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Surname may pinpoint early roots

Peat soil happy Riet plant basic to a range of Dutch family names

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill Genealogy

Reed culture is very much part of Dutch history and tradition. The landscape, with its numerous rivers, canals, lakes and increasing number of wetland parks, are ideal places to grow and harvest the plant which for centuries has been used to economically supply thatch for houses and farmsteads. Depending on the quality and type of the reed, the Dutch used the material for a range of applications, including reed-based furniture, baskets, mats and woven seats for chairs.

The reedculture, which usually flourishes along the shore of bodies of water in peat soil, is well represented in the Dutch family name registries, although the syllable riet in a surname does not necessarily always refer to the pollutant cleansing plant and can have other origins. A search in the Meertens Instituut database for family names turned up nearly 70 such surnames, from just Riet to Rietmulder, and Riet(s)ema which very likely has a patronymic origin (after the given name Riete). The same could apply to any surname which uses the prefix Ver.

Dutch surname adoption throughout the early decades of the 1800s was very much influenced by both local dialects and the lack of consistent spelling practices. Clerical errors also have contributed to the number of spelling variations, frequently in the same family. That riet can be spelled differently shows the southern Dutch rijt, rijdt, or ryt. The syllable is part of numerous surnames in North Brabant which together represent thousands of households.


Regional influences can be significant. The surname Van t Riet (shortened from Van het Riet) for example, numbered in 1947 a total of 232 households. Of these, nearly 180 resided in the provinces of .

The number of surnames in the Riet, Rietman, Van der Riet and Vant Riet range that were researched for this survey totaled about 70.

The above is a much digested version of the original article. Copies of the original, fully illustrated article, which is the fourth in a series, can be ordered by contacting the Windmill Herald / the Windmill Post office, see also contact information.