Family names in the Netherlands and their meaning

According to Jamie Dehler and Tribstar.com, family names in the Netherlands gradually became more fixed in the period from the 16th century until it finally became statutory in 1811. The basis for the surname that was chosen varied from person to person.

We have gotten most of our information from Jamie Dehler and Tribstar.com. To quality assure the information on this page we also consulted a Dutch expert. In this article her corrections and comments are in italics.

There are a total of 12 provinces in the Netherlands; Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland, Zeeland, Noord-Brabant, Limburg, Utrecht, Flevoland, Freisland, Groningen, Gelderland, Drenthe and Overijssel. These provinces all have unique family names that can be traced back to them as a result of their linguistic form.

The reasons for the individual to choose their family name varied. Some selected surnames that described them as a person, others chose to accentuate their appearance:

  • de Jong (the young)
  • de Witt (de Wit) (the white)
  • de Lange (the tall)
  • de Wees (the orphaned)
  • Coons (can come from Cors (horn) or Coen (experienced advicer) )
  • Bet / Veeder (father, the feeder) (veeder is one who looks after the cattle)
  • op den Graf (big man) (the one who lives over the graveyard)
  • Haas (hare, nickname for the fast one)

The ending -aert was added to the surname to refer to “the one who is”, as in Grootaert (the large one). This -aert ending was particularly common in the Zeeland region.

Dutch people also took the surname after their profession. Examples of this are:

  • Timmerman  (carpenter)
  • Visser  (fisherman)
  • Bakker (baker)
  • Kuiper (barrel maker)
  • Knickerbacker (cookie maker) (the word knikkers are dutch for marbles)
  • Smet (blacksmith)
  • Boer (farmer)
  • Weidman (shepherd) (weide means meadow and Holland does not have sheep)
  • Bleecker (linen bleacher)

Patronymics as in Norway

Others again chose patronymics like Willemsen (son of William) by which they were already known. This name then became standard for the family in all posterity. It could vary from region to region how such family names had their ending. Everything from -s ending to -sen ending can be found as examples. But common are their importance to “son of”. A special case is found in the Zeeland region, where there are examples of family names with the ending -se. It also means “son of” (as in Abrahamse).

Read also: Choice of last name in Norway

The clan name also occurs in the Netherlands with different endings. These endings can help us to place the name’s regional origin. The endings have meanings like “belong to the family”. In the regions Gelderland and Overijssel this includes extensions like -ena, -egna, -inga, -ing, -ink and -ma .

Many took their name after the aristocratic family farm on which they were working. This could “wrongfully” give them almost the same surname as the farm owners, just because a member of their family originally once had worked on that farm.

But not all farms names originated from those who founded it, instead the farms could be named after their geographical location.

Name based on area

Those who did not choose the aforementioned ways of acquiring a family name could also choose surnames after local places or areas. Examples of this are:

  • van Winkle (from the corner) (from the shop)
  • van Dyck (from the ditch, dam)
  • van Bruggen (from a place with a bridge)
  • Vandenberg / Vanderberg (from the mountain)
  • van Rijn (from the Rhine)
  • Schuyler (a place with a shelter)
  • Tenbrook (by the stream)
  • van Zandt (from the sand)
  • Vandenhoff (from the courtyard)
  • Putnam (a house by a well)
  • Buskirk (a church in the forest) (bos means forest,but bus means box or tin, so the name could come from “the one who brings around the church donation box”)
  • Kirkendall / Kuykendall (a church in a valley)
  • van Patten (from the town of Putten)
  • Vandermeer / Vermeer (from the river) (from the lake)
  • de Vries (from Friesland)

Middle word in the surnames

Many of the mentioned Dutch names have small words that are placed between the person’s first and last name. Examples are:

  • vor (in front of)
  • op (on top of, for instance a dyke or a graveyard as in the example over)
  • ten (geographic direction)
  • van (of a place)

In addition to those mentioned here, we can also find the definite articles de, den and der . These are the same as the English “the”. The small words are usually not written with a capital letter. Although they stand in front of the “main surname” their first letters are not used as the main letter when alphabetizing.