Naming traditions

Have you ever wondered why first names seem to run in Dutch families for generations? In the Netherlands, people used to name their children after family members. This way, first names can stay in the family for centuries.

The best known example of naming children is when a child is named after its grandparent. But other forms of naming are possible too.

Most families followed the following naming conventions:

  • In the case where one of the parents was a widower or widow, the first child of the gender of the deceased spouse was named after that spouse.
  • The two eldest boys were named after the grandfathers and the two eldest girls were named after the grandmothers. In some regions only deceased grandparents were named. In most regions, the paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother were named first.
  • If the first three children are all boys, sometimes a male version of the grandmother’s name is given to the third boy. If enough children are born, grandmother may have a girl named after her as well. The same is true vice versa, if the first three children are all girls.
  • Children that had died were named. So if one son called Jan Hendrik died, the next one born would be called Jan Hendrik as well. Usually, if you see two children with the same name, the oldest one died before the youngest one was born. Be careful however, because if the two grandparents had the same first name, sometimes two children who were named after them ended up with the same first and last name!
  • If all the grandparents, previous spouses and deceased children were named, siblings of the parents were named after, especially the ones who had died already.

It is helpful to know that these customs for Dutch first names can differ between regions. They are not written in stone but can be a useful guide to guess the names of the parents and see where that leads.

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.

Comments

  1. Willem Schalk Rossouw says

    Hello, I am from South Africa and I’ve tracked down my family to 1854-Daniel Johannes Rossouw son: 1903-Willem Schalk Rossouw son: Hermanus Carl Rossouw where do these names come from? It sounds Dutch to me when my surname is French (Rousseau) I had a grandmother called Wilhelmina too?

  2. Yes! I could see this naming tradition in my immigrant Dutch ancestors. Over and over, I saw this. Often the gender of the child didn’t matter; they were given a male or female name of the appropriate grandparent, no matter what.

  3. Yvonne Wilkins says

    We have traced both sides of my parents Nieuwenhuizen (father) Schipper(mother)families back to 1650! How can I go back further? Where would I need to go? Yvonne

    • Hi Yvonne,
      Church records usually start in the early to late 1600s, so before that you often have to rely on court records. These are rarely available online and usually require on-site research. Orphan chamber records or town records are other examples of record groups that often go back further than 1650. The specific records that are available depend on the specific town.

  4. Paul Gorgen says

    When two sisters got the same name (Margarieta, for example) because both their grandmothers had that name (Margarieta), did they use nicknames or middle names to tell the sister apart within the family? Might the one named for the mother’s mother be called by their mother’s name, for example Margaret Elizabeth, or just Elizabeth perhaps?

    • In most cases when two siblings had the same name, the first one had died and the next one got the same name. But sometimes two living siblings get the same name if their grandmothers both had that name. They would each have a different nickname, but it’s hard to predict what that might have been. It could be that one went by “Margriet” and the other by “Griete” or one went by the second first name. I have never heard of someone being called by their mother’s name. We don’t have middle names in the Netherlands, just multiple first names. Another option is that the youngest one would get an explanation like “De Kleine Margriet” [little Margaret] or “De jonge Margriet” [young Margeret]. It all depends on the time and place, and on the choices that that family happened to make.

      • Paul Gorgen says

        Thank you – this is very helpful. Can you expand on the second first names – are they also in memory of a relative? I am thinking in particular of Cornelia “Clarissa” Pootman/Putman, 1751 – 1833 (a third daughter) who seems to have been named for her great-grandmothers, Cornelia Bradt and Claara Jans Bradt. Her two older sisters were both named Margaret after their two grandmothers, both Margarets. Most local NY genealogists assume the first Margaret died young, and the second was named for her in British style, but they were a very Dutch family, so I believe if the first had died, then the third would have been named Margaret too for the other grandmother. But she was not, which would suggest that all three daughters were alive at the same time… would you agree? Many thanks for your insights and help!

        • If both grandmothers had the same name, it’s hard to predict what a family would do. I’ve seen families who gave that name to just one child, and families who gave the name to two children. In that case, the two children would get different nicknames, or one would be called “de oude” [the older] and one “de jonge” [the younger].
          Second names are a rather modern invention. Most Dutch families did not give their children second or third names until the 1700s. Since the Pootman family was living in New York, they could have adopted the English custom of middle names, but used the Dutch custom to choose the middle name after a relative.
          BTW, it could also be that they were named after aunts rather than great-grandmothers, since the parents would probably have had sisters who were named after their grandmothers.

  5. J. Achtien says

    Hello Yvette,
    I have recently looked into my family history and it is highly likely that my great grandfather on my dad’s side was adopted in Holland, Netherlands, and came over to America about the year 1887. I was wondering where would be a good place to look for adoption/relationship records of that nature. I am also wondering if you know anything about a war between the Netherlands and Germany, and a soldier that was honored with the last name Achtien. Also, where would I find census records in the Netherlands? Thanks in advance!

  6. Denise Patereck says

    Hello Yvette,

    I’ve recently discovered my Dutch heritage and I’m finding that a lot of the female names end in “tje” or “je”, such as Margrietje, Katalyntje, Annatje & Willempje. Does this designate something? How is it pronounced?

    Thank you for your consideration,

    Denise

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