A short tutorial, with apologies to the specialists

Probably the most common Frisian tradition for assigning given names to children was: the first son was named after the father's father, the second son after the mother's father, the first daughter after the mothers mother and the second daughter after the father's mother. After that the parents sibling's names were used. If you are looking at a family tree before 1800 with names that do not follow this pattern, the tree is likely incorrect.

Names were usually recycled when a child died. Thus if Jan Pieters died at the age of 5, the next son born to that couple (or at least father) would be named Jan Pieters.

Until 1811, the second and final name of most Frysians was the patronymic, the name of the father plus an "s". (An additional letter might be added when a single "s" produced a difficult sound.) E.g., the children of Jan had the patronymic Jans. Earlier the patronymic form was longer: Janszoon (Jan's son - often written Jansz) and Jansdochter (Jan's daughter - often written Jansdr). (This of course makes it easier for those not familiar with the names to determine the sex.) Even when the family used a surname, an official record might refer to the person only by given name and patronymic.

The combination of the first name convention and the patronymic often created long strings of alternating names. In our case, Jasper Feddes alternated with Fedde Jaspers for at least 9 generations - over 300 years. In a commune with 10 or 20 births, deaths and marriages a year, it becomes very easy to track families for an extended period.

The patronymic was replaced as legal identifier after the edict of 1811 by the surname. However the use of patronymics in naming continued in many families to this day, although others dropped it or started giving second given names (middle names). However that second name might well be similar to a patronymic: a son given the name of the father as a second name. (In my own case, my father Robert had children named John Robert and Johanna Roberta.) (I was named after my grandfathers: Daniel Clyde.)

The concept of a second or sometimes multiple given name (e.g. Pieter Albert Vincent) became popular among some of the richer classes in the 19th century, but is still not universal. At the same time in some families it became popular to give names derived from classical Greek and Roman literature, or Dutch names modified to the same format (Albertus). That custom generally died out by 1900. Another tradition started after 1811 was compound names such as Gerritdina, combining parts of the names of two ancestors. Some examples of this can still be found.

The use of the surname developed slowly over the last thousand years. Some authorities attribute the custom to the development of private land ownership (as opposed to common or tribal or feudal) as we know it now. (In strong support of that view is the fact that the surname is still not the norm in much of Asia and Africa, where traditional forms of land tenure endure.) In Friesland, surnames were used by a fairly small percentage of the population - those with substantial land holdings - until the decree of 1811. Certainly many land owning farmers (many of our ancestors) did not use surnames.

The use of surnames also developed earlier in cities, which had the need to keep track of many more people. In some of the larger cities of western Europe, the surname was the norm by 1500.

Surnames everywhere typically derive from a place (Habsburg), a trade or trait (carpenter, Christian), or an ancestor (Johnson).

Names which people adopted in 1811 - 1812 were often very simple, and often seemed to relate to how people were described in the village where there were two or more people with a name. Who is that? John, from the field (Jan van der Veld). This type includes van der Laan, van der Moelen, and other van der's. A fancier way of saying the same is the suffice -stra: Jan Steenstra instead of Jan van der Steen.

Trade and trait appear in such names as de Vries (the Frysian - most likely used by people from Fryslân then living someplace else), de Boer (the farmer) and Huisman (small farmer).

Patronymic surnames from 1811 are most often of the -s form, and apparently at least in some cases were assigned by the commune clerk when an individual did not register a surname. Older patronymic surnames typically end in -n, -en, -sma, -ma, -inga, or -da. Thus Hemmes, Hemmen, Hemmesma, and Hemminga should be considered as variations.

Older place surnames often were used with "van" at some times and not others, depending of the fashion of the day and situation. Today many people drop the "van" or use it only in very formal papers. As a result, phone books and genealogies usually alphabatize by the main word, with the "van" (and any other helper word) appearing at the end of the list: Laan, Jan van der

For vastly more information, in Dutch, refer to the pages of the Meertens Institute.

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