Prefixes in surnames

Medieval portrait

Floris van Egmond

Many Dutch family names have prefixes like ‘de’ or ‘van’. They have a special role in the Dutch family name which you have to be aware of when researching names with prefixes.

Prefixes and their meanings

The most common prefixes are:

  • de – the
  • van – from
  • van de, van der, van den – from the
  • te, ter, ten – on

Examples of such Dutch surnames: De Vries (the Frisian, person from Friesland), De Bakker (the baker), Van Raalte (from Raalte, a town in Overijssel), van den Heuvel (from the hill), te Kolste (on Kolste, a name of a farm).

Using prefixes in practice

In Dutch family names, family names are sorted without their prefixes, so ‘Van Raalte’ would be alphabetized as ‘R’. If both the name ‘Raalte’ and ‘Van Raalte’ occur in the same index, ‘Raalte’ comes first, followed by ‘Van Raalte’, in indices most often written as ‘Raalte, van’.

Many people use online sources for their genealogy that require you to fill in a family name. Most Dutch search forms that ask for a family name, require the name without the prefix. If you’re looking for the Van Raalte family, only fill in ‘Raalte’ as family name. Sometimes a search form provides a separate textbox for the prefix. The Dutch word for prefix is ‘Tussenvoegsel’ or ‘Voorvoegsel’.

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About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She has been doing genealogy for almost 25 years. Her expertise is helping people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.


  1. Eszter K. says:

    Hello Yvette,
    My great-great-grand mother’s name is Wierik, and my grandfather said that she came from England to Hungary to marry my great-great-grand father. But as I searched for this name, I found that this name is probably dutch, and some people use it with this prefixe “te” ( te Wierik). What do you think, is this name can be dutch, and is this prefixe belongs to her name ( and maybe after marrige she didn’t use it), and is there any meaning of this name? Thank you!

    • Hi Eszter,

      Te Wierik is a Dutch name. The name derives from a farm in Overijssel. Check the “Te Wierik” entry in the Family name database of the Meertens institute for a map with the distribution of the name and my article about Farm Names for more information about that phenomenon. The “te” prefix means “at” and means the person lived at the Wierik farm. So yes, it could well have been a Dutch name. Alternatively, it could be a spelling variation of an English name (Warwick comes to mind). The best advice I can give you is to gather as much information as you can about your great-great-grandmother and then see if there are any clues about her origin.

  2. Hello Yvette,

    I have a question. Our last name is van Doorn and some of our family members capitalize Van, others don’t, and some others spell it Vandoorn. Which one is correct?

    Thank you,


    • Currently, the correct way to spell these names in the Netherlands would be Van Doorn if used without a first name (Mr. Van Doorn) or van Doorn if used with a first name (Jan van Doorn). In Belgium, it is common to attach the -van- and make it Vandoorn. Of course, in earlier days there was no official spelling and many people could not read or write, so you may expect several variations in the same family.

    • Kerstin Lancaster says:

      My maiden name is Van Dooren

  3. Constantine says:

    A famous scientist named Johannes Diderik van der Waals developed a theory of molecular interactions. The attractive force is named after him, the “van der Waals force”. Usually, “van” is not capitalized. Is that correct, or should it be “the Van der Waals force”?
    Thank you for your interesting webpage on this topic.

    • The Dutch rule is that prefixes are not capitalized when preceded by a first name, and are capitalized in other cases. So the correct Dutch spelling is Johannes Diderik van der Waals / Van der Waals force / Mr. Van der Waals. I remember being taught about him in science class in high school.

  4. Is Van-laurel is a surname?

  5. Hi there! After reading this article, I was hoping if you could tell me about the usage of knighthood in Dutch surnames, particularly in regards to titles like ‘Ridder’, ‘Jonkheer’, ‘Jonkvrouw’, and what kind of effect it has on the name if children of hereditary Ridders who don’t have a noble title acquire one or become knights themselves. I would also like to know whether or not ‘Velder’ is of Dutch genealogy and how all this compares to German titles. Thanks!

    • A ridder is a knight. Ridder can also be a hereditary noble title, but that form is quite uncommon in the Netherlands (only 6 families). The way the title inherits depends on the way that the family acquired the title, it could either be in all male lines or just the oldest son’s line. You can also be knighted by the King (Ridder in de Orde van Oranje-Nassau) but that is a personal title that is not inherited.

      Jonkheer (male form) and Jonkvrouw (female form) are the title to address the lowest ranks of nobility who do not have a noble title, similar to Esq. in England. The titles inherit in the male line. Unmarried daughters of Jonkheren are Jonkvrouwen, but lose the title when they marry.

      I do not know the details about German titles, so I cannot compare the two.

    • Velder could be Dutch or German. You would have to research your family tree to find out where the name originates from.

  6. Sandra Johnson says:

    Around 1800 Virginia I have an ancestor named van der Grift. Spelled in America many different ways! I found a Grift river on a map in the Netherlands. So would this person be “from the Grift river”?

    • Hi Sandra,
      According to the family names database of the Meertens Institute, the word ‘grift’ means ‘dug out channel,’ which his probably what gave the Grift river its name. I imagine there were plenty of such waterways in the Netherlands, so it would be impossible to say which ‘grift’ gave its name to your family. The only way to know is to research the family back to the earliest person to use the name, and see if you can find an explanation.

  7. Arie Posthumus says:

    What about the name Posthumus, My Father was a Steenhouwer in Friesland. There was a King
    in the olden day’s I think.

    • Posthumus means born posthumously, i.e. after the death of the father. Whether that explains your family name too, would require further study to see if that explanation makes sense for the first person to use the name.

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