This surname of BERL was a habitation name from the city of Berlin, former capital of Germany, now of the German Democratic Republic. The city takes its name from a Wendish word meaning 'river rake' a scaffold of beams built over a river to prevent logs from jamming; the river in question is the Spree. Folk etymology, however has put a bear into the arms of the city, as if the name were derived from Barlin, a diminutive of BAR (bear). The German name is also found in the Hamburg area where it may be derived from the village of the same name, but, of uncertain etymology, in Holstein. Local surnames, by far the largest group, derived from a place name where the man held land or from the place from which he had come, or where he actually lived. These local surnames were originally preceded by a preposition such as "de", "atte", "by" or "in". The names may derive from a manor held, from working in a religious dwelling or from literally living by a wood or marsh or by a stream. 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. A notable member of the name was Irving Berlin (real name Isreal Baline) 1888-1989, the Russian born American composer who helped to launch 20th century American popular music. He was born in the village of Temun in Siberia, and taken to the United States as a child of four. He worked for a time as a singing waiter in a Bowery beerhall, introducing some of his own songs, like 'Alexander's Ragtime Band'. In 1939 he wrote 'God Bless America', which achieved wide-world popularity in World War II, and in 1954 he received a special presidential citation as a composer of patriotic songs. In all he wrote more than 900 songs. In many parts of central and western Europe, hereditary surnames began to become fixed at around the 12th century, and have developed and changed slowly over the years. As society became more complex, and such matters as the management of tenure, and in particular the collection of taxes were delegated to special functionaries, it became imperative to distinguish a more complex system of nomenclature to differentiate one individual from another.
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