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. I believe it was outlawed
when the English took control of the 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 Jacob had a son Hendrick who had a son Samuel who had a son Dirck, the names of these
men were based on the name of their father. 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 Jacobse.
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 countries
required surnames, but at the same time patronymics were allowed to flourish in the
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, surnames would have eventually been needed
by everyone, but the British speeded up the process by requiring it.
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 selected
a different surname of Flodder. Since he was an important businessman, he is in the court
records quite a bit, which allows us to know what name he was using. He was Jacob Janse
Flodder for quite awhile, often being referred to simply as Flodder (there were no
others). A son Jan is in the records as Jan Jacobse or Jan Flodderse and eventually 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
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. A child born aboard ship in a storm got the name
of Storm. Later he was known as Storm Van der Zee. Van der Zee means 'from the
sea'. I believe this person gave rise to both the Storm and Van der Zee surnames, but
I'm not certain. There are a lot of Dutch names beginning with Van, as you know.
Many surnames referred to what profession a person may have had. 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). 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.
Back to the Dutch Gardeniers. The father of Jacob Janse (the first immigrant) was named
Jan. Jacob Janse eventually became Jacob Janse Gardenier. A son of his eventually 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 like patronymics, 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 another middle 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
take 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 different transcribers
reading handwritten records differently.).
So far, I have discussed surnames and middle names. What about Dutch given names?
NAMING OF DUTCH CHILDREN IN NEW NETHERLANDS
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
There was a tendency for the first Dutch son to be named after its paternal grandfather
and the first daughter after the maternal grandmother, but there was no reliable
consistency in this pattern of which grandparent was 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. If a Cornelius or Garrett is listed,
check all baptisms for the man. If one of the bp. 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 not much doubt that you have the right baptism record for Albert. If the records from
that church don't help, ex!
pand you search to nearby churches, primarily of the same religion.
If you get stuck and cannot find the parents of 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 naming system. 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 system. If the latter is true,
determining the parents of Albert will not be easy.
Although in some Dutch lines the system of naming children may not have been used, I have
found the system to be very useful with Gardeniers all of the way up to 1900, at least in
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. 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.
There are almost no civil birth records available in NY before 1881 (the city of Albany
goes back to 1870), and no census before 1850 gives the names of the wife or children.
Before 1847, you must use 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
studying. Employing 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. Old newspapers seldom had any birth announcements as far as I know,
and obituaries seldom gave much useful information. If you are lucky, a county or village
history might have some helpful information. I'm sorry that I cannot be more
I hope this explanation of names and the Dutch naming system will be helpful to a few
members of the list. Good luck in your search.
You might want to look at a webpage I wrote about the Dutch naming of their children. I
color-coded certain names so that you can follow how the names were applied to the
Also, in the LANGUAGE & NAMES section (see Table of Contents on my website's home
page) refer to the following subsections which contain 35 links:
DUTCH NAMES AND NAMING PRACTICES
NAMES & NAMING (non-Dutch)
DICTIONARIES AND TRANSLATORS