The stable isotope compositions of the planktonic foraminifera Globigerina bulloides, Globigerinoides ruber (white and pink varieties), Globigerinoides trilobus, Globorotalia inflata and Globorotalia truncatulinoides (right‐ and left‐coiling types) were examined as recorders of North Atlantic surface water properties based on 40 box‐core surface sediments between 60° and 30°N. While G. ruber (white and pink varieties) and G. trilobus mainly reflect summer surface water conditions in their oxygen isotope composition, G. bulloides reflects temperatures of the northward‐migrating spring bloom, February–March in the south to May–June in the north. Our data show that G. bulloides cannot be regarded as an indicator for summer temperatures as deduced from Duplessy et al.’s data. Gt. inflata and Gt. truncatulinoides (right‐ and left‐coiling) build their shells in the coldest waters compared with the other species and reflect temperatures between 100 and 400 m water depth. The difference in oxygen isotope composition between G. bulloides and G. inflata serves as a proxy for water mass stratification. G. bulloides is the only species that gives a distinct pattern in its carbon isotopic composition showing a high correlation with the surface water phosphate values along the transect and may serve as a proxy for palaeonutrients and/or productivity.