Netherlands Personal Names

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Understanding customs used in surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.

Online Tools[edit | edit source]

  • Limburgish names are used in the Limburg region, which straddles the border between Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

Surnames[edit | edit source]

  • The particle "de" is found as a prefix to many Dutch surnames, as in for instance "de Wit", "de Bruyn" and "de Kock"; this is generally understood to mean "the" as in "the White", "the Brown" and "the Cook" in the examples.
  • The particle "van", meaning "of" and was originally only taken by nobles; examples include "van Gent", "van Bern" and "van den Haag", referring to "of Ghent", "of Berne" and "of the Hague", respectively.
  • In line with Dutch tradition, marriage used to require a woman to precede her maiden name with her husband's name and add a hyphen between the two. Thus, when Anna Pietersen married Jan Jansen, she became Anna Jansen-Pietersen. However, this did not become her legal name. Her legal name did not change at all. Passports, and other official documents, continued to name her Anna Pietersen, even though there might have been "spouse of Jan Jansen" added.[1]

Patronymics[edit | edit source]

Although most people had family surnames before 1811, the use of patronymics was common, including for those with established last names. The oldest form used the possessive of the father's name along with the word for son or daughter. Examples would be a boy born to Jan being named Pieter Janszoon while his daughter might be named Geertje Jansdochter. These forms were commonly shortened, to Janszn./Jansz and Jansdr., or to Jansse, and finally to Jans which could be used for both male or female children. These patronymic names were official and even used on legal documents where inheritances can be seen to pass from father to son with different "last names".[1]

Name adoption records (Naamsaanneming registers)[edit | edit source]

Patronymic surnames were common in several provinces prior to 1811. After that all citizens were required to adopt a fixed surname. Naamsaanneming registers are used to determine prior naming patterns.

  • Record type: Assignment of surnames for patronymic families and Jews.
  • Time Period: 1808-1814 and 1826.
  • Content: Heads’ of families previous and new names, ages and/or birth dates, number or names and ages of children and grandchildren, marks or signatures.
  • Location: Provincial, state, city and municipal archives.
  • Population coverage: 60%.
  • Reliability: Very good.[2]

Surnames Historical Development[edit | edit source]

  • Before record keeping began, most people had only one name, such as John.
  • As the population increased, it became necessary to distinguish between individuals with the same name. The problem was usually solved by adding descriptive information. John became John the smith, John the son of Matthew, John the short, or John from Amsterdam.
  • At first surnames applied only to one person, not to the whole family. After a few generations, these names became hereditary and were passed on from generation to generation.
  • Surnames developed from several sources. For example:
    • Occupational (based on a person’s trade)
    • Geographical (based on a person’s residence)
    • Patronymic (based on a person’s father’s name)
    • Descriptive or nickname (such as Joy or Child)
  • The nobility and wealthy land owners were the first to begin using surnames.
  • Merchants and townspeople then adopted the custom, as did the rural population. This process took two or three centuries.

Given Names[edit | edit source]

The history of Dutch given names can roughly be divided in four main periods:

  • The domination of Germanic names. (Migration Period and before until the High Middle Ages)
  • The high Middle Ages, when Germanic-based personal names were losing ground to non-native holy names. (High Middle Ages until the Early Modern era)
  • A period of stability, when a very strong naming habit emerged. (Early Modern era–1960s)
  • The post-World War II period, characterised by previously unknown personal names. (1960s–present) [1]

Germanic period[edit | edit source]

  • The Germanic names are the names with the longest history in the Dutch-speaking area; they form the oldest layer of the given names known in Dutch. The Germanic names were characterised by a rich diversity, as there were many possible combinations. A Germanic name is composed of two parts, the latter of which also indicates the gender of the person. A name like Adelbert or Albert is composed of "adel" (meaning "noble") and "bert" which is derived from "beracht" (meaning "bright" or "shining") hence the name means something in the order of "Bright/Shining through noble behaviour"; the English name "Albright", now only seen as a surname, is a cognate with the same origin.
  • Combining these parts was used when the child was named after family or other relatives. For example, the child would receive two parts from different family members, in this way a father named "Hildebrant" and a mother called "Gertrud" would call their son "Gerbrant" and their daughter "Hiltrud". [1]

Medieval names[edit | edit source]

  • Through the course of the Middle Ages names derived from Christian Saints became more common than Germanic ones. From the 12th century onwards it became custom for the child to receive a Christian name, although some names of Germanic origin like Gertrude and Hubertus remained prevalent as these too became names of Christian saints. In these times typical Dutch names such as "Kees" (Cornelis), "Jan" (Johannes) and "Piet" (Petrus) emerged.
  • When the conversion was made from Germanic to Christian names, most parents just picked a name they liked best or would be most helpful in their child's later life, for example if the child would come from a butcher's family and he himself would one day become a butcher, the child would probably be called after "Sint Joris" (the Dutch name for "Saint George"), the patron saint of the butchers.[1]

Stability: Naming Pattern[edit | edit source]

The Dutch habit of naming newborns after another family member originates with a then-widespread superstition that the name in some way contributed to some form of reincarnation of the person the child was named after, who was usually much older. As the centuries passed, this practice became so standard that the names of the children were practically known at the marriage of the future parents. The rules for naming were the following:

  • First-born son is named after paternal grandfather
  • First-born daughter is named after maternal grandmother
  • Second son is named after maternal grandfather
  • Second daughter is named after paternal grandmother
  • Subsequent children were often named after uncles and aunts – there was some liberty of choice here.

The infant mortality rate was high.

  • If a son had died before his next brother was born, this younger brother was usually given the same name. The same goes for a daughter.
  • When the father died before the birth of a son, the son was usually named after him.
  • When the mother died at the birth of a daughter, the daughter was usually named after the mother.[1]

Post-World War II period (1945–present)[edit | edit source]

  • Traditionally there was little difference between the Christian name ("doopnaam") and the name used in domestic spheres ("roepnaam"). If someone's Christian name was Johannes, domestically he was referred to as Johan, Jan or Hans.
  • After the war, the Dutch became less religious. Thus the Christian name and given name started to diverge, as personal names of foreign origin were adopted. In some cases these names are written more or less phonetically, for example Sjaak (French Jacques, English Jack) and Sjaan (French Jeanne).
  • Working-class names Jan, Piet and Klaas (the Dutch proverbial equivalent to "Tom, Dick and Harry") were often replaced by middle-class Hans, Peter and Nico.
  • Also, the urge to name children after their grandparents lessened dramatically.[1]

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch Library[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 "Dutch name, in Wikipedia,, accessed 24 February 2021.
  2. The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: The Netherlands,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1987-1998.