Pronunciation of Dutch Names -
A Research Tool for Finding Your Dutch Ancestors
Cliff Lamere May-Jun 2002, Jan 2004
The American English interpretations below are not exactly as they would be pronounced in Dutch, but they are about as close as an English speaking person can get to the several Dutch sounds that we don't have in English. The purpose of this webpage is not to get you to pronounce Dutch perfectly, but rather to say the Dutch names as an English speaking person would have done in the 17th-19th centuries. Only then will you understand why some of the strange spellings of names occurred, and you may realize that several different spellings are all the same name. That realization will give you a much better chance of finding your ancestors.
For you to accurately use the information below, we must first agree on some American English sounds which I will use.
American English Sounds Like
ah 'a' in spa (like the 'o' in hot)
eh 'e' in get
ih 'i' in sit
oh 'o' in bone
uh 'u' in cut
ooh oo in moon
If the letters in an example are capitalized, those letters represent a stressed syllable. Johnny would be written JAHN-ee. Maria would be written muh-REE-uh.]
SOME DUTCH SOUNDS
VOWELS - SINGLE
Dutch American English
a ah - as in spa
e eh, ay - as in set (short), or the 'a' in made (long)
i ih, ee - as in sit (short) or in Dijon (long) or beet (long)
o ah, oh (short versus long sounds)
u uh or ooh (as in but and tune or moon) (short vs. long)
As I understand it, a vowel is long if it is followed by a single consonant, unless the single consonant is at the end of the word. An English example would be the words "even", "Steven" and "decent". The two 'e's in each word have different sounds. If this rule, as I stated it, is not completely accurate, it will still work the majority of the time.
VOWELS - DOUBLE (ALIKE)
Dutch American English
aa ah (as in aardvark)
ee ay (as in may)
oo oh (as in boat)
uu (similar to the 'u' in tune)
VOWELS - DOUBLE (UNLIKE)
Dutch American English
au (same as the ow in cow)
ei (similar to the word 'eye')
eu (like the French peu and deux.)
ie ee (as in grief and beet)
ij (similar to the word 'eye')
oe ooh (as in shoe and goose)
ou (as the ow in cow)
uy (as in buy)
CONSONANTS - SINGLE (q, x, and y are not much used in Dutch. The others sound as
they would in American English, except for the following:)
Dutch American English
b (end of word) p
d (end of word) t
g ch as in Scottish loch and German Bach
g (end of word) k
r trilled like the French r
v v, but somewhat like f (between view and few, closer to view)
w vw (start with upper teeth on bottom lip)
CONSONANTS - MULTIPLE
ch (as in Scottish loch or German Bach. Not like 'ck'.)
ng ng (as in sing)
sch sk (as in school; but actually the s is followed by the Scottish ch)
th t (silent h)
[German influences in pronunciations and spellings exist because of the Palatine immigration of the very early 1700s. A significant example would be that the German 'v' sounds like an English 'f', and the German 'w' sounds like an English 'v'. A name that you think might be Dutch may actually be German. Or, if it really is Dutch, perhaps the person writing the name was German. An example might be that a Dutch name that began Fal-, might be recorded Val- or Voll- by a German.]
As late as 1800 at the Albany Reformed Dutch
Church (Albany, NY),
a pastor was being sought who spoke both English and Dutch. The older (and more financially well-off) people in the church still spoke Dutch in their
homes. A bilingual pastor couldn't be found, but a second
Reformed church in Albany was being built, so the solution was to get two pastors, one
who spoke English and the other who spoke Dutch. Then each pastor could conduct a single service at each church each
Sunday. The second church began conducting services about 1815. At that same time, a successful businessman
in the city still had to speak Dutch. So, you see, Dutch was spoken in Albany,
NY much later than most people would have
American English Pronunciation of Dutch Names
Very few people whom I know speak Dutch, but, fortunately, Dutch sounds are often similar to German. Some of you will be familiar with that language. I often apply my knowledge of German to Dutch names and it works pretty well.
Based on pronuciation, I was recently able to match up two people in my database as being the same woman.
One was named Ytje and the other
Ida. In Dutch, the first would be pronounced
EE-tyuh (EE-chuh in actual conversation) and the other EE-tuh. That got me pointed in the right
direction, and other facts clinched it. (A final 'd' or a 'd' with a vowel
on either side of it would be pronounced as a 't'. I have even seen cases
where a Dutch name beginning with a D was heard by the writer as a T, but not
often. For example, Dirk has been recorded as Tirk.)
Catherine is a very common name with which people have problems, even though they don't realize it. Catherine, Catharine, Catharina and Catarina were all pronounced the same by the Dutch. CAHT-uh-REE-nuh. In western European languages, an 'a' would be pronounces as 'ah' (like the 'o' in hot). The 'h' in 'th' is silent causing 'th' to sound like 't'. The 'i' would be pronounced as 'ee'. The Dutch and Germans would pronounce a final -e even though in English we usually don't. CAHT-uh-REE-nuh is what it all sounds like. All four names were pronounced the same way, and were just spelling variations of the same name. The written spelling all depended on the person writing the name. Catrina would be another form of the name.
Jacob and Yacop are two spellings of the same name, because the Dutch J sounds like an English Y, and a final 'b' sounds like a 'p'. It didn't sound too much like we pronounce Jacob today. Remember that the 'a' in this name sounds like 'ah'.
In transcriptions of the early Duthc church records, a great number of Dutch female names end in -tje or -tie . Actually, the written Dutch 'j' and 'i' were often hard to tell apart. The 'i' was just a short, straight, vertical line with a dot above it. The 'j' had no curve at the bottom of it as it would have today, so it was exactly the same as the 'i' except that the line was longer. Transcribers often could not tell them apart. Fortunately, they are both pronounced 'ee'. So, -tje or -tie are prinounced tee-uh (shortened to -chuh in conversation).
Explanation: The pronunciation of these endings may seem improbable to some readers, but a 'j' in Dutch and German sounds like the English 'y' (many of us are familiar with 'ja' which is the German word for yes; it is pronounced 'yah'). The 'y' and 'i' are both pronounced 'ee' (when we say the word yes, we actually say 'ee-es' without a break in between). But, remember that we have to pronounce the final vowel -e (which is -uh, technically -eh). What we get is -tee-uh. In Dutch, when either -tje or -tie are said in normal speech, they come out as -chuh.
I got my start on Dutch pronunciation with the name Jannetje. Over a period of time, I asked four people born in The Netherlands to pronounce it for me. They all agreed that it was pronounced YAHN-eh-chuh. Clues given in the previous paragraphs should have prepared you for this, except for the location of the emphasis. (Jannetje is translated as Jane.)
I have long been interested in correct pronunciation whenever I intended to learn a few words in a foreign language. It has finally paid off in the pursuit of my ancestors.
How Did One Name Get so Many Spellings?
The experience and education of the person recording a name determined what he wrote down when a person told him their name. Many people did not know how to spell their own name, so the recorder had to write what they heard. If the recorder was Dutch, a person's name was likely to be recorded with a different spelling than if the recorder was English. If two spellings sound the same, they are almost certainly the same name. Being able to come close to a Dutch pronunciation of a name will then allow you to recognize the same sound when spelled in American English.
The various spellings of a person's name should not throw you off. Don't assume that Catarina Van Dyke and Catherine Van Dyke have to be different women. Don't assume that either one of the spellings was the one preferred by the woman. A great many people could not read or write, but they, of course, could speak their own name.
When the records show me two or three spellings of the same person's name, as the primary name I use the one that I believe to be most Dutch. As the main spelling, I would always pick Jannetje over Jane when I have seen both applied to the same person. I would always pick Annatje (AHN-uh-chuh) over Anna (AHN-uh) or Ann (AHN) or Hannah (HAHN-uh) in a situation where I had all four names in the records for the same person. Antje or Antie (AHN-chuh) is another form of Annatje. Hannah can also be a nickname for Johanna which ends in -hanna, so one cannot be certain of the birth name of a woman named Hannah unless the records list it.
Jan (YAHN), Johannes (yo-HAHN-ess), and John (possibly pronounced YAHN by the Dutch in the early days of its use) are all the same name in eastern New York during different centuries. From my study of one Dutch family's births and baptisms, Jan was the name given to boys up until 1689. The earliest Johannes was c. 1721 (born to a Jan) and the last was 1791. John was the given name after 1791, although it did appear twice earlier (one c. 1790 and the other in 1741).
Using the pronunciation to make sense out of the recorded spellings can be difficult for someone who does not know a little Dutch or German. Sometimes a spoken Dutch name was recorded with a Dutch spelling, and sometimes it was recorded with an English spelling. Since the name, as it sounded in English, did not have an accepted English spelling, one had to be made up. That could lead to three or four different spellings of it, but they all sounded pretty much alike when pronounced in English.
Sometimes it is difficult to figure out which is the Dutch and which is the English spelling. For example, take the Dutch name Coenradt (meaning Conrad). It may be seen in the records as Coonrot, which is what Coenradt would sound like in English. Since you have probably never seen it written either way before, how would you know which is Dutch and which is English? Only a little experience with the names will help. The more foreign looking a Dutch given name is, or the harder it is to figure out how to pronounce it, the more likely it is to be a Dutch spelling. The clues in Coenradt would be the -dt ending which we wouldn't use in English, or the -oe combination of vowels which is not common in English.
Many of the strange spellings of names in the records can be better understood when the pronunciation of the original Dutch name is better understood. Although this webpage has emphasized given names, it works equally well with Dutch surnames. And by now you may have a better understanding of why you may already have three or more spellings for a particular given name or surname that you are researching.
Other Webpages on Dutch Pronunciation Added 7 Jan 2004
You can find webpages about Dutch pronunciation by using a search engine, but I must caution you. They are almost always written by Europeans who compare Dutch pronunciation to British English, not American English. Because they don't tell you that, Americans will become very confused if they try to use the pronunciations as they would interpret them from those webpages. If your computer has speakers hooked up to it, find a webpage that will allow you to listen to someone speaking the Dutch sounds.
Visitors since 21 May 2002