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The Rickenbacher Name

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In the German language, a "Bach" is a stream and a "Rickenbach" is a kind of stream that makes many small turns and bends sharply in one or more places. A village near one of these streams is often named Rickenbach. The Index of Place Names from the Road Map of Switzerland lists seven towns or villages named Rickenbach. There are also a number of similarly named villages in Germany.

In early times there were no family names. People were identified by their given names. Later, as population grew, the person's occupation was often added in order to distinguish John the Miller from John the Shoemaker. In a similar fashion, persons coming from another village were often identified by their place of origin such as Jacob of Rickenbach. Later this would become Jacob Rickenbach and still later Jacob Rickenbacher -- the "er" ending signifying of Rickenbach.

Our family descends from the Rickenbachers of Zeglingen and Runenberg in Canton Basel-Landschaft, Switzerland. According to Mr. Werner Hug in the introduction to his book on the Rickenbachers, the first record of a Rickenbacher in this area is a mention of Jacob of Rickenbach in Zeglingen in 1503. The descendants of Jacob which concern us are, according to Mr. Hug, Jacob's son Martin (b. 1512) and Martin's son Michael (b. 1550).

The first baptismal record that I can find is that of Barbal, daughter of Michael in Zeglingen in 1575. The family name is Rickenbach. Michael's son Hans first married Anna Meyer, in 1621, and the name was still Rickenbach but by 1636, when Hans married Anna Bitterlin, the name had become Rickenbacher. All later baptism and marriage records give the name as Rickenbacher. Hans apparently moved to Runenberg after his marriage to Anna Bitterlin. This was the beginning of our line of Rickenbachers in Runenberg.

The official emigration records list the family name as Riggenbach. This spelling came into use in the early eighteenth century when it became popular to substitute "gg" for "ck". In German (a phonetic language) the "gg" and "ck" sounds are equivalent so this was not considered to be a material change in the name. In any case, and despite the government emigration records, our ancestors do not appear to have ever used the Riggenbach form. It is Heini Rickenbacher who auctions off his belongings on the 24th of March, 1735 in Runenberg.

Our name went through some changes on arrival in South Carolina. Officials seemed to have had a lot of difficulty producing an anglicized spelling of Rickenbacher (there is no English eqiivalent to the German "ach"). Heinrich's Royal Grant in 1738 reads Henry Richmacher. A 1770 Royal Grant to his son, Heini, reads Henry Rickenbacker. In 1780, Heini signed his name "Heinrich Rickenbacher" on a Revolutionary War claim. Nicholas also used the form "Rickenbacher" on his Revolutionary War claims in 1784 and 1785, and also on a deed in 1806. John and Jacob, however, used the form "Rickenbaker" in their claims.

Variations of the name found in early records and censuses include: Rickinbaker, Rickanbaker, Rickenbaker, Richanbaker, Rikenbaker, Rekambekar, Richmacher, Recambacker, Ricembecker, Recambeker, Recembecker, Ricumbacker, Rickenbacker, and Rickumbacke. By 1830, however, the name appears to have stabilized to Rickenbacker. Common use of Rickenbaker in many branches of the family appears to have begun during the 1860s. just after the Civil War. In the Bible Records of Henry Lewis Rickenbacker, the spelling of the name changes from Rickenbacker to Rickenbaker between 1863 and 1867. This is the most definative record we have of when this change in spelling occurred.

Coat of Arms - There are any number of businesses that will be more than happy to sell you a Rickenbacker Coat of Arms. These are all from Germany and have no relationship to our family. Our ancestors were not nobility. They are described in the Swiss emigration records as "ūnderthannen". This is most often translated as "subjects" but in fact they were serfs. They were bound to the land and had to buy their freedom (pay manumission) before they could leave. The Coat of Arms at the top of this page is the closest thing to a true Coat of Arms that we have. This is the Family Crest for "Rickenbacher of Rūnenberg". It was assigned in 1966 some 230 years after our branch of the family departed Switzerland.

  1. Hug, Werner. "Stammtafeln Rickenbacher Rickenbach Riggenbach von Zeglingen Runenberg Oltingen Basel", Privately Published, Limited Editions 1992 and 2003.
  2. Coat of Arms Image from: Staatsarchiv des Kantons Basel-Landschaft, Familienwappen, Rickenbacher von Runenberg, October 2000.

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Copyright © 2001 by J. E. Rickenbacker. All rights reserved.