December 2, 1961
Dutch Names

By Rob Peters


The Dutch were much slower than the English in adopting surnames as we know them. Patronymics (a name derived from that of the father or paternal ancestor) ended theoretically in 1687 with the advent of surnames, but not everyone followed the new guidelines. In the Netherlands, patronymics ended mostly during the Napoleantic period around 1811 when everyone had to register and select a family name.

Prior to 1811, the surname might change every time a person moved, this sometimes offers difficulties in tracing one's Dutch ancestors. The simplest problem is when a man moves in with his wife. This is usually the case when the wife doesn't have brothers to take over the farm. She then tries to find a hard-working husband to run the farm. He will usually change his name in the name of the farm.

The most common Dutch naming custom was that of patronymics, or identification of an individual based on the father's name. The name Peters '[Peter's zoon or Peter zijn zoon] Peter his son' is somewhat common in the Netherlands, but not in the top 50.

An individual could also be known by his place of origin. For example, Jannetje van Kampen, meaning 'from Kampen' (Kampen being a town in the Netherlands).

For Dutch names or Nicknames, there are two kinds of diminutives: the shortened name and the endearing name. The shortened name was used by the Dutch for both males and females. The endearing diminutive was mostly but not exclusively for female names. This diminutive form attached to female names as an expression of endearment was formed by adding the suffix -je or -tje. As well, -je, -tje, -ie and -ke are also additions to a child's name. A boy with the name "Jan" will in his childhood very often be named "Jantje". It is also used to show an age difference in place of Senior [Sr.] and Junior [Jr]. the father will be called "Jan" and the son "Jantje".

Female names are slightly different. The practice of passing down the mothers or grandmothers name is common, with the child then being given a nickname. A variation is where a grandmother is named "Sien" or "Sina" and the daughters name could be "Sientje" meaning small/younger Sien. Thus Sientje is her registered name, not just the diminutive.

As well, the suffixes -je, -the and -a, while normally used as a diminutive, are also used to create the female form of the name. For example, "Geert" is the male name and "Geertje" is the female form. "Hendrik" is the full male name, "Henk" the short form and "Hendrikje" or "Hendrika" the female form.

The naming of children in Dutch families was dependent upon many different factors; city verses country, social level, region, etc. In general, the two eldest sons were named for the grandfathers, the paternal one first unless the maternal one had some distinctive social position, had more money or was deceased. Sometimes the first son was named for the mother's first husband if she were a widow. The two eldest daughters were named for the grandmothers. Some families alternated with the first son being named after the paternal grandfather, the first daughter after the maternal grandmother, but this is not as common. If a child died, almost always the next child of the same sex was given the same name.

This page was last updated on July 2009