|Researching Your Dutch Ancestors|
The French emperor Napoleon obliged surnames in 1811 in the Netherlands. A lot of people already had a surname, but from then on it was a requirement. Although there are exceptions, usually the surname of a family did not alter anymore.
These were the most frequent surnames in the Netherlands in 1947:
De Jong the young
De Vries the Frisian
Jansen son of Jan
Van den/der Berg of the mountain
Van Dijk of dike
Janssen son of Jan (different spelling)
Meijer/Meyer occupation, a land agent
The origins of the above listed surnames are clear. Some surnames are referring to qualities of people, like De Jong but also De Groot (the big) or Dik (fat). There are a lot of geographic related names like De Vries and Van den Berg. By the way, there are no mountains at all in Holland! A third group is formed by the occupations. And last but not least: there are quite a number of surnames derived from first names, the so called patronymics.
Before 1811 everyone who had no surname was called by his or her first name, followed by the name of the father. If there was e.g. a father Klaas with a son Jan, the son was named Jan Klaassen or Klaasz. Even if the family had a surname, for example Bakker, the name of the father was often included. So the son was Jan Klaasz Bakker.
Changing the name of a family (before 1811)
As I said before, surnames were not required before 1811. There was no central registration system, so changing your name was very simple. If a certain shoemaker signed with his first name and his occupation (Schoenmaker), maybe his children also signed with the same surname. But if his son became a carpenter, it is possible that the last name of the son was Timmerman. Sometimes nicknames became real names.
Do not despair! Not all names were changed. There are families with a fixed name that goes back until the sixteenth century or earlier. If you are interested in more details, try to find a genealogist with experience in a certain region.
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