The Bogenschneider Name
The earliest forms of the Bogenschneider name were Babenschneider, Bavenschneider and Bawenschneider, and only around 1800 did the current form of the name come into common usage. The earliest forms of the name were in Plattdeutsch (low German spoken in the lower land areas along the Baltic coast), and Bogenschneider was in high German (spoken in the southern and midland areas of Germany) that became the standard German. High German is the middle ground between Oberdeutsch (upper, or mountain German) and Mitteldeutsch (midway German or middle upland German).
The spelling of the name also varied widely in early church records. In the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries names were spelled as they sounded, and low German tended to be indistinct in pronunciation. Different parish pastors would spell the same name in a variety of ways, and at times one pastor would spell the same family name in different ways in the same church records. The earliest form of the name in low German probably sounded like baowenschneider, and this led to the variations in spelling. Even today there are family names with the variant spellings of both the low German (especially Babenschneider) and high German forms of the name, but the most common form is Bogenschneider. In the United States, a few families have shortened the name to Bogen, Bogens, or Schneider. In a few older records the high German name appears as Bagenschneider.
So what is the meaning of the family name? In answering this one must remember that some names derived from the low German form may have an entirely different meaning in today’s high German names. This is the case with the Bogenschneider name.
A literal translation of the standard German name Bogenschneider is "bow-cutter." It may not be possible to determine why many family members changed the name to the high German Bogenschneider (bogen = bow, schneider = maker). Was it that the name sounded more militaristic and heroic in a period when militarism and nationalism were on the rise in the German states? Did the family change the name to improve their status in the society of the day? Or was it an accommodation to the influx and rise in usage of the high German language? It is unlikely that we can fully answer the family motivation.
The original low German forms of the name suggest different translations and derivations of the name. The first part of the name in low German translates as "upper" or "top." A schneider can be a tailor, someone who cuts or carves, or someone who resides on a "schneid" or piece of land. These translations suggest a variety of derivations of the name.
Was the name first given to someone who was the top tailor in a town or an area?
Was the name first given to someone who cut staves and manufactured barrels or was otherwise involved in carpentry?
Was the name first given to residents of a town or area named Bawenschneider or other low German form of the name?
Was the name first given to individuals who lived on an upper piece of land in an area?
Hans Bogenschneider, in his excellent Bogenschneider family chronicle (Bogenschneider, Hans. Stammbuch der Familie Bogenschneider In Chronik u. Stammtafel. Berlin: [s.n.], 1913) argues for the latter derivation of the name.
Bogenschneider cites Alfred Bähnisch (Bähnisch, Alfred. Die deutschen Personennamen. Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1910) as one who argues that Babenschneider was a specific geographic place such as a settlement or specific piece of land defined by geographical boundaries. Bähnisch says that a schneid was a piece of land defined by boundary markers, such as hills, stones or streams. Bogenschneider points out that there is no written documentation pointing to an area named Babenschneider or other form of the name.
Bogenschneider presents an explanation on the source of the name somewhat related to Bähnisch’s argument. He says that a "schneid" is a piece of land, and that the resident of a schneid is a schneider. He also says that in low German or Plattdeutsch, "baben" refers to above or top. Other residents of a schneid may have referred to those living on the top section or upper or hilly section of the schneid as the schneider of the baben, or babenschneider.
Bogenschneider also notes that the low German dialect had indistinct articulation and the name was spoken as Bavenschneider, Bawenschneider or Babenschneider. Upon his further investigation, he also suggests that Bawen (spoken as Boawen) is the low German form of the standard German word "bogen." This would speak to the change of the low German form of the name to the standard German form of the name as Bogenschneider.
Bogenschneider presents a very plausible argument, but as he also points out, the meaning and derivation of the name cannot be determined with full certainty.