The Netherlands is a country with beautiful sights, fascinating history, and many unique names. In fact, there are over 100,000 unique Dutch surnames in the Netherlands. If you’ve ever been curious about your Dutch heritage, looking into these names is a good way to start researching your roots.
In this guide, you’ll learn all about Dutch surnames. Whether you’re planning to retrace your ancestry or are just curious why so many Dutch people have the name “Van”, we’re sure you’ll learn something new from this article!
Before the 19th century, the average Dutch person used a patronymic surname derived from the father. For instance, a man named Jan can have a son named Jacob Janszoon and a daughter named Elisabeth Jansdochter.
When Napoleon and the French invaded the Netherlands in 1811, they made registrations of surnames mandatory. These surnames eventually became the Dutch names that survived to the modern era.
There is a long-standing rumor that Dutch people who lived under Napoleon’s rule registered funny and lewd names as a practical joke to protest the policy. Names like Naaktgeboren (“born naked”) and Zondervan (“without a surname”) are often used as examples. However, these names are older than Napoleon’s rule which calls the accuracy of this rumor into question.
In the past, married women used to add their husband’s family name before their maiden name. For example, a woman named Sophia Jansen who married Pieter Veltman would change her name to Sophia Veltman-Jansen. In modern Dutch society, both married partners keep their surnames by default, but they can also use their partner’s surname or combine the two.
Surnames were used to distinguish a person from another person of the same name. So, like most of Europe, a Dutch surname can come from four sources. These common sources are:
When Napoleon required the registration of surnames in 1811, many patronymics already in use at the time became permanent, hereditary surnames. This is why many Dutch surnames such as Willems, Peeters, and Jansen sound like first names.
An indirect patronymic also exists in the popular Dutch surname De Jong, meaning “The Young”. This name is used to tell apart two people with the same name in one family, much like the Jr. suffix in American names. So for instance, if a man named Pieter had a son named Pieter, then the father would be Pieter de Oude (“the elder”) while his son would be Pieter de Jong.
Surnames based on where someone hailed from are also very common among the Dutch. A location-based family name can be split into two types, each referring to different things:
Occupational surnames are also very common among the Dutch. Some examples of an occupational surname include Bakker which means “baker” and Visser which means “fisherman”.
The different personal qualities of a person may also be taken as a surname and passed down his family line. A common example of this would be the surname de Witte, meaning “the white”. This could refer to a person having white hair or exceptionally pale skin.
Many Dutch surnames are to the point, making it easy to come up with an educated guess on where one’s ancestors came from. For instance, if your surname is De Vries, your ancestor likely came from Friesland. Here are some examples of common Dutch family names:
The straightforward meaning of most Dutch surnames makes it easy to retrace your ancestry. Many of these names immediately make it clear where your ancestors lived or what notable characteristics they possessed.
After tracking down the origin of your surname, you can look through old photos to better understand your heritage. However, most of these old photos may have been damaged over the years. If you’re looking to undo the damage, Image Restoration Center is here for you. Contact us to book fast and affordable photo restorations!