September 20, 2008

Patronymics - or understanding names that have you so confused you don't know who's who

by Lorine McGinnis Schulze

The Dutch were much slower than the English in adopting surnames as we know them. Patronymics in New Netherland (New York) ended theoretically under English rule in 1687 with the advent of surnames, but not everyone followed the new guidelines.

The most common Dutch naming custom was that of patronymics, or identification of an individual based on the father's name. For example in my Bradt family, Jan Albertszen (who later took the surname Bradt) is named after his father, Albert. Albertszen means son of a man named Albert. So Jan's name is "Jan, the son of Albert"

The patronymic was formed by adding -se, -sen, or -szen. Daughters would very often have the ending -x or -dr. added. For example, Geesjie Barentsdr. (Barentsdochter) is named after her father Barent.

An individual could also be known by his place of origin. Cornelis Antoniszen (who also used the surname Van Slyke), my 9th great- grandfather, was known in some records as 'van Breuckelen', meaning 'from Breuckelen' (Breuckelen being a town in the Netherlands).

The place-origin name could be a nationality, as in the case of Albert Andriessen from Norway and my 9th great-grandpa, originator of the Bradt and Vanderzee families - he is entered in many records as Albert Andriessen de Noorman, meaning the Norseman.

We may also see naming differences over the generations. Albert's sons and daughters took the surname BRADT except for his son Storm, born on the Atlantic Ocean during the family's sailing to the New World. Storm adopted the surname Van Der Zee (from the sea) and this is the name his descendants carry.

An individual might be known by a personal characteristic. Vrooman means a pious or wise man;Krom means bent or crippled; De Witt means the white one. The most fascinating one I've seen is that of Pieter Adrianszen (Peter, son of Adrian) who was given the nickname of Soo Gemackelyck (so easy-going) but was also known as Pieter Van Waggelen/Van Woggelum. And his children adopted the surnames Mackelyck and Woglom.

Sometimes an occupation became the surname. Smit=Smith; Schenck= cupbearer, Metsalaer= mason. An individual might be known by many different 'surnames' and entered in official records under these different names, making research difficult unless you're aware of the names in use.

For example, my Cornelis Antoniszen Van Slyke mentioned above, was known and written of under the following names:

* Cornelis Antoniszen
* Cornelis Teuniszen (Teunis being the diminuitive of Antony)
* Cornelis Antoniszen/Teuniszen van Breuckelen
* Cornelis Antoniszen/Teuniszen Van Slicht (this is how he signed his name and might have been a hereditary family name based on an old place of origin)
* Broer Cornelis (name given him by Mohawks)

Remember that there are tremendous variations in spelling of these names, and changes from Dutch to to English record keeping in the New World affected the spelling even more.

To confuse matters even more, we also have to be aware of diminuitives of regular first names, because the patronymic might be formed from the normal name or its diminuitive! More on diminuitives in another post..

Now that we understand patronymics, how do we record the individual in our genealogy program? A good rule of thumb is to decide what name the individual is found under in official records. Use that name but be sure you record the source for each notation you make and record the name exactly as found in that specific source. It is okay for example to show a man as Cornelis Antonissen in your genealogy program, but show his sons and daughters with their surname of Van Slyke. If the individual never used the surname himself, you should not add it to his name.

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