Dutch name

Dutch name

Dutch names consist of one or more given names and a surname. The given name, as in English, is usually gender-specific.


Dutch given names

The given name is given to a child by the parents shortly after, or before, birth. It is common to give a child several given names, particularly among Catholics. Usually, one of them is meant to be for daily use. This is often underlined on official documents, as the name for daily use may be the second or third Christian name or a totally different name not even related to the Christian names. Traditionally, Catholics often chose Latin names for their children, such as Catarina and Wilhelmus, while Protestants more commonly chose simple Dutch names, such as Trijntje and Willem. In both cases, names were often shortened for everyday use (Wilhelmus and Willem became Wim). Nearly half of Dutch children today receive one name, over 30% are given two names, 17% have three names, 2.5% get four names and only very few children have five or more given names.

Dutch (Netherlands) naming law (given names)

The Dutch naming legislation practically allows all given names unless they are too similar to an existing surname, or if the name is inappropriate. A limit to the number of given names is unknown to the Dutch law, so in theory one could give a child an endless series of names. In the Netherlands however, five is usually the limit.

History of Dutch given names

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

  1. The domination of Germanic names. (Migration Period and before until the high middle ages)
  2. 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)
  3. A period of stability, when a very strong naming habit emerged. (Early Modern era–1945)
  4. The post-World War II period, characterised by previously unknown personal names. (1945–Present)

Germanic period

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. One part indicates the gender of the name, the other a characteristic of the person. This way names like Adelbert or Albert are born, 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".

Medieval names

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.[citation needed]

The direct influence of the church on the transition from Germanic to Christian names must not be overestimated. Before the council of Trent (1545–1563), the Roman Catholic church did not have any regulation of the practice of naming children.

There are thought to have been a number of reasons the Christian names gained the upper hand, such as the crusades, the larger ecclesiastical influence and the appearance of mendicant orders (such as the Franciscans and Dominicans) and most importantly, the veneration of saints and the appearance of patron saints.

Besides religious influence it is believed that fashion was the main reason to give children a Christian name. With larger cities starting to flourish all across the Low Countries, wealthy citizens in particular became trend-setters in this regard.[citation needed]

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.

The Dutch habit of naming newborns after another family member originates with an at that time 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. This superstition disappears after some time, even though a certain Le Francq van Berkeij writes the following in 1776: "bij veelen, een oud, overgeloovig denkbeeld, dat iemand weldra sterft, wanneer hij, gelijk men zegt, vernoemd is." (many have a superstitious belief that a person will soon die when someone, as they say, has been named after him.)

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:

  1. The first son was named after the father's father (the child's paternal grandfather) / The first daughter was named after the mother's mother (the child's maternal grandmother).
  2. The second child's name depended on the fact whether the first-born child was a boy or a girl. If the first-born child had been a boy, the second child would be named after its mother's family, and after its father's family if the first born had been a girl.
  3. The third and fourth-born children would usually be named after the grandparents who did not yet have a grandchild named after them.
  4. If the grandparents already had grandchildren named after them, the children would be named after their uncles and aunts, starting at the father's family.
  5. If a child died, the next-born child would receive the same name.

Post-War period (1945+)

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 called Johan, Jan or Hans.

After the war, the Dutch people became less religious; today the majority of the Dutch are non-practising Christians or atheists. 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 Sjon (English John), Sjaak (French Jacques) and Petrik ( EnglishPatrick).

Today traditional official names are found, but often only as an addition to the modern name. Boys are more often given a traditional Dutch name than girls. Boys are also more commonly named after a family member while girls are simply named for the sound of the name.[1]


There are a great variety of Dutch surnames (over 100,000), due to their recent introduction (a forced registration of surnames) in 1811,[2] hence there have been few generations in which names could become extinct.[3]

Many Dutch names start with a prefix like van ("of/from"), de/het/'t ("the"), der ("of the"), van de ("of the/from the"), and in het ("in the"). Examples are 't Hooft ("the head"), de Wolff ("the wolf") , van Rijn ("from Rhine"); but some verb-derived names that end in -en that often indicate occupations, like van Bruggen ("from Bruggen") for someone, or his family, coming from the city of Bruges (Dutch: "Brugge") in Belgium.

In the Netherlands, these prefixes are not spelled with a capital when used in combination with the first name or initial, for example Piet de Wolff or R. van Rijn. In all other cases a capital letter must be used, for example, de heer Van Kampen, or when preceded by an academic title as in dr. Van Wijk.

In Belgium, this capitalization practice is not followed; prefixes in most common Dutch names are always capitalized, though occasionally 'Van de' occurs whereas another family may have the otherwise identical name spelled as 'Van De'. Also, prepositions can be merged with the surname (such as Vandecasteele), or can be separate (Van De Casteele), and a few combinations occur (Vande Casteele). These variations indicate different families and not all names exist with several spellings. (More on this under Tussenvoegsels.)

When van is followed by the name of a place or area, this may (but usually does not) indicate that a person belongs to the nobility or royalty such as van Tuyll van Serooskerken. This usage exists also in Flemish names, though its nobility usually obtained the French prefix 'de'. In Dutch aristocratic names, the prefix is never capitalized. This results in people being very strict about whether the prefix in someone's name should be capitalized or not, and in emigrants from the Netherlands always having an uncapitalized prefix. Van can also indicate that a person is from a certain farm. The ancestors of the Dutch soprano Elma van Den Dool lived on a farm called Den Dool. The first letter of Den gets capitalised (she is from Den Dool).

In name directories in the Netherlands, the prefixes are always ignored for sorting (e.g. Van Rijn is ordered under 'R'). A Dutch surname may often contain an article and/or a preposition, preceding the noun. Sometimes these have been merged with the name. Many Dutch surnames originated from different personal qualities, geographical locations, and occupations. However, Dutch names in English directories (e.g. reference lists of scientific papers) may be ordered on the full name including all prefixes (Van Rijn would be ordered under 'V'), partly because many Dutch emigrant families to English-speaking countries have had their prefixes capitalized for them, whether they liked it or not, like Martin Van Buren or Steve Van Dyck, and normal practise in English is to order on the first capitalized element.[4]

In Belgium, all prefixes are always included for sorting.

Dutch (Netherlands) naming law (surnames)

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.[5]

The current law in the Netherlands gives people more freedom: upon marriage, both partners default to keeping their own surnames, but both are given the choice of using their partner's surname, or a combination of the two. For example, if a person called Jansen marries someone called Smit, each partner has the choice to call himself or herself Jansen, Smit, Jansen-Smit or Smit-Jansen. The preferred option will be registered with the municipal registration, without giving up the right to use one's original name, which remains the legal name.

However, in practice, the standard procedure is that when a woman marries, she either keeps her maiden name or has a double surname, for example, Miss Jansen marries Mr Smit she either chooses to become Mrs Jansen or Mrs Smit-Jansen. It is not common to only take the partner's surname.

This can cause problems for foreign national females living in the country, as you are required to present your birth certificate and passport as proof of identification, for instance. If you have changed your surname upon marriage, then you are advised that in municipal records your surname as it appears on your birth certificate takes precedence.

Also, in day-to-day life and banking, a woman's maiden name is given preferential status.

Parents can choose to give their children either their father's or mother's family name, as long as the parents are married or are living together and the father has acknowledged the child. The surname of younger siblings must be the same as the surname of the oldest child.


More common than surnames before 1811 was the use of patronymics. Children even with established last names would also use a patronymic and often therefore received no middle names. The patronymic was based on one's father's name. The oldest form used the possessive of the fathers name along with the word for son or daughter. Examples would be a boy born to Jan being named Pieter Jans zoon while his daughter might be named Geertje Jans dochter. These forms were also commonly shortened, to Janszn. 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".

After 1811, many patronymics became permanent surnames such that Peeters, Jansen, Willems are common surnames today.

The Netherlands Belgium
1. De Jong 1. Peeters
2. De Vries 2. Janssens
3. Jansen 3. Maes
4. Van de/den/der Berg 4. Jacobs
5. Bakker 5. Mertens
6. Van Dijk 6. Willems
7. Visser 7. Claes
8. Janssen 8. Goossens
9. Smit 9. Wouters
10. Meijer/Meyer 10. De Smet

Most common Dutch surnames

See also: Dutch name and List of most common surnames in Europe#Netherlands

The most common Dutch surnames in the Netherlands (as of 1947) and Flanders in Belgium are listed to the right. Meertens' Dutch surname database lists 94143 different family names, the total Dutch speaking population in Europe is estimated to be about 23 million people. The most common Dutch names in Belgium are nearly all Patrynomic"father-based" names in which they are composed with the following formula name of father + "-son", the only exceptions being "De Smet" (the Smith) and - to a certain extent, because it is also a patronymic ("Thomas") - "Maes" (Meuse). The most common Dutch names in the Netherlands are more diverse, with names ranging from "Visser" (fisherman) to "Van Dijk" ((living along) the dike) and "De Jong" (the young (one)). It should be remembered however that these figures are based on the data of an entire country, and on a smaller scale other names tend to dominate certain regions.


In the Dutch language, many names use certain qualifying words (prepositions) positioned between a person's given name and their surname. Although these words, tussenvoegsels, are not strictly essential to state the person's surname, they are nevertheless a part of the surname and are almost always included for clarity.

In the Netherlands, for example, someone whose family name is "De Vries" is not found at the letter "D" in the telephone directory but at "V;" the "de" is a tussenvoegsel and is not a part of the indexing process but rather is more of a stylistic qualifier. The major reason for this methodology is that it makes finding someone's name in a database relatively easy, since most Dutch prepositions start with the same letter (and thus if the prepositions led, there would be constant superfluous data entry to arrive at the desired name). But when referencing to this type of Dutch names in English scientific papers, authors will always use the full name "De Vries". It is clear this creates often some confusion. This system used in the Netherlands is not applicable to foreign names, although some libraries in the Netherlands as well as all official institutions in the Netherlands do. The flemish name "Van der Velde" for instance, or the German name "Von Beethoven" may never be changed in directories. Citizens or authors have to insist for this 'derogation'. In general, 'splitting' the surname is used only in the Netherlands for Dutch names composed of a preposition preceding the main word.

The above technique is not used in Flanders, where surnames are always kept to their full length, including the prepositions. In a telephone directory the name "De Vries" can be found only at the "D". This system is used throughout Belgium (and Flanders) and is consistent with the international way of listing surnames.

In the Netherlands, the tussenvoegsel is written with a capital letter if no name or initial precedes it. For example:

  • a person with the name "Jan" as a given name and "de Vries" as a surname would be written Jan de Vries or J. de Vries.
  • Moreover, "de heer De Vries" would mean, literally, Mr. De Vries - since the tussenvoegsel is capitalized when a first name or initial is not present.

See also the main Dutch surnames section.

In Flanders tussenvoegsels of personal names always keep their original orthography: mevrouw van der Velde, mevrouw J. van der Velde, and Jan Van den Broeke.

Some Dutch tussenvoegsels (many of these words are inflected, and therefore often are not totally accurate) include:

  • aan (on)
  • bij (at)
  • de, den, der, d' (the)
  • het, 't (the)
  • in (in)
  • onder (below)
  • op (on)
  • over (over)
  • des, 's (of the)
  • te, ten, ter (at)
  • tot (til, at)
  • uit, uijt (out of, from)
  • van, van den (of, of the)
  • ver (far)
  • voor (for)

And combinations:

  • aan de, aan den, aan der, aan het, aan 't (by the)
  • bij de, bij den, bij het, bij 't (at the)
  • boven d' (above the)
  • de die, de die le, de l', de la, de las, de le, de van der,
  • in de, in den, in der, in het, in 't (in the)
  • onder de, onder den, onder het, onder 't (under the)
  • over de, over den, over het, over 't (over the)
  • op de, op den, op der, op gen, op het, op 't, op ten (on the)
  • van de, van de l', van den, van der, vander, van gen, van het, van la, van 't, van ter, van van de (of the)
  • uit de, uit den, uit het, uit 't, uit te de , uit ten (from the/out of the)
  • uijt de, uijt den, uijt het, uijt 't, uijt te de , uijt ten (from the/out of the)
  • voor de, voor den, voor in 't (in front of the/for the)


see also Notes section


  1. ^ http://www.geocities.com/namenindekrant/nrc.htm[dead link]
  2. ^ Schulze, Lorine McGinnis (2008-03-04). "Dutch Patronymics of the 1600s". New Netherland, New York Genealogy. Olive Tree Genealogy. http://www.olivetreegenealogy.com/nn/pat.shtml. Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  3. ^ For the underlying mathematics, see Galton–Watson process.
  4. ^ See, for example, the Getty Union List of Artist's Names
  5. ^ [1]

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