News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 5, 2008

GENEALOGY: History of Dutch surnames can be a tangled web

By Tamie Dehler

TERRE HAUTE — The history of Dutch surnames is a tangled web, when, for example, compared to the history of some other European surnames.

Going back to the 1400s, the Dutch began using patronymic names as a means of identifying themselves. Patronymic means the child’s “last” name would be a form of the father’s given name. Thus, Claus, son of Barent, would be Claus Barents, Barentsz, Barentsen, or Barentszen–there were a number of endings that could be added, depending upon the region in the Netherlands a person was from or the gender of the child.

The different endings to the name above literally mean “Barent’s,” Barent’s son” (the “z” is an abbreviation of “zoon,” Dutch for “son”), or “Barent-son.” There were also female endings. So Annetje, daughter of Barent, could be called Barents, Baretnsd, Barentdtr, etc. Spelling was not a big issue back then. The ending -se (Barentse), was particular to the Dutch province of Zeeland. If you find an ancestor whose patronymic name ends in -se, you can be pretty certain he or she came from Zeeland in the southwest of the Netherlands.

Last week I discussed Dutch given names at length because they are such a big piece of the puzzle regarding patronymic surnames. For instance, children of the same father might use different patronyms, each based on a form of the father’s name. Thus Pieter, son of Denys, might call himself Pieter Denysen while his brother Matthijs might call himself Matthijs Nyssen. This is because Nys is a short form–a sort of nickname–for Denys (Dennis), their father’s given name.

The same person might also go by several different names. So it’s possible for the above Matthijs Nyssen to be called Matthijs Denysen at times. The situation can be further complicated by the fact that Thys is a nickname for Matthijs (Matthew), so he could actually be known as Thys Denysen or Thys Nyssen as well.

The person doing research on a Dutch lineage must be aware of different forms and spellings for the common Dutch given names. Also remember that the short forms are often found alphabetically under the spelling of the long form. So Nyssen could actually be found under the letter D in an index.

In the 16th century, the Dutch nobility started using permanent surnames. The general population gradually followed. These permanent surnames could be adopted from family patronyms, place names, descriptive traits, or occupational names. During this transitional period, a person could be known by his or her patronymic name, the permanent surname, both names together (where the patronym would be used as a sort of middle name), or they could alternate between the patronym and the surname in the records.

In the late 1700s, the Netherlands became a part of the French empire. In 1811 the French initiated a civil registry across the country in which all persons were required to have a fixed surname. Next week we will cover the origins of Dutch permanent surnames.


• Jane Reynolds married Charles Slaughter on June 1, 1907, in Terre Haute, Vigo County, Indiana. Her parents were possibly Sarah M. Shedmore and Jabez Reynolds. Jane and Charles’ children included Benjamin Slaughter. He was in the Glen Home Orphanage and also went to Glen High School. He had ties to a family by the name of Sanders. He was befriended by a man called “Pop Hampton,” who helped him to get an education. If any of these names sound familiar, please contact me. I would love photos. Brenda Hicks, 5036 N. 350 E. Anderson, IN 46012, phone 812-879-5905 or 765-378-7489, or e-mail