Quick tip: names change

“The past is a foreign country, they did things differently there.”1 One of the fundamental differences is the way that people were named. In many parts of the Netherlands, people did not have a hereditary surname until 1811. But even after 1811, names could get changed, for instance if someone emigrated or if the clerk made an error.

The next time you’re stuck, ask yourself: what other name could this ancestor have used?

Military recruits showing name signs

Military recruits, 1934

Related articles:


  1. Leslie Poles Hartley, The Go-Between (1953)opening sentence.
About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink, MLitt, CG®, QG™ is a professional genealogist, writer, and lecturer in the Netherlands. She has a Master of Letters in Family and Local History from the University of Dundee, and holds the Certification of Genealogist and Qualified Genealogist credentials. Yvette served on the Board of Directors of the Association of Professional Genealogists and won excellence awards for her articles in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly. Yvette has been doing genealogy for over 30 years. She helps people from across the world find their ancestors from the Netherlands and its former colonies, including New Netherland. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.


  1. Janice Harper (Plume) says

    Hello. I’m writing because my Father told me for years that he was half Dutch and half German. He was told as a child that his ancestors that immigrated to the US changed our last name from Van Der Ploun ( not exactly sure of the spelling) to Plume when they came to America. I’ve heard that Van Der Ploun is not a Dutch name. Is it possible that it was just misspelled by my ancestors or the immigration officers who took their information?

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