Anyone who starts to learn German will soon discover that the alphabet it uses has a twenty-seventh character: ß. It stands for ‘ss’, and in current usage is used only after a long vowel or diphthong. This means that ‘Strauss’, when used as a common noun in the sense of either ‘ostrich’ or ‘bouquet’ (of flowers) should be written ‘Strauß’.
With personal names it is, of course, up to the bearer to decide which spelling should be used. In the case of two composers, Oscar Straus and Richard Strauss, each had a different preference, but neither wanted to use the ‘ß’ spelling. In the case of Johann Strauss I and his descendants, at the latest since the generation of Eduard Strauss II, the family’s name has always appeared as ‘Strauss’ in all official documents, whether printed or handwritten. However, not everyone is prepared to accept this, including, rather strangely, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, even on the pages of their website in English translation. This long-running controversy has led me, as the present head of the family and chairman of the Vienna Institute for Strauss Research, to examine the historical background to the two spellings. The evidence is quite complex, especially because of the often inconsistent spelling in old texts, both printed and handwritten, but the conclusion is clear: the form ‘Strauss’ is authentic, and is certainly the form which avoids misunderstanding at an international level for anyone not familiar with that extra character found in the German alphabet.
If you have a good knowledge of German and are interested in the full documentation of ß vs. ss, both as regards the spelling of the Strauss family name and the general historical background to this peculiarity of the German alphabet, click on the German version of this ‘research snippet’ on ‘Strauss/Strauß’ for a detailed presentation of my research.
Prof. Dr. Eduard Strauss following an idea of Dr. Leigh Bailey