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Ancient Germanic given names origin of various Dutch surnames

The case of Wolf, Vink and Vos

Tags: Genealogy

THE HAGUE - Many Dutch families have - so it seems at first - surnames borrowed from animals and birds. This may be true of clans with names such as De Hond or Kiviet but not necessarily so for those with Kat, Vink or Vos.

People at times wonder why so many Dutch surnames have a name association with those of animals. There are no easy answers for this but it will help to know how surnames came into being. Experts - in Dutch ‘naamkundigen’ - generally agree that fixed modern identities often have their origin in days when nicknames increasingly were used to distinguish certain individuals from others with similar given names as in Jan de Lange (Tall John) and Jan de Korte (Short John). The same principle applies to early monarchs and noblemen: Pepin the Short, Charles the Hammer, Philip the Beautiful and William the Taciturn. This also is true with identities based on geographic origins such as villages, farms, houses and businesses (the latter often displayed a sign - in Dutch ‘uithangbord’).

Such nicknames also could have resulted from an incident contemporaries remembered for its unusal circumstances or for an association to something that stuck in the collective mind of townsmen. Does the name Kiviet (Lapwing in English) originate with a speedwalker (he walks like a lapwing, is a Dutch saying to indicate a person who moves along at a fast clip) or perhaps a fascination with the annual spring search for lapwing eggs, a long tradition in the Lowlands? Or was there yet another reason? Centuries-old vital statistics’ records in certain cases may hold clues, stating the name of, for example, Jan Jansens ‘bijgenaamd’ (nicknamed) Kiviet or provide other clues to end a guessing game.

Other surnames may well originate in the custom to use animal names in those of taverns, inns and homes, a tradition still observed. What to think of ‘De Hongerige Wolf,’ Het Dorstige Hert,’ Het Vergulde Zwijn,’ ‘De Bonte Hond,’ ‘De Koningsvogel,’ or ‘De Getemde Leeuw.’ It does not require much imagination to conclude that residents of such places would be known as De Wolf, De Hond, Vogel or De Leeuw.

However, names such as Vos and Wolf also could be derived from Germanic given names (a minority in Dutch tradion) such as Vosse and Wolf(hart). A similar type of given name is Cat or Kat. Already long in disuse, the name has a Celtic origin.

The surname Vink - popularly often associated with the finch (in Dutch ‘vink’) bird variety could also have derived from the given name Finke - likely has more to do with a type of commercially substandard, light peat found in many areas in the Netherlands. Someone named Vink therefore could hail from a field or area with such soil. The fact the syllable is used so often and widely in placenames would lend credence to that theory; as for example in Vink (both in LB & ZH), Vinkebrug (NH), Vinkeveen (UT), Vinkenbuurt (NH & OV), Vinkenga (FR), Vinkel, Vinkeloord, Vinkenberg, Vinkenbroek (all in NB), Vinkenisse (ZL), Vinkhuizen (GR), Vinkwijk (GL), Vinkepas and Vinkeslag (LB).

The range of possibilities with name origins goes beyond the obvious by todays standards. Certain is that names like Cat, Finke, Vosse and Wolf and the use of storefront signs have a long history, helping shape an identity for many people.