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.


  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. Teresa says:

    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.

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