This interesting and unusual surname may be either a Germanic topographical name or an Ashkenazic ornamental name. The derivation is from the Old German "schon", lovely, bright, beautiful, with "leiter" from "leiten", meadow, mountain slope or hillside. Topographical surnames were among the earliest created, since both natural and man-made features in the landscape provided easily recognisable distinguishing names in the small communities of the Middle Ages. Ornamental family names were often chosen for sentimental reasons, and frequently the component elements refer to flora, fauna, weather and colours, as in Scho(e)nbach ("lovely stream"); Scho(e)nberg ("lovely hill"); Schonblum ("lovely flower") and Scho(e)nleiten ("lovely meadow"). On October 4th 1820 Johann Karl Christian Schoenleiter, son of Christian Schoenleiter and Christiane Sophie Gaertner, was christened in Frankleben, Sachsen, Germany, and on April 17th 1881 Friederike Pauline Schonleiter married Julius Hermann Wittenbecher in the same place. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Wilhelmine Florentine Schoenleiter, which was dated July 16th 1809, christened, at Berlin Stadt, Brandenburg, during the reign of Frederick - William 111, 1797 - 1840. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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