As late as 1800 at the Albany Reformed Dutch Church, 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. They couldn't find a bilingual pastor to take the
post, 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 much later than most people would
Very few people that I know speak Dutch, but, fortunately, except for a few letters, Dutch
sounds quite like German. Some of you will be familiar with that language.
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 spoken language)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 and 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. COT-uh-REE-nuh. In western European languages, an 'a'
would be pronounces as 'ah', or like the 'o' in hot. The 'i'
would be pronounced as 'ee'. The 'h' in 'th' is silent causing
'th' to sound like 't'. The Dutch and Germans would pronounce a final -e
even though in English we usually don't. COT-uh-REE-nuh is what you get. All four
names were pronounced the same way, and were just spelling variations of the same name.
Jacob and Yacop are the the same name because the Dutch J sounds like an English Y. 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
A great number of Dutch female names end in -tje or -tie in our transcriptions of the
early church records. Actually, the 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, so it was exactly the same as the
'i' except for the length of the line. Transcribers often could not tell them
apart. Fortunately, they are both pronounced the same; as -chuh. This may seem
improbable to some readers, but a 'j' in Dutch and German sounds like our
'y' (the German word for yes is 'ja', which is pronounced 'yah').
The 'y' and 'i' are pronounced the same; as 'ee' (when we say yes,
we really say ee-es without a break between). But, remember that we have to pronounce the
final vowel -e (which is -uh). 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 YON-uh-chuh. Clues given in previous paragraphs should have prepared you
for this (except the location of the emphasis). Jannetje translates 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 would you pronounce Fitje? FEE-chuh. It translates as
The experience and education of the person recording a name determined what he wrote down
when a person told him their name (a great many people could not spell their own name).
If the recorder was Dutch, a person's name was likely to be recorded with a different
spelling than if the recorder was English. The recorder put down what he heard. If two
spellings sound the same, they are almost certainly the same name.
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 I
have two or three spellings of the same person's name, I use the one that I believe to
be most Dutch. As the primary spelling, I would always pick Jannetje over Jane. I would
always pick Annatje (ON-uh-chuh) over Anna (ON-uh) or Ann (ON) or Hannah (HON-uh) in a
situation where I had all four names in the records for the same person. Antje (Antie) is
another variation of Annatje. Hannah can also be a nickname for Johanna which ends in
Jan (yon), Johannes (yo-HON-ess), and John (probably pronounced yon 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, with just two exceptions (one c. 1790
and the other in 1741).
Some Dutch/German sounds
final b p
final d t
final g k
w v (the Dutch is closer to vw sounded together)
Does anyone have any experiences where the pronunciation of the name was helpful in
finding an ancestor?
Cliff Lamere Albany, NY