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Thread: Belgian surnames

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    Post Belgian surnames



    There are about 190,000 family names in Belgium for 10 million inhabitants (i.e. 1 for 53 people), which is probably one of the highest ratio in the world. In comparison, there are between 700 and 3,500 Han surnames in all China.

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

    - ancestor's given name
    - geographic origin
    - noble name tied to a village or town (fiefdom)
    - ancestor's job
    - ancestor's physical aspect
    - corrupted spelling of a word/name
    - unclear origin

    Names around the world

    In some countries (e.g. Scandinavia, Spain, Arabic countries...) surnames are mostly a given name + a suffix meaning "son of". For instance, Olufsen means "son of Oluf" in Danish, and 'Martinez' means "son of Martin" in Spanish. In other countries (e.g. Japan) surnames come from the geographic origin of the family. For example, 'Yamamoto' means "from the mountain". English names have both, as well as a few surnames indicating an ancestor's job (e.g. 'Smith' or 'Baker').

    Belgian names

    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 Japan. E.g. "Vanden Bergh" in Dutch, or "Dumont" in French, mean "from the mountain". "Vandenbosch" in Dutch, or "Dubois" in French, mean "from the wood/forest". Many names in "Van der" have been shortened as "Ver" (e.g. Vermeulen, Vermeersch, Verdonk...).

    Most of the surnames in this category actually match a 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 (e.g. van Arschoot, de Liedekerke, d'Ursel...). 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").

    Given names

    The Dutch equivalent of names in Scandinavina "-son" (also common in Northern England, due to the numerous Viking ancestries) is simply "-s" like in Anglo-Saxon names (e.g. Williams, Richards...) or "-sen" like in Danish. The most common Flemish names fall into this category (e.g. Peeters, Martens, Wouters, Jacobs, Pauwels, Jansen...). Some final "-s" following a "k" sound have resulted in a final "-x" like in Hendrickx, Dierckx, Sterckx...

    The French equivalent has no suffix, so the surname is spelt exactly like the regular given name (e.g. Michel, Laurent, Henry...), which can be confusing.

    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, whcih both mean "carpenter", or "De Bakker" (Dutch) and "Boulanger", which mean "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.

    Here is a list of the 100 most common family names in Belgium by region. The 50 most common surnames make up 6.06% of the population.

    This excellent website (in Dutch only) shows the density of most Belgian surnames by municipality on an interactive map.
    Last edited by Maciamo; 20-02-11 at 09:54.

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    Are surname suffixes " ton " and " berg or burg = hill in English " common in Belgium as in England,Scandinavia,and Germany ?

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    Surnames in "-ton" are English (short for "town", if I am not mistaken).

    "Berg" is Dutch, German or Scandinavian for "mountain". They are less common in Dutch than in German because of the flat geography of the Netherlands and Flanders. In fact, "berg" refers more to a low hill (e.g. 100m of elevation) in Dutch.

    "Burg" is German for (fortified) town. The French equivalent is "bourg", especially common in Alsace and Lorraine, which were formerly part of Germany (e.g. Strasbourg).

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    I found out that there are around 350,000 surnames in Italy, and some 900,000 in France...

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    This website has a list of the 50 most common surnames for each municipality in Belgium.

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