A Dutch child's birth and given name(s) must be officially registered by the parents within 3 days after birth. It is not uncommon to give a child several given names. Usually the first one is for daily use, often in a diminutive form. Traditionally, Catholics often chose Latinized names for their children, such as Catharina and Wilhelmus, while Protestants more commonly chose simple Dutch forms such as Trijntje and Willem. In both cases, names were often shortened for everyday use (Wilhelmus and Willem became Wim). In 2014 39% of Dutch children received one name, another 38% were given two names, 20% had three names, 2% got four names and only a few hundred children had five or more given names.
The Dutch naming legislation allows nearly all given names unless they are too similar to an existing surname, or if the name is inappropriate. There is no legal limit on the number of given names for one child.
The history of Dutch given names can roughly be divided in four main periods:
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".
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.
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.
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 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. This superstition disappeared 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:
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, mutatis mutandis, 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.
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 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). (See also Sjors & Sjimmie.) 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. The change in naming also led to a new law on naming in 1970, replacing the old one, which had been in force since 1803.
Nowadays, 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.
There is a great variety of Dutch surnames (over 100,000), partly because of an influx due to a forced official registration of surnames in 1811, hence there have been few generations in which names could become extinct. In practice, the great majority of Dutch people had had family surnames for centuries, and the adoption of new names was limited to some Jewish citizens and some people in rural communities in the north east of the country.
There is a persistent myth that some Dutch citizens, as a way of protest, chose humorous names during the forced registration. Examples often given are Naaktgeboren ("born naked") or Zondervan ("without surname"). However these names are in fact far older; Naaktgeboren for example is from the German Nachgeboren (born after the father was deceased, also the origin of the name Posthumus).
Many Dutch names start with a prefix like van ("of/from"), de/het/'t ("the"), der ("of the"), van de/van der/van den ("of the/from the"), te/ter ("at the") and in het ("in the"). Examples are 't Hooft ("the head"), de Wolff ("the wolf"), van Rijn ("of [the] Rhine"). 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 Rembrandt 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.
In name directories in the Netherlands, the prefixes are always ignored for sorting (e.g., Van Rijn is ordered under 'R', but written in full. So a listing would be Raamdonck, Van Rijn, Rutgers and not Vaandrig, Van Rijn, Vondel). 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.
In Belgium, all prefixes are always included for sorting.
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.
The current law in the Netherlands gives people more freedom: upon marriage within the Netherlands, 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 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 Passport takes precedence.
However, while name changes due to marriages performed in the Netherlands cannot be processed, it is certainly possible in the Netherlands to process name changes due to marriages performed outside the Netherlands, provided certain conditions are met.
These conditions are the marriage must be registered abroad, the application for name change abroad must be requested on the same date as the marriage date, the changed name must be recorded abroad on a certificate in accordance with the local rules of the foreign country and the marriage and name change as well as proof of application as of the date of the marriage must be legalized/apostilled and provided to the Dutch consulate or Dutch municipality upon return to the Netherlands.
This stems from the fact that international marriages are not necessarily governed by Dutch Law but by Private International Law which is codified in the Netherlands in the "Commoner's Law Book (Burgerlijke Wetboek)" Book No. 10, Private International Law, Title 2 - The Name, Article 24 which can be found on the internet.
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.
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".
In the North and East of the Netherlands, many people were between 1000 and 1800 A.D. named after their ancestors, sometimes after the place where they lived, by the suffix -ma or -stra ( of Frisian), or -ing or -ink (of Low Saxon origin). Examples: Dijkstra (after a dyke near the place they came from); Halbertsma ( after an ancestor called Halbert); Wiebing ( after an ancestor called Wiebe); Hesselink ( after an ancestor called Hessel). After 1811, many patronymics became permanent surnames such that Peeters, Jansen, Willems are common surnames today.
|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|
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 patronymic "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). However, when referencing these types of Dutch names in English scientific papers, authors will always use the full name "De Vries". It is clear this often creates 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 names "Van der Velde" or "Van Beethoven" for instance, 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:
See also the main Dutch surnames section.
Some Dutch tussenvoegsels (many of these words are inflected, and therefore often are not totally accurate) include: