History of Holland > Holland history > Dutch surnames in the 17th century

Dutch surnames in the 17th century

Surnames, in the meaning of family names, were relatively uncommon in the United Provinces (Holland) in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century. Most people identified themselves using patronymics - a reference to the first name of their father - as a second name. They were registered as such at birth. Willem Janszoon would have been the son of Jan (i.e. Jan's zoon). If Willem J. had a son called Thomas he would have been registered as Thomas Willemszoon. Because it was unwieldy to spell the full patronymic, it was common practice to abbreviate written names by omitting the 'oon' and adding an abbreviation point, Jansz., or by using the so called internal abbreviation Janszn without such point. The name was however always pronounced in full.

Therefore when writing for readers in the English speaking world where this kind of abbreviation is not recognized as such, we should always write the name in full, Corneliszoon, Pieterzoon, Janszoon, Jacobszoon, Bastiaenszoon, etc., when referring to people of that period. If we do not, we cause the person to be known by another name one syllable shorter in the English speaking world. We inadvertently mislead.

Jansz, Jansen, Janssen, Janzen etc are known as petrified (or frozen) patronymics and were derived from Janszoon when it became more common (and under Napoleon legally compulsory) to have a family name. These are the surnames that still exist today; Janszoon is not in use any more, but for one family. The shorter unabbreviated name Jansz therefore is typically not a name from the early 17th century.