Quick tip – Names Sometimes got Shortened

If you’re looking for the Dutch origins of your immigrant ancestor, keep in mind that the name originally could have been longer than the name the family used in the new country. Long names were often shortened to make them easier to pronounce in another language.

After some of my Esselinkpas cousins emigrated to Michigan in the 1800s, they went by Pas. Some members of the Roerdinkveldboom family went by Veldboom after emigration.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there might be family members who did not change their name. I’ve seen cases where some siblings kept the original name while others shortened the name. There might be records that show family members with their original name, particularly Dutch records in the new country such as Dutch church records or newspapers. Researching the whole family, and finding a range of records about your immigrant ancestor and their associates may give you clues to what the original name might have been.


Hendrik Jan Esselinkpas, known as Pas, and his wife Gerritje Damkot

About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink, CG® is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She holds the Certified Genealogist credential from the Board for Certification of Genealogists and has a post-graduate certificate in Family and Local History from the University of Dundee. She has been doing genealogy for over 30 years and helps people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.


  1. Doris Waggoner says


    Though I lived in Wisconsin for 15 years, I was unfamiliar with the Phoenix tragedy. However, the Great Lakes are littered with shipwrecks, many of them still unknown or unfound.

    In both of the cases involving your family, the surnames were shortened by using the end of the name, rather than the front or part of the middle. Was this the most common way of making the names easier to pronounce and deal with in the new country? Did it have anything to do with the meaning of the name? One of my Norwegian aunts married into a Dutch family named Koetje who first settled in Upper Michigan in the 1880s before moving to the Pacific Northwest. They don’t know the origin of the name, or where in The Netherlands they were from. Is that name familiar to you, or can you tell if it might be shortened from a longer name?


    • Great questions. I don’t think there’s a particular rule to how names got shortened, although now that you mention it, most of the examples I’ve seen used the end rather than the first part. I’ll watch out for more examples to see if that is a pattern or just coincidence.
      “Koetje” means “Little cow” and is a rather uncommon name that mostly occurs in Groningen according to the Dutch surname database.

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