Ask Yvette – How to capitalize Dutch names with prefixes

Many Dutch names have prefixes like Ter, Van or Van der. People have asked me if and how they should be capitalized. Here’s what the current rules are for Dutch (they’re different in Belgium and other parts of the world).

A prefix that is preceded by another part of the name is not capitalized. Parts of the name are first names, initials, other prefixes or other last names. Abbreviated prefixes are always lowercase. In other cases, the prefix is capitalized.

Examples of Dutch names with prefixes

  • Johannes van der Meer
  • M.A. ter Beek
  • Julia van Rijn-de Vries
  • mevr. De Groot-ter Meer. [Mrs. De Groot-ter Meer]
  • burgemeester Van Slooten [mayor Van Slooten]
  • baron Van Harinxma thoe Sloten
  • een boek over de familie Van der Velde [a book about the Van der Velde family]
  • de oorsprong van de naam ‘t Hoen [the origins of the ‘t Hoen name]
  • luitenant In ‘t Veldt [lieutenant In ‘t Veldt]
  • mevrouw d’Hondt [Mrs. d’Hondt].
Friendship book of Pieter van Harinxma thoe Slooten. Credits: Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA)

Friendship book of Pieter van Harinxma thoe Slooten.
Credits: Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA)

Prefixes in genealogy software

Dutch genealogy programs automatically capitalize prefixes correctly. Some programs automatically recognize prefixes that are entered in the last name field, others have separate fields to enter the prefix. Dutch programs also alphabetize names the Dutch way, first by last name and then by prefix (De Vries is alphabetized under V, and follows Vries).

If you use software from other countries, prefixes will not be handled correctly. The most common way to handle prefixes is to include them in the field for last name. This may cause the prefix to be capitalized, and the sorting will put De Vries under D instead of V. Often, the only way to get the capitalization of prefixes correct is to edit the output in word processing software.

Update: these are the current rules

Based on the comments, I realize that I should have been more clear that these are the current spelling rules. Historically, people did not have a concept of “official spelling.” And even since we’ve had official spellings (since 1811), mistakes were plentiful. The rules are so complex that many Dutch people today don’t know when to capitalize a prefix. So please don’t draw any conclusions based on the way your ancestor’s name was spelled.

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. Edward E. Van Schaick says

    Yvette, On the van or Van, Prefix I am confused. My understanding has been that the capitalization of the prefix in the Netherlands and lower case in Germany indicated the difference between someone who was from or of, i.e., if it was from it meant that the individuals family was not the landowner and if it was of it meant that they were a member of the landowners family. Can you help to dispel or verify my understanding. Thanks, Ed

    PS my lineal ancestor was Goosen Gerritsen Van Schaick who came in 1637 from Utrecht.

    • Hi Edward,
      The rules I described are the official rules that are currently used. Historically, people did not have a concept of correct spelling or capitalization. You cannot draw conclusions from the lack or presence of a capital letter. Before surnames were fixed in 1811, if you see someone named Goosen Gerritsen van Schaick, “Van Schaick” could have been a last name that may have been in use for generations, or it may indicate a place of origin. Comparing the record that mentions Goosen Gerritsen van Schaick to surrounding records may be helpful. If all the other records name a place of origin, the “Van Schaick” part may well mean that Goosen was from Schaick. Sometimes you will see two “van” in a row, like Jan van Heusden van Geertruidenberg. In that case, it is probable that the first “van Heusden” is used as a last name and the second “van Geertruidenberg” is used as a place of origin.

  2. Annette Gauthier says

    My ter Steeg grandparents came to America as children in the 1880s. One came from Noord Holland and the other from Gelderland. I’m very interested in their backgrounds. Right now I have gone back to the 1700s.

  3. Christian Van Ristell says

    Could you tell me if the “V” in my surname would be capitalised?

  4. David L. Gold says

    The rules are complicated not only because of the many different cotexts in which a family name can appear (you give examples) but also because the rules in The Netherlands and in Belgium are not the same. Furthermore, for Afrikaans, the rules are not identical to the Dutch rules either in The Netherlands or in Belgium.

    The result is that hardly anyone knows all the rules perfectly.

    Why not simplify them? Rules are conventions. They are made by human beings and human beings can change them.

    The simplest solution would be always to capitalize the first element.

    I now have to write an email in English to someone in The Netherlands whose family name begins with van de… ~ van de….

    What should I write:

    Dear Mr. Van de…. OR

    Dear Mr. van de….

    I would appreciate your response as soon as possible. Thank you.

  5. Bonnie B. says

    Thank you for this interesting piece! Would “ven” be handled the same way? Seems my Vanderbosch clan (as written in the U.S. beginning late 1800’s) was Venderbosch in NW Germany, and before that (late 1700’s) in the Netherlands. Or is Ven just Ven, and not a prefix.

    Thanks!

  6. Onno Zweers says

    I’m pretty sure it should be Pieter van Harinxma tot Slooten instead of Pieter van Harinxma thoe Slooten.

  7. Thomas Williams says

    If I wish to use only the surname, as in van Rooyen, at the front of the sentence, do I capitalise the ‘V’?

    e.g. ‘Van Rooyen started the company in 1966…’ or, ‘van Rooyen started the company in 1966…’

Leave comment

*