The most direct and literal translation of the name Zumbrunnen is “to the fountain.” Zum is a German contraction that means “to the” and Brunnen is the German word for “fountain.” Zumbrun, Zumbrum and Zumbrunn have no other meaning, they are simply a shortening of Zumbrunnen.
This German word Brunnen is especially used for a distinctive type of Swiss fountain that served as the town well, often located in a central square. These fountains typically had a basin in the shape of a hexagon or octagon. In their center was a pillar with multiple spouts. The top of the pillar would typically have a decoration at the top. (The fountain at the right has a sculpture of Samson killing a lion.)
The earliest members of the Zumbrunnen family used a drawing of the distinctive Swiss fountain on their coat of arms.
There is, however, a very specific story about the original adoption of the Zumbrunnen surname that has never before been shared in English (but exists in a number of old Swiss history books).
In central Switzerland in the 1100s there was a powerful medieval lord by the name of Werner, the Baron of Attinghausen. Werner was the lord of a castle (the ruins of which can still be toured today) near the banks of the Reuss River in the town of Attinghausen. He was married to a noble woman named Richenza Von Löwenstein, who had lands of her own.
Ancient record books speak of Werner in the year 1189. By the year 1206, Werner had become the chief magistrate (the title of Landammann) of the Canton of Uri.
Werner had two sons — Werner II and Walter. The custom of the time was often that a first-born son would inherit everything, while later-born sons could disappear into obscurity. Indeed Werner’s oldest son, Werner II, would inherit the title of Baron of Attinghausen.
But Werner did not neglect his second son Walter. Rather, in the year 1209, he gave Walter possession of the Schloss Zumbrunnen. (Schloss is often translated as “castle,” but what Walter inherited was probably closer to something that we would call a “manor house”). Walter dropped the name Von Attinghausen and began to use the name Walter Zumbrunnen, thus becoming the founder of our family.
The Barons of Von Attinghausen would die out within a few centuries, and their castle is thought to have been a ruin for over 600 years. No Zumbrunnen were ever barons of their own. In fact, they have a much more interesting legacy than most noble families. One sure sign of it is that more than 800 years after Walter Von Attinghausen dropped his birth name and became the first Zumbrunnen, our family endures.
Questions for Further Research
1) In a later post I’ll present evidence that the name was shortened from Zumbrunnen to Zumbrunn when the family moved from central Switzerland into regions closer to Bavaria, and that Heinrich Zumbrun dropped the second “n” when he arrived in America.