Patronymics, Surnames, and Dutch Naming of Children
by Cliff Lamere 22 Feb 2003
Naming of Dutch Children in New Netherland
Prospects of Finding Your Ancestors
Patronymics, as a system of naming children, existed in New Netherland (later called New York State) in the 1600s, but not long (if at all) after that. It was outlawed sometime after the British took control of New Netherland in 1664 and then again in 1674. Patronymics is a system of naming used before surnames were used. Each succeeding generation had a new 'surname', so to speak.
If a man named Jacob had a son Hendrick who had a son Samuel who had a son Dirck, the full names of these men were based on the names of their fathers. We don't know the full name of Jacob, but the rest we can know. They were Hendrick Jacobse, Samuel Hendrickse and Dirck Samuelse. The ending of the name could vary in the written record. Sometimes Jacobse appears as Jacobsen or Jacobsz. Daughters took the name of their father also, but supposedly with a different ending (-dr?), but mostly I have seen them with the same endings that the sons had.
This patronymic naming system worked fine in rural areas in Europe. There was probably only one "Samuel, son of Hendrick" in a surrounding area of farms. However, this system presented problems in the cities, where it became very confusing just who you meant. There were too many people with exactly the same name. Cities in some western European countries required surnames, while at the same time patronymics were allowed to flourish in the countryside.
When the European immigrants from various countries arrived in New Netherland in the 1600s, there was a mix of naming systems. Some immigrants already had a surname, but a great number did not. As the population grew, as a practical matter surnames would have eventually been needed by everyone. The British just speeded up the process by requiring them.
I study just one surname. It is Gardenier, Gardinier, Gordinier, etc. (but not Gardiner or Gardner). The earliest Gardenier in the country was Jacob Janse (his father's name was Jan, which is pronounced Yon and means John). At first, he didn't use the Gardenier surname which had already been established in Holland. For a time he was Jacob Janse (his patronymic), then he selected Flodder as a surname. Since he was an important businessman, he is in the court records quite a bit, which allows us to know what names he was using. He was Jacob Janse Flodder for quite awhile, often being referred to simply as Flodder (there were no others with that surname). A son Jan is in the records as Jan Jacobse or Jan Flodderse and eventually became Jan Jacobsen Gardenier. Flodder was a temporary surname, and a child more properly should have used Flodder rather than Floddersz, but those were the early days when naming was confusing anyway.
When people were required to take a surname, they had to invent it. Many of them decided that they were from a certain European village so they would call themselves something like 'from Beuren'. The Dutch word for 'from' is Van. And so now you know the origin of the name Van Buren. Other people might decide that they were from the mountains or from a wooded region, etc. and create a surname from those Dutch terms.
A child born aboard ship in a storm got the name of Storm Bradt. Later he was known as Storm Van der Zee, giving rise to that surname. Van der Zee means 'from the sea'. There are a lot of Dutch names beginning with Van, as you know.
Many surnames referred to what profession a person may
have had. And sometimes the last patronymic might have been converted into a surname such as Jacobsen or Jansen.
My Danish (or German) great grandfather Schmidt and his brother came to the US about 1875. They were from a small place on the Danish-German border which was sometimes in one county, sometimes in the other (wars changed the border several times). He spoke German. My great grandfather's middle name was Jacobsen. All of his brother's children had the middle name Jacobs, even the daughters. At least two of my great grandfather's boys did also. As I recall, Denmark didn't require surnames until about 1850-1860.
Concerning the Dutch Gardeniers, the father of Jacob Janse (the first immigrant) was named Jan. Jacob Janse eventually became Jacob Janse Gardenier (as stated above). A son of his became Hendrick Jacobse Gardenier. Hendrick had a son Jacob Hendrickse Gardenier. Here you can see the merging of the patronymic system (literally, father-naming system) and the surname system. The middle name was almost always the first name of the child's father, so it was very much like a patronym, but with a surname following that.
In documents, Jacob Hendrickse Gardenier would most often be referred to as Jacob
H. Gardenier. Even though most
baptisms did not record the middle name, it was understood to be there. Sometimes a boy might receive his mother's maiden name as a middle name, or he might receive
a middle name unrelated to his father's name. Even in
those cases where people in the community would not be aware of the actual middle name, the man's middle initial would likely
still be taken from his father's first name. That could explain for some of us why we find the same person with two middle initials
(Of course, it might just be the result of the transcribers' interpretations of handwritten records.).
So far, I have discussed surnames and middle names. What about Dutch given names?
NAMING OF DUTCH CHILDREN IN NEW NETHERLAND
Dutch parents in New Netherland/New York generally named their first two sons and first two daughters after their own parents (the grandparents of the children). If one of those children died, very often the next child born of that sex was given the same name. The idea was that the fathers and mothers of the married couple needed to be honored. If two children have the same name in a Dutch family, it is almost always true that the first one died (Germans, on the other hand, not uncommonly had more than one child by the same name in a family.).
There was a tendency for the first Dutch son to be named after its paternal grandfather and the first daughter after its maternal grandmother, but there was no reliable consistency in the pattern of which grandparent got honored first. Sometimes, using baptism records we can assemble an entire family unit, but we have no idea who the parents of the married couple were. To help find those parents, look at the names of the first two sons in the family (let's say Cornelius and Garrett were sons of Albert), and then look in the index of the records of the same church (or each church, if the children were baptized in more than one church). If a Cornelius or Garrett is listed, check all baptisms for the man. If one of the baptisms is for an Albert, there is a good chance that you have found the father of the Albert that interests you. If the mother of Albert in the baptism has the same name as one of Albert's first two daughters, there is much less doubt that you have the right baptism record for Albert. If the records from that church don't help, expand you search to nearby churches, primarily of the same religion. Using the names of the children in this manner is one of the best methods of finding the parents of a person in the early days of the state.
If you get stuck and cannot find the parents of this Albert, look for the parents of his wife instead. If you can find them, and if their names match two of the children of Albert, then you know the family is using the Dutch pattern of naming. That makes it highly likely that two other children will have the names of Albert's parents. But, if the wife's parents' names were not among the children, either you don't have all of the children, or they were not using the naming pattern. If the latter is true, determining the parents of Albert will not be easy.
Although in some Dutch lines this pattern of naming children may not have been used, I have found it to be very useful with Gardeniers all of the way up to 1900, at least in Columbia Co.
In the 1600s and 1700s, if you are looking for the parent of a person, the patronymic will tell you the father's given name, but not the last name being used. This can be a real problem. By 1700, surnames became fairly firmly established so things get easier. However, problems occur like Van Bloemendaal eventually becoming something like Bloomingdale (without the Van).
Spellings of names changed greatly as time passed. What you see in print may not be the spelling that the person used for their
own name (if they could spell). The spelling that was recorded was mainly the result of the education, experiences, and
language spoken by the person recording the information.
For example, business in Albany, NY in 1800 was conducted in Dutch. Dutch was still spoken in many homes, and some Reformed Church services were still conducted in Dutch. But government records were kept in English. A Dutch person might pronounce their name to a person who spoke only English. The recorded spelling might be very different from what a Dutchman would have recorded when hearing the same sounds. If a Dutchman said Coon, an Englishman would hear and record Cone. The Coen- in the name Coenradt sounds like our Coon, so you will often see the name spelled Coonradt or Coonrad. Being able to approximately pronounce names in Dutch will help us realize that Catherine and Catharyna and Catarina all sounded the same when pronounced in Dutch and were the same name.
PROSPECTS OF FINDING YOUR ANCESTORS
There are almost no civil birth records available in NY before 1881. However, the city of Albany began collecting vital statistics in 1870. Following a new state law, many NY communities collected vital records beginning in 1847 and ending sometime in 1849-51 since the state apparently did not require that they be forwarded to the state. Most of these records were thereafter discarded, although those which survived until about 1930 were itemized in a WPA publication. The city of Albany does not know where theirs are today, and most other local communities have no knowledge of them either. Those for Rensselaer Co. were microfilmed, I believe, and have been put online (search for 1847 on my website).
No U.S. or NY census
before 1850 gives the names of the wife or children. Before 1847, there is
little you can use other than church records. The names of the baptism
sponsors can be very useful, especially if you can determine that they are relatives of the people you are
the Dutch naming system will also be very helpful. Beyond that, you have very little you can use if the person was born in NY
and didn't have their children baptized in a church. Old newspapers seldom had any birth announcements as far as I know, and obituaries
seldom gave much useful information. If you are really lucky, a county or village history might have some helpful
information. Wills can be very helpful, but most wills were not
recorded. Deeds can sometimes be helpful, especially if the land came from
the distribution of land according to the directions in a will. Finding
your ancestors takes a combination of knowledge, research skills and
You might want to look at a webpage I wrote about the pattern used by some Dutch in the naming of their children. I color-coded certain names so that you can follow how the names were applied to the descendants.
Also, in the "LANGUAGE & NAMES" section (see Table of Contents on my website's home page) refer to the following subsections which contain about 35 links:
"DUTCH NAMES AND NAMING PRACTICES"
"NAMES & NAMING (non-Dutch)"
"DICTIONARIES AND TRANSLATORS"
German Pattern of Naming Children (some authors present other patterns)
Pattern of Naming Children (and information on given names)
Dutch Patronymics (and Dutch Surnames) in the 1600s
Dutch Names and Nicknames
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