I am conducting a little research about the origin of the "de" in a version of the name of the Danish astronomer "Tycho Brahe", namely, "Tycho de Brahe".

In the Danish language, there is no "de". I was able to find it in Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and Romanian. Note that similar words also exist: "von" in German or "van" in Dutch. These words are used to indicate a place of birth, belonging to a noble origin or just a part of a last name.

Question: What is the origin of the version "Tycho de Brahe" of Brahe's full name?

Hypothesis: a historian from the mentioned list of countries started to use it and it become a wide-spread mistake since then.

Brahe's residence in Prague:

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ (there is a photo included in the first post since now) $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Oct 22 '21 at 14:21
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    $\begingroup$ Goodle books indicates that "Tycho de Brahe" is how his name was usually given in Latin texts in the earliest decades of the 1600's. $\endgroup$ Oct 22 '21 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ @kimchilover - usually? See 1602 edition $\endgroup$ Oct 22 '21 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ Interestingly, google ngrams shows the name Tycho Brahe was in use from the 1630s onward, while a similar analysis shows the name Tycho de Brahe was in use from the 1730s onward. Perhaps it is just an idiosyncrasy of certain scribes that has been picked up elsewhere. Regardless, my earlier comment was wrong to say that the "earliest Latin texts use de Brahe", they use "Tycho Brahe". $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    Oct 22 '21 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ Could someone directly address the question of whether inserting "de" is a clear an error? It was common for personal names to undergo significant alteration from language to language as they were adjusted to conform to grammatical and phonetic principles of the target language. Does describing him as "Tycho de Brahe" constitute a factually incorrect statement? Or is in an "error" only in the sense that it violates the modern practice of preserving the foreign spellings of personal names? $\endgroup$
    – David42
    Oct 26 '21 at 12:48

The earliest use of "de Brahe" I have found is in a letter in German dated 26 July 1589, by one of Brahe's royal admirers, William IV, Landgrave of Hesse (1532-1592), reprinted by Brahe in his Epistolarum astronomicarum libri : quorum primus hic ... principis Gulielmi Hassiae Landtgrauij ac ipsius mathematici literas, unaque responsa ad singulas complectitur. The copy of the book linked here was printed in 1610, but the same letter appears in a 1596 edition. (For those who have trouble reading the old German type, the next page has a translation into Latin.) William wrote "zu dem Tychoni de Brahe", where the syntax of the sentence puts the name in the dative case. ("Zu" implies dative in German; the dative form of the Latin name "Tycho" is "Tychoni".) As Stephan Mattheisen points out, the words "Tychoni de Brahe" are in Latin, set in Roman type, the rest of the sentence is in German, set in German type. The Latin word "de" means "from", the equivalent of German "von".

The other letters in this book show Tycho's usual signature was "Tycho Brahe", so in a sense William's use of "de Brahe" is a mistake. But not so serious a mistake as to prevent Tycho from reprinting it verbatim in this collection of letters.

enter image description here

Google Books shows many pre 1700 instances of "de Brahe", often in German. I ran across an instance in the 1680 Leipzig Cometischer Gedenkzettel by Christianus Uranophilus. He reports "Anno 1590, gedencket Tycho de Brahe eines Cometens. In diesem Jahre ist an vielen Orten grosse Hungersnoth gewesen" (="In 1590 TdB observed a comet. In that year great famine occurred in many places.") The same method turned up multiple instances of "de Brahe" in a 1594 collection of Anacreontic verse, Columbae Poeticae by Friedrich Taubmann, a professor at Wittenberg. This book is discussed in a modern work, that I wish I could understand better. It seems possible to me that Taubmann used "de Brahe" to fit the meter of his verse form.

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    $\begingroup$ Might be worth pointing out that the "de" in the quote is a Latin, not a German word here (which would be "von"); this will be obvious to people who understand both languages, but for other readers it could be helpful to say this explicitly as the text mixes German with Latin words, as was not uncommon. Note also the different fonts used for Latin and German words. $\endgroup$ Oct 25 '21 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ @StephanMatthiesen Thanks! $\endgroup$ Oct 25 '21 at 15:18

I have read the article from Alena Šolcová. However, there is evidence that she is wrong that this is a mistake that was only introduced in the 1800s. Here is a book from 1769 having "Tycho de Brahe" in it.


Page 447.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Older yet is a 1595 publication, [ Rerum chymicarum epistolica forma ad philosophos et medicos quosdam in Germania excellentes descriptarum liber primus, in quo tum rerum quarundam naturalium continentur explicationes ingeniosae... autore Andrea Libauio .](.babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/… ) that has T de B on p115. $\endgroup$ Oct 22 '21 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ In a later version (1778) of that dictionary by Egbert Buys, Tycho's name was changed to Tycho Brahe. Nieuw en Volkomen Woordenboek der Konsten en Wetenschappen, page 377. $\endgroup$
    – jkien
    Oct 22 '21 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ @kimchi lover: in 1595 Tycho Brahe still lived. So maybe he added the "de" to his name. $\endgroup$
    – Jan N.
    Oct 23 '21 at 4:25
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    $\begingroup$ @JanN. I doubt Tycho himself used "de". Perhaps Libavio "gave" it to him, by imagining that TB was "T von B" and then translating "von" to "de", following the kind of mistake Solcova described, but centuries earlier. Or (less likely, in my mind) one of Brahe's royal patrons (some of whom were German) gave him some new title or fancy court appointment, that had "de" in it. $\endgroup$ Oct 23 '21 at 12:33

A Czech researcher, Alena Šolcová (who has an asteroid named after her, so she must be right) concluded in 2005 that this mistake was introduced in the 19th century, in works by Amalia Schoppe in 1839 and Anton Fähnrich in 1841.

Alena Šolcová, From Tycho Brahe to incorrect "Tycho de Brahe". A searching for the first occurrence, when the mistaken name of famous astronomer appeared, Acta Universitatis Carolinae, Mathematica et Physica, Volume 46 (2005), Issue 3, Pages 29-36.


De is also common in Dutch, like Hugo de Groot or Karel de Grote. In the latter, "de Grote" describes Karel: he is big (not so much in size as in the size of his empire. If the word "de" is coming from another language I would find it more likely that it comes from another Germanic language, i.e. Dutch, than from a Latin language like Italian or French.


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