Common Dutch Surnames: What Does Your Name Mean?

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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!

Why The Dutch Started Using Surnames

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.

Origins Of Dutch Surnames

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:

Patronymics

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.

Place Of Origin

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:

  • Name of a specific region: Some of these surnames directly name a certain area. For example, the common Dutch surname De Vries means “the Frisian”, referring to the Dutch province of Friesland. 
  • Landmark: Many place-based surnames only refer to a landmark or natural feature where the person once lived. A notable (and funny) example belongs to Dawson’s Creek star James van der Bee. His Dutch surname means “from the creek”.

Occupation

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”.

Physical Appearance Or Personal Characteristics

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.

Examples Of Common Dutch Surnames

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:

  • De Groot: In Dutch, this name translates into “The Great”.
  • Smit: A popular Dutch occupational surname derived from the word for “blacksmith”.
  • Meijer: Also spelled Meyer, this popular Dutch occupational surname refers to landlords of feudal farms. 
  • Jansen: A patronymic that means “son of Jan”. Dutch people in English-speaking countries sometimes changed this to the Americanized form Yancy.
  • Jonckers: This surname is the patronymic form of Jonker, a word of Dutch and German origin that means “young lord”.
  • Fortuin: This name comes from the Dutch cognate for “fortune”.
  • Hummel: Derived from the Middle Dutch word for “bee”, this nickname is usually given to a busy person. 
  • Van der Berg or Van den Berg: Berg is a Germanic word meaning “mountain”. When used in this context, this name means “from the mountain”.
  • Van Breda: This name meaning “from Breda” refers to a town in South Holland. 
  • Van Dyk or Van Dijk: This Dutch name means “from the dike”. The ancestor of a person with this surname likely lived near the many dikes that protected the Netherlands from flooding. 
  • Van der Veen: The Dutch word veen translates into “swamp”, meaning the ancestor of someone with this surname likely lived close to a swamp. 
  • Van der Vliert: Meaning “from the elderberry”, this name likely originally referred to someone who lived near an elderberry orchard. 
  • Van Hassel: A name that derives from the town Hasel, meaning “hazel tree” in German. 
  • Van Ankeren: An occupational name taken by sailors that mean “from the anchor”.
  • Van den Akken: Meaning “from the field”, this is likely used as an occupational name for farmers. 
  • Van der Stoep or Van den Stoep: Translated, this name means “from the paved entrance”. A person with this name may have spent a lot of time on their front porch.
  • Van As: This Dutch last name refers to someone that comes from Asch, a town in the Netherlands. The name Asch itself means “ash tree”.
  • Van Donk: Donk is the Dutch word for “hill”. A person with this surname likely had ancestors who lived on a hill.
  • Van Amstel: This Dutch last name means “from Amstel”, the name of a river in North Holland.
  • Van Dalen: Dal means “valley” in Dutch. Used in a surname, the meaning becomes “from the valley”.
  • Van Rompaey: This surname combines two Middle Dutch words ruum (“wide”) and pat (“path”). Put together, this name means “from the wide path”.
  • Van Aalsburg: This name means “from Aalsburg”, referring to a town in the Netherlands.
  • Oomen: This patronymic name comes from the Middle Dutch word oom, which means “maternal uncle”.
  • Hendrix: This Dutch last name from German origin is derived from the given name Hendrik. Musician Jimi Hendrix is likely the most famous bearer of this name.
  • Bezuidenhout: This name means “south forest”.
  • Eikenboom: This unique-sounding surname translates directly into “oak tree”. 
  • Van Buuren: The surname of popular DJ Armin Van Buuren comes from Buren, a small town in the Gelderland province.
  • Appelhof: This surname consists of the words for “apple” and “garden”. The ancestor of an Appelhof may have owned an apple garden or lived near an apple tree.
  • Elzinga: This name is derived from els, a Dutch word meaning “elder tree”.

Closing Thoughts

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!

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