Dutch Culture

Naming

Naming Conventions

  • Dutch naming conventions arrange names as follows: [first given name] [other given name(s)] [FAMILY NAME]. For example, Peter de JUNG (male) or Berta JANSEN (female).
  • One’s ‘given name’ (voornaam), known as a ‘personal name’, is chosen at birth as the individual’s personal identifier. It always comes before the family name. 
  • The ‘family name’ (achternaam), known as a ‘surname’ or ‘last name’, is inherited from one’s parents and shared with other members of the individual’s immediate family
  • Upon marriage, both partners legally retain their family name, but are given the choice of adopting their partner’s family name or a combination of both. For instance, if Levi SMIT and Sophie BAKKER married, each partner has the choice to adopt the family name SMIT, BAKKER, SMIT-BAKKER, or BAKKER-SMIT.
  • Whichever is the preferred option will be registered with the government, but both people retain the right to use their original family name.
  • When a couple wed, it is most common for the woman to keep her family name or adopt a combination of both names. For example, Sophie BAKKER or Sophie SMIT-BAKKER.
  • Upon the birth of a child of a married or formally registered couple, children by default adopt their father’s family name. However, parents can choose to give their children either their father’s family name or mother’s family name.
  • If a child is born and the couple are not married or formally registered as a partnership, the child will have the mother’s family name by default.
  • Many Dutch also have another given name, similar to a middle name, which is a secondary personal written between the person’s first given name and their family name. For example, Emma Rosa van DIJK’s other given name is Rosa.

 

Calling Names (Roepnaam)

It is common for people to have both a given name and a ‘calling name’ (roepnaam). The latter refers to a name given to the newly-born child by their parents. For example, Elisabeth is the official given name that will appear on official documents and Esther is the ‘calling name’. Thereafter, application forms for public institutions such as schools will often ask for someone’s official given name, and for their roepnaam. This means that people refer to someone by their calling name. If someone is not provided a calling name at birth, people will refer to the child by their official first name. In some cases, a person’s calling name is the same as their first given name.

 

Names

  • Parents may choose any given name for their child, but the name must be approved by the civil registry.
  • Traditionally, it was common for children to be named after family members, typically their grandmother or grandfather.
  • Many names were traditionally related to Christianity. For instance, the name ‘Maria’ was very popular for females. The practice of naming children with Christian related names is not as common.
  • In 2020, the most popular male given names were Noah, Sem, Liam, Lucas and Daan.1 The most popular female given names were Emma, Julia, Mila, Tess and Sophie.2
  • Some Dutch family names contain a particle, such as ‘van’ (“of/from”), ‘de/het’ (“the”) and ‘der’ (“of the”). These particles, known as ‘tussenvoegsel’ are not capitalised. For example, Vincent van GOGH, or Antonia van der BERG.
  • These particles are typically not considered when arranging names alphabetically. For example, in a telephone book, family names are sorted alphabetically according to the first capitalised letter (e.g. GOGH, Vincent van).
  • Some Dutch family names begin with an apostrophe (e.g. ‘t HART) or with an article followed by an apostrophe (e.g. d’HONDT). These are shortenings of particles. For instance, the prefix ‘t is short for het, meaning ‘the’.3

 

Addressing Others

  • The way people address one another depends on the context and social relationship.
  • Typically, people refer to each other by their calling name (roepnaam) or first given name.
  • People never refer to others by their other given names. 
  • In an office setting, as well as when addressing customers, it is common to address each other by one’s calling name. Similarly, it is common to refer to customers by their calling name.
  • In some particular circumstances, family names and/or professional titles are used. This is typically for those who work in a medical or legal profession, as well as those in government positions or those with academic qualifications. For example, Dr. BAKKER or Prof. van DIJK.
  • Among friends and family, people may have a nickname (bijnaam). Nicknames vary and may be simplified or diminutive versions of someone’s given name. For instance, Rosa becomes Roos and Adriaan becomes Ad or Adri.
  • Youth will often address each other by a nickname or their calling name.

 

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1 Sociale Verzekeringsbank, 2021a.
2 Sociale Verzekeringsbank, 2021b.
3 Pitchford, 2006
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