The Dutch were much slower than the English in adopting surnames as we know them. For those starting Dutch research, a study of patronymics is a must. To many, this word “patronymics” is a strange one. Think of this word in two parts – “patro” = father, and “nymics” = naming. Patronymics ended theoretically under English rule in 1687 with the advent of surnames, but not everyone followed the new guidelines. In the Netherlands, patronymics ended mostly (especially Friesland) during the Napoleantic period around 1811 when everyone had to register and select a family name.
The Dutch Reformed Church placed great emphasis on baptisms, scrupulously cataloguing them—as opposed to children’s actual birthdates, which were seldom recorded. This has proved invaluable to genealogists, since a baptized child’s sponsors or witnesses (godparents) were frequently its aunt, uncle, or grandparents. The naming of children in Dutch families was dependent upon many different factors; city verses country, social level, region, etc.
The Dutch did not have surnames per se, when they came to America. Instead, they were using a naming system in which the father’s first name became the child’s last name. In general, the two eldest sons were named for the grandfathers, the paternal one first unless the maternal one had some distinctive social position, had more money or was deceased. Sometimes the first son was named for the mother’s first husband if she were a widow.
The two eldest daughters were named for the grandmothers. Some families alternated with the first son being named after the paternal grandfather, the first daughter after the maternal grandmother, but this is not as common. If a child died, almost always the next child of the same sex was given the same name (a hard-hit family might have to do this more than onc). Later children would often be named after their aunts and uncles, alternating between parental families.
The first son born to a remarried widow would be named after the mother’s first husband; likewise, the first daughter born to a remarried widower would be named after the father’s first wife. And if a child died young, the next-born of that gender would almost always be given the same name.
The most common Dutch naming custom was that of patronymics, or identification of an individual based on the father’s name. The surname of the sons was formed by adding –sz, -szen, -se or -sen. For example, Cornelis Adriaansz. is named after his father, Adriaan. Adriaansz. means son of a man named Adriaan.
Daughters would very often have the ending –dr,-x, -sd, or -sdr added. For example, Janna Cornelisdr. (Cornelisdochter) is named after her father Cornelis. Jannetje Dirksdr would be Jane, daughter of Dirk [Richard].)
An individual could also be known by his place of origin. For example, Cornelis Jansz. op ‘t Clooster (“Jansz.” short for Janszoon, meaning son of Jan) and “op ‘t”, meaning: on the Cloister. Or Cornelis van Breuckelen’, meaning ‘from Breuckelen’ (Breuckelen being a town in the Netherlands).
An individual might be known by a personal characteristic: e.g. Vrooman means a pious or wise man;Krom means bent or crippled; De Witt means the white one.
Sometimes an occupation became the surname. Smit=Smith; Schenck= cupbearer, Metsalaer= mason. An individual might be known by many different ‘surnames’ and entered in official records under these different names, making research difficult unless you’re aware of the names in use.
The suffixes -ie, -je, -ke, and -the were used as “endearing diminutives.” For example Geertje being a short form of Gertuida or Gertruida. The name Maycken is one of many short forms of Maria.
As with patronymics, these naming customs were slowly discarded in New Netherland after it became New York. Old Testament names became very popular starting in the 1680s, with many Abrahams and Sarahs, Isaacs and Rebeccas, Jacobs and Rachels appearing on baptismal logs.
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