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Belgian family names

It is estimated that there are some 190,000 family names in Belgium for 10 million inhabitants, giving a ration of 1 family name for 53 people in average. This is one of the highest ratio in the world. In comparison, there are only between 700 and 3,500 Han surnames in all China, for 1.3 billion people ! The most common family name in Belgium, Peeters, is only born by 0.3% of the population.

Traditional family names in Belgium, as opposed to those immigrants, have numerous linguistic origins (French, Dutch/Flemish, German...) and can be classified in several categories of meaning :

  • Ancestor's given name
  • Geographic origin
  • Noble name tied to a village or town (fiefdom)
  • Ancestor's occupation
  • Ancestor's physical attribute
  • Corruption of another name
  • Unclear origin

Geographic origin

The place of origin is indicated by van in Dutch and de (or occasionally du) in French, which means "from" or "of". Some places of origins are purely geographical, like in Japanese surnames. For example : "Vanden Bergh" in Flemish, or "Dumont" in French, mean "from the mountain"; "Vandenbosch" in Flemish, or "Dubois" in French, mean "from the wood/forest". Many Flemish names in "Van der" have been shortened as "Ver" (e.g. Vermeulen, Vermeersch, Verdonk...).

Most of the surnames (except the most common ones) in this category match a hamlet, village, town, city or region's name in the Benelux of France, which in most cases mean that the family was noble and ruled over the land of that area in medieval times (see Belgian noble families). Nobility has often been lost with time, or during the French Revolution, so that nowadays only names starting with a small, detached van or de (not a capitalised "Van" or "De") still indicate that the person is from a noble family. Some Dutch names in this category also start with "het" or the shortened form " 't ", while a few noble French names start with "le" or "la" (but more often "du" or "de la").

This is the category of patronymics with the greatest variety, as a result of the numerous place names.

Given names

Some of the most common family names in Belgium are those inherited from an ancestor's given name. This is the most common type of surnames in many countries, like in Scandinavinan names (ending in "-son" or "-sen", also common in Northern England, due to the numerous Viking ancestries), Anglo-Saxon names (ending in "-s" like in Williams, Richards...), Spanish names (ending in "-ez") or many Arabic names (marked by a "bin" meaning "son of").

The Dutch/Flemish equivalent works the same way as the Anglo-Saxon's final "s" (e.g. Peeters, Martens, Wouters, Jacobs, Pauwels...), or occasionally like th Danish's "-sen", sometimes with a double "s" (e.g. Jansen or Janssen). Some final "-s" following a "k" sound have resulted in a final "-x" like in Hendrickx, Dierckx, Sterckx...

There are various French equivalents. The newest names have no suffix at all, so the surname is spelt exactly like the given name (e.g. Michel, Laurent, Henry...), which can be confusing.

Older names, from the 16th century of earlier, sound more Germanic, such as those ending in -mart, a Germanic suffix meaning "famous". For example : Wilmart, Gilmart, Jeanmart, Jamart, Jacquemart... Such names are especially common around Namur. Shortening and nicknames are also common for surnames derived from given names. This includes Colard, Collard, Collignon, Colson, Colot, Colet, Colette (from Nicolas), Gillard, Gilson, Gillot, Gillet (from Gilles), Piette, Pierson, Piret, Pirotte or Pirard (from Pierre), Jacquot, Jacquet, Jacquier, Jacquemin or Jacquard (from Jacques), and so on.

Over half of the 100 most common surnames nationwide belong to this category (see table below). In spite of that, only a moderate percentage of the total population bears such a name, due to the immense diversity of Belgian surnames, and the rather limited number of given names that have become surnames.

Adjectives

Surnames often include a physical description. For example, 'Legros' in French, or 'De Groot' in Dutch, mean "the fat/big", while 'De Lange' (Dutch) and 'Legrand' (French) means "the tall". Some adjectives indicate a foreign origin, like 'Lallemand' or 'Lerusse', which mean respectively "the German" and "the Russian" in French.

Some family names reflect the profession of the first ancestor to carry that name, like Timmerman in Dutch, or Carpentier in French, which both mean "carpenter", or 'De Bakker' (Dutch) and 'Boulanger', both meaning "baker".

Others

In spite of all these possibilities, many surnames in Belgium have no clear meaning, unclear origins, or no meaning at all. Many Walloon surnames have medieval German origins and end in "-art" or "-ard". Others are deformations or heavy mispellings or other surnames. Variant of spelling and misspellings are very common due to spelling rules in Dutch, and even more so in French.

List of the 100 most common Belgian family names in 2001 by region

Belgium Flanders Wallonia
1 Peeters 33.113 1 Peeters 29.324 1 Dubois 9.689
2 Janssens 30.996 2 Janssens 26.701 2 Lambert 8.928
3 Maes 25.567 3 Maes 22.114 3 Martin 6.942
4 Jacobs 20.096 4 Jacobs 17.105 4 Dupont 6.617
5 Mertens 18.699 5 Willems 15.369 5 Dumont 6.437
6 Willems 18.540 6 Mertens 15.253 6 Leclercq 6.373
7 Claes 16.757 7 Claes 14.350 7 Simon 6.275
8 Goossens 16.075 8 Wouters 14.070 8 Laurent 5.949
9 Wouters 15.834 9 Goossens 13.677 9 Lejeune 5.574
10 De Smet 14.251 10 De Smet 12.763 10 Renard 5.520
11 Vermeulen 13.693 11 Vermeulen 12.100 11 Gérard 5.464
12 Pauwels 13.527 12 Pauwels 11.861 12 Denis 5.421
13 Dubois 13.152 13 Aerts 11.595 13 Leroy 5.419
14 Hermans 12.726 14 Hermans 11.035 14 Charlier 5.090
15 Aerts 12.712 15 Martens 9.907 15 Mathieu 4.966
16 Michiels 12.115 16 De Vos 9.801 16 François 4.789
17 Lambert 12.016 17 Michiels 9.599 17 Petit 4.769
18 Martens 11.171 18 Claeys 9.315 18 Michel 4.754
19 De Vos 11.024 19 De Clercq 9.178 19 Bertrand 4.683
20 Smets 10.896 20 Smets 9.097 20 Lemaire 4.567
21 Dupont 10.487 21 Van Damme 8.866 21 Noël 4.516
22 Claeys 10.327 22 Hendrickx 8.681 22 Evrard 4.458
23 De Clercq 10.293 23 Van de Velde 8.385 23 Fontaine 4.386
24 Desmet 10.285 24 Desmet 8.107 24 Collard 4.218
25 Hendrickx 10.098 25 De Backer 8.069 25 Bernard 4.111
26 Van Damme 10.045 26 Segers 7.927 26 Marchal 3.968
27 Stevens 9.521 27 Stevens 7.919 27 Thomas 3.948
28 De Backer 9.387 28 Janssen 7.706 28 Thiry 3.886
29 Janssen 9.345 29 Lemmens 7.482 29 Legrand 3.779
30 Devos 9.316 30 Van den Broeck 7.438 30 Servais 3.736
31 Martin 9.075 31 Coppens 7.158 31 André 3.724
32 Van de Velde 8.995 32 De Cock 6.907 32 Robert 3.722
33 Segers 8.980 33 Cools 6.856 33 Adam 3.663
34 Lemmens 8.835 34 Devos 6.761 34 Bastin 3.572
35 Coppens 8.679 35 Verhoeven 6.740 35 Henry 3.562
36 Dumont 8.172 36 Smet 6.503 36 Léonard 3.561
37 Wauters 7.877 37 De Smedt 6.295 37 Guillaume 3.505
38 Leroy 7.849 38 Wauters 6.204 38 Moreau 3.488
39 Van den Broeck 7.833 39 De Meyer 6.152 39 Gillet 3.391
40 Leclercq 7.829 40 De Wilde 5.902 40 Delvaux 3.385
41 Simon 7.738 41 Baert 5.868 41 Carlier 3.352
42 De Cock 7.717 42 De Pauw 5.832 42 Lefebvre 3.342
43 Verhoeven 7.489 43 Verheyen 5.794 43 Louis 3.309
44 Cools 7.456 44 Verstraete 5.749 44 Antoine 3.238
45 Laurent 7.441 45 Lauwers 5.735 45 Hubert 3.217
46 François 7.333 46 De Ridder 5.556 46 Toussaint 3.164
47 De Smedt 7.072 47 Geerts 5.434 47 Lebrun 3.158
48 Declercq 7.043 48 Declercq 5.424 48 Jacques 3.078
49 Smet 7.035 49 Lenaerts 5.411 49 Remy 3.041
50 Denis 7.024 50 Thys 5.383 50 Cornet 3.021
51 Thys 6.995 51 Lambrechts 5.365 51 Lecomte 3.012
52 Renard 6.833 52 Verbeke 5.352 52 Goffin 2.956
53 De Meyer 6.769 53 Cornelis 5.335 53 Grégoire 2.933
54 Thomas 6.761 54 Wuyts 5.304 54 Collin 2.905
55 Timmermans 6.736 55 Verlinden 5.303 55 Michaux 2.878
56 Lejeune 6.623 56 Verschueren 5.265 56 Maréchal 2.871
57 De Pauw 6.567 57 Moens 5.242 57 Meunier 2.777
58 Baert 6.567 58 Bosmans 5.204 58 Janssens 2.773
59 De Wilde 6.543 59 Bogaert 5.164 59 Rousseau 2.730
60 De Ridder 6.510 60 Vandenberghe 5.138 60 Libert 2.716
61 Lauwers 6.398 61 Vermeiren 5.110 61 Georges 2.650
62 Lenaerts 6.384 62 Van Dyck 5.082 62 Schmitz 2.640
63 Verstraete 6.365 63 Bogaerts 5.056 63 Poncelet 2.638
64 Lambrechts 6.359 64 Timmermans 5.033 64 Gilson 2.629
65 Gérard 6.292 65 Vermeersch 4.889 65 Roland 2.618
66 Petit 6.241 66 Christiaens 4.863 66 Piette 2.617
67 Vandenberghe 6.221 67 Bauwens 4.773 67 Bodart 2.592
68 Verheyen 6.166 68 Verstraeten 4.727 68 Lacroix 2.546
69 Mathieu 6.162 69 Heylen 4.724 69 Maes 2.538
70 Lemaire 6.157 70 Pieters 4.681 70 Peeters 2.526
71 Geerts 6.152 71 Van den Bossche 4.678 71 Willems 2.483
72 Charlier 6.125 72 Thijs 4.609 72 Delhaye 2.480
73 Cornelis 6.088 73 Van Hoof 4.580 73 Gilles 2.467
74 Bogaert 6.087 74 Jansen 4.541 74 Descamps 2.460
75 Bauwens 6.086 75 Goethals 4.529 75 Massart 2.451
76 Moens 6.013 76 Lievens 4.511 76 Lefèvre 2.407
77 Christiaens 6.001 77 Ceulemans 4.491 77 Collignon 2.405
78 Verbeke 5.999 78 Dierckx 4.479 78 Mertens 2.372
79 Bosmans 5.862 79 Claessens 4.429 79 Boulanger 2.368
80 Verlinden 5.844 80 Simons 4.415 80 Etienne 2.365
81 Verschueren 5.788 81 De Groote 4.411 81 Mahieu 2.330
82 Wuyts 5.785 82 Verhaeghe 4.392 82 Urbain 2.253
83 Bertrand 5.746 83 Vercammen 4.391 83 Delfosse 2.227
84 Michel 5.741 84 Van Hecke 4.335 84 Dethier 2.216
85 Bogaerts 5.637 85 Van Acker 4.307 85 Deprez 2.179
86 Deprez 5.629 86 Nijs 4.298 86 Lecocq 2.165
87 Vermeiren 5.617 87 Verhaegen 4.180 87 Pierre 2.159
88 Fontaine 5.596 88 Vervoort 4.156 88 Jacquet 2.124
89 Carlier 5.574 89 Roels 4.154 89 Pirotte 2.109
90 Noël 5.527 90 De Coninck 4.147 90 Hardy 2.108
91 Van Dyck 5.507 91 Verbruggen 4.142 91 Parmentier 2.098
92 Verstraeten 5.457 92 Luyten 4.120 92 Brasseur 2.090
93 Vermeersch 5.401 93 Raes 4.117 93 Piron 2.086
94 Claessens 5.396 94 Verhelst 4.112 94 Nicolas 2.070
95 Simons 5.328 95 Somers 4.034 95 Herman 2.050
96 Jansen 5.289 96 De Winter 4.025 96 Masson 2.041
97 Evrard 5.287 97 Verbeeck 4.019 97 Cuvelier 2.032
98 Beckers 5.232 98 Daems 3.986 98 Devos 2.004
99 Pieters 5.215 99 Matthys 3.959 99 Bodson 2.003
100 Adam 5.204 100 De Bruyn 3.950 100 Pirard 1.994
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