Moving to Holland is not easy, but it's worth the effort. This blog tells the story of shifting from American life in Pittsburgh to Expat life in the Netherlands,
and all of our European adventures that follow.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dutch Names 101

Ever wonder why Dutch surnames always contain ‘van,’ ‘van der,’ ‘de,’ etc. We’ll there is actually an historical reason behind it, and it's a pretty funny story.

In the early 1800's, the Netherlands was under the French rule of Napolean. He declared everyone needed a family name, for taxation purposes. This was not commonplace for the Dutch at this time, so new surnames had to be established.

Many took their names literally by their location or occupation. Van or van der/het means ‘of/of the.’ De means ‘the.’ So Jon the baker became Jon de Bakker, and Willem who lived near the dike became Willem van Dijk.

Others decided to toot their own horn and take on boasting names such as:
  • De Groot = The Great, The Large One
  • Den Beste = The Best
  • De Keizer = The Emperor

However, in true Dutch fashion, some people did not want to bend to authority. They also thought these names would be temporary. So they decided if they were forced to take a name they would make it ridiculous or funny, and have a laugh at their French occupiers.

Some of the funnier ones include the following real surnames:

  • Uit de bruik = out of the pants
  • Piest = urinates
  • Poepjes = little shit
  • Zondervan = without a surname
  • Suikerbuik = sugarbelly
  • Zeldenthuis = seldom at home

And my personal favorite:

  • Naaktgeboren = born naked
"My name is Hare"
(Dutch children's book)

Little did they know the joke would end up being on them, as that these names would stick around in their families, even centuries later.