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Toponymy in the Netherlands (1)

Communities adopted names from Nil to No End, a case of numericals in Dutch place names

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Where do place names originate from? Many people will wonder about it, but few will bother to find out for themselves. It takes dedicated historians and genealogists to research the matter. What about such place names as Heerlen, Doetinchem, Zwolle and Groningen? While, many towns and villages in the country have identities that are linked to nearby geographical features, a few hundred places have an origin tied to a number. So named perhaps from the way a particular settlement - mostly because of its number of huizen (houses) - was known to folks down the 'road.'

The villages with a numeric identity run the gamut from Nil (Den Nul) - a settlement in the Overijssel municipality of Olst - to No End (Geeneind) of which there are two, one in the Brabant municipality of Helmond, the other near the Limburg border town of Tegelen. There are many that fit in between, from the simple One (Een) - a settlement in Drenthe - to Thousand Morgen (Duizenmorgen) in the Land van Altena bordered by the Great Rivers. The word morgen is an old Dutch area measure (2.1 acres), in other words: the amount of land which could be plowed in a morning.

Moving along to the next number, there is a Tweehuizen (two houses) near Delfzijl, a Tweesluizen (two locks) in the Betuwe and a Tweewegen (two roads) northeast of Alkmaar. Drie (three) is a Veluwe village, while that number has been used for forty other names with suffixes such as -boerehuizen (farmsteads), -bruggen (bridges) and -wegen (roads). Surprisingly for a 'flat' country (not true for the eastern part), there is also one with the suffix -bergen (mountains).


Vier (four) is the prefix of some twenty names, from Vierakker (four fields) in the Achterhoek to Vierverlaten (four sluices) in Groningen. Vijf (five) has been used in naming some twenty-odd settlements, again with most of them bearing the suffix -huizen (houses), but also -sluizen and -hoek (corner). Only three settlements carry the prefix zes (six), many more begin with zeven (seven), while twenty names start with acht (eight). Negen (nine) only can be found in the name Negenhuizen, just south of Delft. The South Holland islet of Tiengemeten perhaps indicates the original size: a gemet is about one acre.

Beyond the first ten numbers, interest seems to wane. Elf (eleven) was only used once: for the Frisian settlement of Elfbergen. Twaalf, dertien, veertien and vijftien found no takers, only zestien was used again as in the name for the Rotterdam airport (Zestienhoven, sixteen gardens, using the plural of hof, now an antiquaited word) and a Frisian settlement (Zestienroeden), where -roeden again is a measure which was replaced by the metric system. Zeventien was skipped and achttien was used as a prefix three times: from two villages Achttienhoven (one in Utrecht, one in South Holland) to Achttienkavelspolder (the polder of eightteen parcels of land).

Just like in real life, where small children count one, two, three, many, the Dutch naming of settlements went from eighteen to one hundred and a few beyond. There is a Honderdland, a Honderd Gemeten and a Honderd Morgen, while there is also a Duizenmorgen and even a Achttienhonderd Roeden: in the Municipality of Amsterdam.