subst.) Gl, (maleficus) Gl, (sophisticus) Gl; Q.: Gl (10./11. Jh.); I.: Lsch. lat. gymnosophista?, maleficus?, sophisticus?; E.: s. weralt, wīs; W.: s. mhd. wërltwīse, Adj., vor allen Menschen weise; nhd. (ält.) weltweise, Adj., philosophisch gebildet, DW 28, 1722; R.: weraltwīso, Adj. subst.=M.: nhd. Weiser (M.) (1), Denker; ne. wise man; ÜG.: lat. (gymnosophista) Gl.


weraltwīso: 1, ahd., sw. M. (n): nhd. »Weltweiser«, weltlicher Gelehrter; ne. philosopher; ÜG.: lat. philosophus WH; Hw.: vgl. anfrk. weroldwīso*; Q.: WH (um 1065); E.: s. weralt, wīso.


wīzaga: 4, ahd., sw. F. (n): nhd. Weise (F.) (3), Seherin, Wahrsagerin, Prophetin, Seherin (seer, fortune teller, prophet); ne. wise woman, fortune-teller (F.); ÜG.: lat. (haruspica) N, (praescia (F.) futurorum) N, prophetissa Gl, T, pythonissa Gl; Q.: Gl (4. Viertel 8. Jh.), N, OT, T; I.: Lüt.?, Lbd.? lat. prophetissa; E.: germ. *weitagæ-, *weitagæn, sw. F. (n), Prophetin; s. idg. *øoida-, V., gesehen haben, wissen, Pokorny 1125; vgl. idg. *øeid- (2), *øedi-, *udi-, V., erblicken, sehen, finden, Pokorny 1125; idg. *aø- (8), *aøÐi-, V., sinnlich wahrnehmen, auffassen, Pokorny 78; Son.: Tgl01 = Sankt Pauler Lukasglossen (Sankt Paul, Stiftsarchiv 1/8) (4. Viertel 8. Jh.) (4. Viertel 8. Jh.).

(Köbler, Althochdeutsch Wörterbuch)

So in OHG, the old words described quite clearly the old roles of wise men as prophets, fortune-tellers, augurs, and even knowers of black magic. It must be understood that the old traditions had been practiced since very ancient times; and it is only with the arrival of Christianity that their integrity becomes questioned. Just as the word wizard is viewed today, the actions of these practitioners can be seen as both good and bad, depending upon their context.

So it is not surprising to find a more favorable usage surviving in the texts of the newly Christianized Anglo-Saxons, who found great pride in retaining their old institutions, as they evolved in more acceptable and Christian ways -


an ancient sage, old counsellor, prophet


one who is cognisant of anything, a witness, an accessory


one who has a knowledge of law, a lawyer


a learned man


a man of intelligence in a people


a counsellor, one wise in counsel


a privy councillor, one acquainted with a person's secrets


a chief man of a shire


an officer of a household


a person distinguished for wisdom or learning in general or in a special branch, a philosopher, scribe, geometrician, etc.


one of the wise men of a nation, one whose knowledge fits him for a place in the councils of the nation, a senator; a man of great wisdom or learning, a sage; a historian or philosopher or man of science.


a secular or lay councillor.

(Bosworth & Toller, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary)

Here these same wise men and prophets are labeled as sages, witnesses, lawyers, learned men, counsellors, philosophers, scribes, mathematicians, historians and chief men, exemplifying an emergence of these terms within a newly transformed society.

The implied word wito is found in an analysis of the Old Saxon word mengiwito -


*wi-t-o?: as., sw. M. (n): nhd. Weiser (M.) (1), Wissender, Zeuge; ne. wise man (M.), witness (M.); Vw.: s. gi-*, mêngi-*; Hw.: vgl. ahd. wizzo* (sw. M. n); E.: 211 germ. *witæ-, *witæn, *wita-, *witan, sw. M. (n), Wissender, Wisser, Weiser (M.) (1), Ratgeber, Zeuge; s. idg. *øeid- (2), *øedi-, *udi-, V., erblicken, sehen, finden, Pokorny 1125; vgl. idg. *aø- (8), *aøÐi-, V., sinnlich wahrnehmen, auffassen, Pokorny 78.


mê-n-gi-wi-t-o*: 1, as., sw. M. (n): nhd. »Meinzeuge«, falscher Zeuge; ne. false witness (N.); ÜG.: lat. falsum testimonium H; Hw.: vgl. ahd. *meingiwizzo? (sw. M. n); Q.: H (830); I.: Lüt. lat. falsum testimonium?; E.: s. mên*, giwito*; B.: H Dat. Pl. mengeuuitun 5064 M; Kont.: H huô sie geuuîsadin mid uuârlôsun mannun mêngeuuitun an mahtigna Crist te giseggiane sundea 5064; Son.: Sievers, E., Zum Heliand, Z. f. d. A. 19 (1876), S. 66 (zu H 5064), Berr, S., An Etymological Glossary to the Old Saxon Heliand, 1971, 274, mengeuuitun (in Handschrift M) für menhuaton (in Handschrift C) in Vers 5064

(Köbler, Altsächsisches Wörterbuch)

In Old English, wita continues -


wi-t-a: wio-t-a, ae., sw. M. (n): nhd. »Wisser«, Weiser (M.) (1), Philosoph, Gelehrter, Ratgeber, Ratsherr, Ältester, Senator, Zeuge, Mitwisser (scholar, counsellor, councilman, senator, witness, accessory); ÜG.: lat. philosophus, senator; ÜG.: lat. pater Gl, pharisaeus Gl, sacebaro, sapiens (M.), senex (M.) Gl, testis Gl; Vw.: s. fol-c-, ge-, léod-, þéo-d-, un-, ðþ-; Hw.: s. wi-t-an; vgl. afries. wita (1), ahd. wizzo*; E.: germ. *witæ-, *witæn, *wita-, *witan, sw. M. (n), Wissender, Wisser, Weiser (M.) (1), Ratgeber, Zeuge; s. idg. *ueid- (2), *uedi-, *udi-, V., erblicken, sehen, finden, Pokorny 1125; vgl. idg. *au- (8), *auÐi-, V., sinnlich wahrnehmen, auffassen, Pokorny 78; L.: Hh 400, Hall/Meritt 413a, Lehnert 237b, Obst/Schleburg 329.

(Köbler, Altenglsiches Wörterbuch)

In Old Flemish a reflection of OHG is found -


*wī-s-o?: anfrk., sw. M. (n): nhd. Weiser (M.) (2); ne. wise man; Vw.: s. werol- d-*; Hw.: vgl. as. *wīso?, ahd. wīso (1); E.: s. germ. *weisjan, *wīsjan, sw. V., 25 weisen, zeigen; idg. *øeid- (2), *øedi-, *udi-, V., erblicken, sehen, finden, Pokorny 1125; idg. *aø- (8), *aøÐi-, V., sinnlich wahrnehmen, auffassen, Pokorny 78.

(Köbler, Altniederfränkisch Wörterbuch)

Can there remain any doubt that the progression of language found in wita (wito) > wiso (wizo, wizzo) is directly reflected in the names Witta, Witto, Wiso, Wizo, and Wizzo. These name-bearers exemplify the very words upon which their names are based. Surely the ancient Germans were reliant upon their elders to serve as guides and protectors. These wise men were irreplaceable, even as social structure became more complex. The witan were leaders in civil and religious affairs. The wizago and fogalwiso served to anticipate the needs of their people. They were the eldermen, senators or councilmen of the newly Christianized Anglo-Saxons. Christian priests took on the roles of the ancient witega and witegestre(10). And the ancient rituals slowly gave way to the will of the Holy Catholic Church.

From wita, meaning ‘one who is wise’, derives the modern German word Weiser, meaning 'sage'. But this might mislead us from seeing the true progression of AS wita > OHG wiso > OHG wisil > MHG wisel > NHG weisel. It is only a matter of regional influence that slightly alters the progression of the name forms Witta > Wizo > Wicel (Wicelinus, Wiczel) > Witzel (Witzeln).


These definitions and translations have been added to the original.


Charlotte Yonge cautions against this conclusion, stating that names beginning with wit- originate from the Indo-European root *widu, *witu, meaning 'wood' and not from *ueid, *weid, meaning 'to see, to know'. Yonge, Charlotte M., History of Christian Names. London: MacMillan and Co. 1884. p. 131-2.


Wiso is the name of a notary in Salerno in 872. Lopez, Robert S. & Raymond, Irving W., Medieval Trade in the Mediterranean World: Illustrative Documents Translated with Introduction and Notes. New York: Columbia University Press. 1955. The original manuscript is in Latin, ‘et te wiso notario scribere rogabit’, in Morcaldi, Michele, ed. Codex Cavensis Diplomaticus Vol 1, Naples, 1873. p. 97; retrieved on March 25, 2007: ‘Codex Cavensis Diplomaticus Vol 1’, Institut für Mittelalterforschung: http://www.oeaw.ac.at/gema/lango_cavensis_5.htm »


As reflected in the names Candidus Wizo, Wizo Flandrensis. Witta von Büraberg is also at times referred to as Wizo.


Wizzo is listed as a bishop of Trier from 805-809.


As reflected in the names Witta, son of Wechta, and Witta von Büraberg.


Witta von Büraberg is referred to as Witto in several publications.


‘High German consonant shift', Wikipedia, retirieved on March 25, 2007: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_German_consonant_shift »


In the Roman military, a Dux would be a general in charge of two or more legions. While the title of dux could refer to a Consul or Imperator, it usually refers to the Roman Governor of the provinces. As the governor, the dux was both the highest civil official as well as the commander-in-chief of the legions garrisoned within the province. ‘Dux', Wikipedia, retirieved on March 26, 2007: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dux »


viaticus - viaticus (M.(M = 14 = Muspilli (Anfang 9.Jh.?,abay.)): (wegawīso* 9, sw. M. (n): nhd. Wegweiser, Führer, Wandersmann, Gl); (wīsil 6, st. M. (a?): nhd. Weisel, Bienenkönigin, Führer, Gl); (wīso (1) 12, sw. M. (n): nhd. Weiser (M.) (2), Führer, Leiter (M.), Weisel, Bienenkönigin, Gl); viator: after wege sindænti (subst.), Gl; faranti (2), Part. Präs. subst.=M.: nhd. Reisender, Gl; faranti man, Gl; fartman* 2, st. M. (athem.): nhd. »Fahrender«, Reisender, Wanderer, Gl; sindæntÐr, Gl; wegawīso* 9, sw. M. (n): nhd. Wegweiser, Führer, Wandersmann, Gl Köbler, Gerhard, Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch, (4. Auflage), 1993. Retrieved on March 26, 2007: http://www.koeblergerhard.de/ahdwbhin.html »


Wise-women are found as witegestre in AS. Grimm, Jacob. Stallybrass, James. ed. Teutonic Mythology Vol. 1, London: George Bell & Sons. 1883. p.94. http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC16274150&id=2FgjayRGhQAC&pg=PA94&lpg=PA94&dq=witegestre » Wise-men must have played similar roles. An interesting article is written by John C. Atkins, telling of the lingering practices of wise-men in 19th Century England. Atkinson, Rev. John C., 'The Wise Man', in O'Leary, John G., ed. Countryman on the Moors, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983. pp. 52-69.; originally published in Atkinson, Rev. John C., Forty Years in a Moorland Parish : Reminiscences & Researches in Danby in Cleveland, London: Macmillan 1891. pp. 103-125.

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Bosworth, Joseph, and Toller, T. Northcote. An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898. »

Old High German. (2007). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 19, 2007, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_High_German »

Old High German. (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 19, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9003010 »

Köbler, Gerhard, Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch, (4. Auflage), 1993. Retrieved on March 26, 2007: http://www.koeblergerhard.de/ahdwbhin.html »

Köbler, Gerhard, Altenglsiches Wörterbuch, (2. Auflage) 2003. Retrieved on March 26, 2007: http://www.koeblergerhard.de/aewbhinw.html »

Köbler, Gerhard, Altniederfränkisches Wörterbuch, (3. Auflage), 2003. Retrieved on March 26, 2007: http://www.koeblergerhard.de/anfrkwbhinw.html »

Köbler, Gerhard, Altsächsisches Wörterbuch, (3. Auflage), 2000ff. Retrieved on March 26, 2007: http://www.koeblergerhard.de/aswbhinw.html »

Köbler, Gerhard, Lateinisch-Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch, (2. Auflage) 1996. Retrieved on March 28, 2007: http://www.koeblergerhard.de/ahdlatwbhin.html »




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