Dutch names can be a bit of a challenge for expats, as their pronunciation is not always that easy. And what is the deal with those typical Dutch last names with prefixes like “de” and “van”?
To help you navigate naming practices in the Netherlands, we’ve put together this handy guide to Dutch names, including naming rules, information on how to change your name, and traditional and popular boy and girl names in the Netherlands.
Names in the NetherlandsIn the Netherlands, personal names follow the same common structure as in the rest of Europe and the western world: one or more first names (usually depends on what religion you follow), followed by a last name; the family name. In Dutch, these are called voornaam (first name) and achternaam (last name).
Naming rules in the NetherlandsWhen it comes to naming your child in the Netherlands, there are a few rules in place. When you are going to register the birth of your child at your municipality, the civil registrar has to approve the name. If they don’t approve of the name, you can come up with a new name. If you can’t, the registrar will name your child for you. If you don’t agree with this, your lawyer will need to ask the court for a name change within six weeks.
Examples of inappropriate first names Swear words A name consisting of many names An existing last name, unless it is also an existing first name Ludicrous names Naming children with a foreign or dual nationalityIf your child has a foreign or dual nationality, you are allowed to give your child a Dutch name. However, please note that some countries may not accept your choice for a Dutch first name.
Changing your name in the NetherlandsDo you wish to change you or your child’s first or last name? Here is what you will need to do:
Changing your surnameYou can submit your request to change a last name to Justis. Be aware that strict conditions apply. You can download this brochure (Dutch) to find out if these conditions apply to your situation.
Changing your first nameIf you would like to change your first name, or that of your child, you will need to submit a request to the Dutch court. To do this, you will need a lawyer. Please note that you will need an important reason to change your first name, for example, your religious beliefs, you are undergoing gender reassignment, or you are bullied for your current name. Read more about changing a first name here.
Dutch first names A lot of Dutch first names are Germanic in origin, for example Karel (from the word “kerel” meaning man / guy) or Koen (meaning brave). In addition to these Germanic names, many first names are biblical in origin, deriving from Hebrew, Greek and Latin – the languages of the bible. The names of saints were and still are popular in the Netherlands. Some of these saintly names also have a Dutch form, for instance, the name Pieter comes from Petrus.
Dutch last namesSurnames or last names were not common in the Netherlands until around the end of the Middle Ages. During this time, only nobles who wanted to record their lineage had one. However, using only a first name to refer to a person was often not sufficient, so an addition was usually added. This addition varied per region. During the seventeenth century, this addition turned into the family name. In the French era (1799-1815), it was decided that everyone who did not have a surname yet, would have to choose one in order to achieve unity in the systems. From then on, surnames would always be passed on from father to child.
Here are some examples of the most common additions to Dutch first names:
PatronymicIn most regions, the so-called patronymic was added, for example, Willem, the son of Jan, became Willem Jans. The son of Willem Jans, let’s call him Piet, then became Piet van Willem Jans, introducing the now well-known typically Dutch prefix to last names in the Netherlands.
ToponymIn some regions, the addition to the first name was the name of the farm or the place where someone lived. For example, a man called Theodorus who lived in the town Kesteren would then be known as Theodorus van Kesteren.
Peculiarity or nicknameOther regions preferred to add a peculiarity or nickname to the first name of a person. So, tall Jan became Jan de Lange (Jan, the tall one).
ProfessionA person’s profession was also used often as an addition to a first name. So, Willem who was the village’s butcher would become Willem de Slager (Willem the Butcher).
Common Dutch surnamesCommon Dutch surnames often have a prefix like “de” or “van.” These prefixes are always written in a lower case. One of the most common Dutch surnames is “de Jong”, which is considered a patronymic name. Other common Dutch surnames are “Jansen” (derived from Jan’s son) and “de Vries” (meaning “the freeze,” referring to where a person came from, i.e. a toponym).
Popular & common Dutch namesIt used to be common to be named after a family member, but nowadays, parents choose a name they like. Short and international names are very popular, as well as names that are trendy in popular culture, for example the name of a popular TV character.
First names for boysAs of 1990, according to the Meertens Instituut, popular boy names in the Netherlands are:
Kevin Johannes Jeroen Thomas Tim Mark Jan Jeffrey Dennis Michael First names for girlsAs of 1990, according to the Meertens Instituut, popular girl names in the Netherlands are:
Maria Laura Anne Sanne Johanna Kim Michelle Linda Mandy Chantal Dutch baby namesNowadays, international or English baby names are very popular in the Netherlands. This makes things easy for expats, as some Dutch names can be difficult to pronounce. However, old-school Dutch names have been making a bit of a comeback since the 2010s.
Dutch boy namesCurrently, one or two syllable names are popular in the Netherlands when it comes to boy names. English names are trendy, as well as old Dutch names.
Common & popular Dutch boy namesAs of 2020, according to the SVB, these are the most popular and common boy names in the Netherlands:
Noah Sem Liam Lucas Daan Finn Levi Luuk Mees James Traditional Dutch boy namesPopular traditional old-Dutch boy names are:
Jan Hendrik Pieter Willem Jacob Dirk Arie Johan Albert Simon Dutch girl namesPopular Dutch girl names, just as popular Dutch boy names, are usually short (one or two syllables) and English or typically old Dutch. Many of the most trendy names of today end in the letter “a”.
Common & popular Dutch girl namesAs of 2020, according to the SVB, these are the most popular and common girl names in the Netherlands:
Emma Julia Mila Tess Sophie Zoe Sara Nora Yara Eva Traditional Dutch girl namesPopular traditional old-Dutch girl names are:
Maria Anna Johanna Elisabeth Adriana Helena Christina Lena Joanna Maaike Naming a baby in the NetherlandsThere are a few rules when it comes to naming a baby in the Netherlands. This goes for first names, as well as last names.
First nameWhen it comes to the first name of your baby, there are a few rules, but they are mostly common sense, such as “don’t name your child after a swear word” or “don’t give it too many first names”. Generally, Dutch people give their child one to three first names, depending on their religion.
Last nameIn the past, a last name was passed from the father to his children. Nowadays, you have a bit more leeway when it comes to choosing a last name for your child.
Man & womanIf you are in a heterosexual marriage or registered partnership, your child will automatically get the surname of the father. If you want your child to have the mother’s last name, you will need to register this together at the registry office of your municipality, before or during the birth registration.
Two womenIf you are in a same-sex female marriage or relationship, and the birth mother is pregnant via an unknown donor, the child will automatically get the last name of the other mother (duomoeder). The mother who registers the birth at the registry office will have to submit a statement from the Stichting donorgegevens kunstmatige bevruchting (Foundation for artificial insemination donor data). If you want the child to have the birth mother’s last name, you will need to register this together at the registry office.
If the birth mother is pregnant via a known donor, the child will automatically get the birth mother’s last name. If you want the child to have the other mother’s name, you will need to register this together at the registry office.
No marriage or registered partnershipIf you are not married or in a registered partnership, your child will automatically get the last name of the birth mother. If you want the child to have your partner’s last name, they will need to officially recognise the child. If they have, you will need to register the preferred last name together at the registry office.
Two menWhen a child is born, there is always a mother. Motherhood can only end through adoption. Upon adoption, you can choose the last name of your child in court. Any subsequent children will automatically have the same last name as your first child together.