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].
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.