This German surname of AIRHART was originally from a medieval given name, composed of the elements AGIL (edge, point of a weapon) and HARD (brave, hardy and strong). It was a name given to a warrior or soldier. The first hereditary surnames on German soil are found in the second half of the 12th century, slightly later than in England and France. However, it was not until the 16th century that they became stabilized. The practice of adopting hereditary surnames began in the southern areas of Germany, and gradually spread northwards during the Middle Ages. The name has many variant spellings which include EHLER, EHLERS, EHLERTS, EHMANN and EILDERING. It was also a name used by Jews, meaning 'husband', (the word EHE having progressively become restricted to the marriage contract and then to the state of matrimony itself). At one time in the Austrian Empire, only one son in a Jewish family was officially permitted to marry and start a family of his own; this may have been a surname adopted by such a person. When traditional Jews were forced to take family names by the local bureaucracy, it was an obligation imposed from outside traditional society, and people often took the names playfully and let their imaginations run wild by choosing names which corresponded to nothing real in their world. No one alive today can remember the times when Jews took or were given family names (for most Ashkenazim this was the end of the 18th century or the beginning of the 19th) although many remember names being changed after emigration to other countries, such as the United States and Israel in recent years. A notable member of the name was Amelia EARHART (1898-1937) the American air-woman, born in Atchison, Kansas. She was the first woman to fly the Atlantic - Newfoundland to Burry Point, Wales on the 17th June 1928. Her plane was lost over the Pacific in July 1937. Her autobiography 'Last Flight' (1938) was edited by her husband, George Palmer Putnam.
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