Friday, December 7, 2012

Naming Conventions in the Netherlands and Their Use in Genealogy Research

Names in the Netherlands started out Germanic, since the Netherlands was home to Germanic tribes. (1) Names like Hildegard (f), Adelheid (f), Everhard (m) and Winold (m) were given to children. Few, if any, genealogical records exist of this time and it’s very unlikely any genealogical researcher will ever extend their line back to Germanic times. But even though Germanic names are rare nowadays, it is likely a researcher will encounter a few ancestors that have a name with Germanic roots.

When Christianity became more and more entrenched in society, somewhere around the 11th and 12th century, people started naming their children for saints, thereby introducing names with Greek, Latin, and Hebrew roots into society. (1) Names like Johannes (m), Petrus (m), Margaretha (f) and Catharina (f) started appearing, and they persist until today. So while genealogical records from the Middle Ages are scarce, traces of those ancestors are found in the names of the descendants we do find.

The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century brought with it strict naming practices (1), which is a great boon for genealogical researchers as it helps us identify families. The general pattern of Dutch naming practices can be found on several sites, like this one, which is very clear and names a lot of the exceptions to the general pattern and the reasons for those exceptions (2). Genealogically speaking these naming practices become especially important in the time period before 1811, since church records are very sparse on the details so positively identifying people is difficult. After 1811, civil registration exists in the Netherlands, and more identifiers (like ages, birth places, professions, and parent’s names, to name a few) are in every document. This makes it easier to positively identify someone in different records as being the same person.

After World War Two, naming practices are no longer applied so rigidly (1). Children are still named after family members, but usually in their second name(s), and no longer in the first name. Instead, first names now say something about the social environment of the parents (1). Frédérique (f) and Maurits (m) have parents from the upper class, while Melissa (f) and Danny (m) have parents from the working class. Having some knowledge about which names occur in which social environment can tell you a lot about your ancestors.

Now, having said all that, I figured I’d put the naming “rules” to the test on a well-established family line. Hendrik Wesselo (1840-1905) had ten children with two different wives, and below I’ve listed them as well as who they were named after and who they should have been named after.

Children from first marriage in 1864 with Anthonia Tulp (1837-1872)

1. Johannes Wesselo (1865-1904)
First son, should be named after: paternal grandfather
Was named after: paternal grandfather

2. Gijsbert Anthonie (1866-1872)
Second son, should be named after: maternal grandfather
Was named after: eldest brother of Anthonia (Gijsbert) and maternal grandfather (Anthonie)
So part correctly named (after the maternal grandfather), but putting Gijsbert in the name, and first as well, is odd.

3. Johanna Wilhelmina (1868-1954)
First daughter, should be named after: maternal grandmother
Was named after: paternal grandmother
Maternal grandmother was dead at time of birth, paternal grandmother was still alive; this contradicts the usual ‘exception rule’ of dead before living relatives getting named first, in fact, it turns it around!

4. Alida Maria (1870-1872)
Second daughter, should be named after: paternal grandmother
But, since the first daughter was named after the paternal grandmother, the next in line should be: eldest sister of the mother
Was named after: eldest sister of the mother

Children from second marriage with Alida Petronella van Grasstek (1852-1925)

5. Lodewijk (1875-1962)
Third son; however also first son of new marriage.
First son should be named after paternal grandfather, but son that was named after paternal grandfather is still living.
So, son counts as “second son” and should be named after: maternal grandfather
Was named after: maternal grandfather

6. Jan Jerphaas (1877-1952)
Fourth son, “third” son for naming rules, should be named after: father’s eldest brother
Was named after: father’s eldest brother

7. Wilhelmina Gerredina (1879-1945)
Third daughter, first daughter of this marriage
Should be named after: maternal grandmother
Was named after: maternal grandmother

8. Jannetje (1882-1964)
Fourth daughter, second daughter of this marriage
Second daughter should be named after paternal grandmother, and child named after paternal grandmother has passed away.
So, should be named after: paternal grandmother
Was named after: father’s eldest sister?
The name Jannetje does not occur in either families, but the father’s eldest sister is called Jannigje. Both were called Jans in daily live. Given naming rules without taking into account the deceased daughter that was named after the paternal grandmother and multiple marriages, the fourth daughter would have been named after the father’s eldest sister.

9. Abraham Bernardus (1884-1961)
Fifth son, “fourth” son for naming rules, should be named after: mother’s eldest brother
Was named after: mother’s eldest brother

10. Alida Petronella (1886-1965)
Fifth daughter, third daughter of this marriage
Should be named after: mother’s eldest sister
Was named after: mother

11. Gerredina Eleonora (1889-1977)
Sixth daughter, fourth daughter of this marriage
Since mother’s eldest sister was not named yet, this child should be named after her
Was named after: mother’s eldest sister

12. Willem Lodewijk (1893-1960)
Sixth son, “fifth” son for naming rules, should be named after: father’s second eldest brother
Was named after: mother’s second eldest brother
This child was not named as the “fifth” son, like the previous sons in this marriage, but as the sixth son he is, after mother’s second eldest brother.

The only real aberration in the naming pattern in the first marriage is the fact that the eldest daughter was not named after the (deceased) maternal grandmother. Either a child was missed, or the parents did not want to name their child after someone deceased. The first option is unlikely (although possible given the dates) because the genealogy was documented by Willem Lodewijk Wesselo, the youngest son, and he has first-hand information from all of his brothers and sisters. Also, my own search did not find another child. Still, it was good to check.

The fact that the second son was first named after the mother’s eldest brother and then after the maternal grandfather could be because the brother had died by that time. I cannot say for certain this is the case, since I have not been able to find a death date (or marriage, for that matter) for Gijsbert Tulp (born 10 November 1839, Utrecht, Utrecht). I am still looking for that, but it is turning out to be quite a challenge. However, it could also be that they simply liked Gijsbert better.

The last son of the second marriage is still named within general accepted practices, even though due to previous naming in the family I would have expected him to be named after the father’s second eldest brother.

All in all, the naming pattern holds pretty well. It even sparked some more research!


(1) Doreen Gerritzen, 1. De voornaam als schakel tussen generaties. Pieter Stokvis (red.), Geschiedenis van het privéleven: bronnen en benaderingen (Amsterdam: SUN; Heerlen: OUNI), p. 21-32.

(2) Harm Hillinga, “Vernoemingen,” on-line article, NazatenDeVries ( accessed 6 December 2012).


  1. This is one of the reasons I enjoy researching my husband's Dutch ancestry. Although, I have pulled my hair out trying to keep all the Jan Arend and Arend Jan's straight. Thanks for sharing this well written post.

    1. Trying to keep people with similiar names straight is something that I totally get. Thanks for your comment.