One of the most famous Shakespeare’s quotes is that one from Romeo & Juliet “What is in a name?” This quote is actually followed with “….that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
In The Netherlands some people believe that commoners got their surname after Napoleon annexed the country. This is broad misconception. Circa the 5th century German tribes the Franks, Saxons and the people in Friesland had a name, just one single name. Later on during medieval ages they started to use first and second name.
After the French revolution in 1795 the French attacked and occupied The Netherlands in 1810. During this short occupation Napoleon Bonaparte applied the Code Civil or Code Napoleon (in Dutch burgerlijk wetboek) at 18 November 1811. This Code Civil is a compulsory official registration of all civilians regarding birth, marriage and death. It was a base of what now is called BRP or Basisregistratie Personen (Persons basic registration). Dutch municipalities keep this register. When you move to The Netherlands, you need to register yourself at the cityhall. It will enter your name, date of birth and address in the BRP.
Dutch names are, like those in European countries, divided in several categories:
Patronymic names are those with origin from the father side. Janssen (son of Jan), Willemsen (son of Willem), Pieterszoon (son of Pieter). These are common patronymic names in The Netherlands. From fellow blogger Koper Biru who lives in Denmark, I heard that this is also the case there but there it applies only on men. Women are called the daughter of … (…dottir), please correct me if I’m wrong.
These names come from a region or a farm where one lived and worked. The most famous example is the Dutch painter, Rembrandt van Rijn, Rembrandt from the Rhine. Rembrandt was born in Leiden where the old Rhine river passes.
Several names show the profession of the person; Bakker (a baker who works in a bakery, English version Baker), Visser (fisherman), De Boer (the farmer), Mollenaar (the mill operator, English version Miller), Smid (one who creates products from steel/iron, English version Smith). There is a hand full varieties of spelling Mollenaar; Mollenaar, Mollenaars; Smid, Smit, Schmidt (German spelling).
Physical or mental features
These are the physical ones: de Lange (the tall), de Groot (the big one), de Klein (the small one). And these are the mental ones: de Vos (foxy), de Leeuw (strong as a lion).
Regarding the history about migration in the Netherlands, there are Dutch names which are originally foreign or significantly belong to some migrant groups. Most common Dutch Jewish names are Cohen, Polak, Zilversmid, Goudsmid, d’Ancona, Barend, Van Gelder, Lipschitz, Levi, Knoop, Schaap, Aarons etc.
There are also descendants of the Huguenots in the Netherlands. Huguenots were French protestants who flee predominantly Catholic France between 1685 – 1710. The French king couldn’t guarantee their safety to practise their religion (Calvinism) so the Huguenots left their country for The Netherlands, Germany, England, Scandinavia, Russia and South – Africa. Those who came to the Netherlands changed their name to Dutch: Graincourt – Greinkoert – Korenhof (English: Grain court), Chevalier – De Ridder (English: Knight), Chateau – Kasteel (English: Castle), Drap – Van der Laaken (English: Sheet), Reveille – De Wekker (English: Alarm).
Dutch surnames contain van, van de, van der, van den, de, der could be tricky for foreigners. When the famous Dutch footballer played in Manchester United, the UK, his nickname was Van de man. This was not good because according to Dutch spelling his surname is Van Nijstelrooij, not only Van or Nistelrooij (look at the example below).
I must warn you to not get more confused if you visit Flanders region in Belgium. There the surnames with van, van de, van der and van den are written altogether like this for example: Vandenbroucke. And Dutch surnames are also commonly used in Flanders, Belgium. Lastly, surnames with von in it are from Germany.
Closing this post, these are the top 10 most common Dutch surnames:
Van de/den/der Berg