Monday, September 12, 2011

Naming Customs in the Netherlands

It’s a real boon for genealogists researching their Netherlands roots to have so much great information listed on websites such as and These sites have digitized thousands of vital statistics on the people of the Netherlands.
Several naming customs have been helpful to know about in my experience researching my Netherlands roots as well.
Netherlanders did not have surnames until 1811. They instead used a patronymic naming system, using their father’s given name as a second name. A variation of this is found in Scandinavian countries such as Peder Anderson and Brigit Pedersdatter which in essence says ‘this is Peter, Ander’s son and Brigit, Peder’s daughter.’ In the Netherlands, particularly in the provinces of Friesland and Groningen, they only used the father’s given name, with the addition of an ‘s’ on the end, and usually did not indicate the sex of the child by using the son or daughter suffix. For example, on the baptism register listing my ancestor Harm Kiel, he is recorded as ‘Harm, son of Hindrik Harms and Geesjen Lammerts, born 18 February 1808.’ Knowing about the patronymics can be very helpful in researching a Dutch family.  With this baptism record alone, I know the infant Harm’s paternal grandfather was also named Harm and his maternal grandfather was named Lammert.
Harm Hendrik Kiel's baptism, 1808

When Napolean took over the country in 1811, he required all Netherlanders to register a fixed surname. Records relating to this can also be found on some of the websites listed above. For example: on 29 January 1812, Geert Halbes of Westergeest [Friesland province, Netherlands] registered his surname as Dijkstra. He listed his children (who would also use the surname of Dijkstra) and their ages: Albert 28, Froukjen 24, Halbe 20, Hendrik 16, Lieuwkje 13, Jan 7, Anne 5, Gerrit 2. In some cases, the actual name register has been scanned and uploaded for viewing. This way I got the added bonus of obtaining a copy of Geert’s signature.

Signature of Geert Halbes (Dijkstra), 1812
These surnames often had to do with occupations or areas of residence. In the province of Friesland, the additional endings sa, ga, inga, ma, sma and stra were added. Dijkstra, Zijlstra and Terpstra are three of my family names from the Friesland province.
I’ll discuss naming patterns that have significance for Netherlands family in another post.     

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