I recently traveled in Bavaria. I was struck by the prevalence of place names ending in -au, like Donau, Passau, Oberammergau, and Dachau... I looked up the dictionary, and found the word aue which according to Langenscheidt means "pasture, meadow". Is there any connection between -au and aue?

2 Answers 2


The examples you give are actually of different origin. "Au" as you have stated correctly is a high German (i.e. southern German) variant of "Aue" derived from old high German "ouwe", which denotates a lower place near water. But in case of Oberammergau the ending is actually "Gau", which is derived from old high German "gouwe", which means something like area, territory or governmental district.

And the name Passau seems to be derived from roman "Batavis", which was a roman name for a germanic tribe. How the derivation process changed "Batavis" into "Passau", I don't know.

  • 3
    A tidbit regarding Gau: The original translator of The Lord Of The Rings noted that this would have been the ideal translation for The Shire but for its use during the Third Reich. Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 7:53
  • Interesting. Although I don't agree with the translator, since I see a connotation of "shire" that relates it to nature, which I don't see in the modern(!) understanding of "Gau". Whereas the word "Auenland" (here again we have the "Aue(n)") which became the translation, seems to fit perfectly.
    – bouscher
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 8:10
  • And it is true, the word "Gau" rings a Nazi-bell for every German, because of the Nazis' segmentation of the whole of Germany into "Gaue" and their appointment of "Gauleiter"
    – bouscher
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 8:13
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    Batavis > Passau illustrates the High German consonant shift of t > (t)s, as in English "eat" vs German "essen".
    – fdb
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 8:53
  • OHG "gouwe" may itself go back to Germ. "ga-awja", where "ga" is a collective prefix, therefore meaning "that which is made up of ouwe-s". Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 12:55

De.wikipedia has an article Ortsnamen auf -au. Latin aqua meaning water is related with river names having the second part Ach, Ache or with place names ending in -au. Aue is flat grassy terrain beside a river.

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