FECHTER -- Background about the name
Since 1988, I have received a number of letters from other Fechters searching their genealogical roots. The information below is based on anecdotal stories from those mail contacts; I've included the information here, but have not yet made the effort to verify the details.
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Fechten is a German verb, meaning to fence or fight with swords. It is rarely used today. But back in the 1500-1600s, Fechter became associated with mercenary armies, deserters, and beggars. This happened because the barons would raise an army to either rent or sell to another state or king or whatever. Members of the armies were often conscripted against their will. And it was sometimes used to simultaneously raise an army and also get rid of people the baron wanted out.
A number of the replies I received described how Jewish men were very often high on the list of those being conscripted and forced to march away with the mercenary army. They were forced to eat things like pork that were against their religious beliefs, so they deserted at the first opportunity. For some, that gave the association of Fechter with deserter.
The association with beggar happened because many of the mercenary soldiers were injured in battle. And without any "Veterans Benefits" or social insurance, the soldiers with missing limbs, and other serious injuries were left behind and left to fend for themselves. They often had to resort to begging because they were so handicapped and too far away from home to return.
The main association of fechten is still with fighter. It is like being called "Soldier" if you were in an army but the people did not know your real name. So you may find a good number of Fechters who received the name because of their occupational association as part of a mercenary army (like the village blacksmith was called Smith, though few were related to blacksmiths in other towns).
Ben Factor, of Grove City, Ohio, added in April 2003 that in some cases factor and fechter may be variations found in the USA, and that both Fechter and Factor have the same origins and the same coat of arms.
Kirk Fechter added in May 2004
Just a thought on the German. I believe the original meaning of fechten is fight. There is also the word kampfen. Fechten became a technical term for fighting with swords, hence fencing and the modern word for fighting is kampfen, hence Mein Kampf by Hitler
Norman Feck added 24 February 2007, that the name Fechter was changed to Feck "a couple grandpas ago", a common practice at the time with immigrants to the USA.
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Updated Tuesday, 22 May 2012