Early Dutch Settlers without a Surname
The student who searches the early Dutch records meets with many difficulties, none of which are more vexatious than their personal names. The majority of the First Settlers ordinarily used no surnames, some evidently had none. In these cases individuals were often distinguished by personal peculiarities, trades. etc., which, though sufficient for the time, give little or no aid to one tracing the pedigree of a family. It is only after great familiarity with the early writings and a careful noting of the use of surnames as they are sometimes subscribed to wills, conveyances, and other important papers that any connection can be established between a first settler and his later descendants.
Persons With Two or More Surnames
But while many individuals had no surnames whatever apparently, a few families had two or more. Marcelis Janse Van Bommel was farmer of the burger and tapster’s excise of liquors in Beverwyck many years. Some of his children took Marcelis aa their surname, others Van Iveren; without a knowledge of this fact it would be quite impossible for his descendants to trace back their pedigree to him. A similar case occurred in the Albany branch of the Bratts. In the passage over from Holland one child was born at sea in a storm and he was named Storm Van Derzee, which epithet he and his descendants have since used as a surname.
It was not uncommon for the same individual to have two or more surnames and to use them indifferently. Jan Barentse Wemp [Wemple] was sometimes called Poest; he had a mill on the Poesten-kil which perhaps derived its name from him rather than from the Dutch word poesten.* After his death in 1663 his widow Maritie Myndertse married Sweer Teunise. He had two surnames, VanVelsen and Van Westbroeck. Jan Fort of Niskayuna had the following aliases: Jan La Fort, Jan Vandervort and Jan Libbertee.
The change in the spelling and pronunciation of names is likewise a source of considerable embarrassment. Who would recognize the ancient Du Trieux (pronounced Du Troo) in the modern Truax, or Beaufils in Bovie, or Barrois in Barroway, of finally the familiar name of Jones in such laughable disguises as TSaus, TJans, and Shawns.
[Note: A Patronymic is not the same as a patronymic surname (see below). A true patronymic expired after a generation or so, but a patronymic surname endured. WHR]
The system of nomenclature in common use among the early Dutch settlers consisted in prefixing the child’s to the father’s Christian name, terminating in -se or -sen; in baptism but one name was usually given; the patronymic was used by custom in all cases, and in the absence of a surname was sometimes adopted as such. Thus the children of Rutger Jacobsen (Van Schoenderwoert or Van Woert) were respectively Margaret Rutgers, Engel Rutgers, and Harmen Rutgers, and Rutgers was subsequently assumed as the family name. The two sons of the First Settler Wynant Gerritse (Vander Poel) were Melgert Wynantse and Gerrit Wynantse. The First Settler, Harmen Tomase Hun (Van Amersfort) had a son named Tomas Harmense and a daughter Wyntie Harmense. The First Settlers Philip and David Schuyler, were more commonly called Philip and David Pieterse, being sons of Pieter Schuyler.
Occasionally two patronymics were used, as Samuel Arentse Samuelse Bratt; i. e., Samuel Bratt the son of Arent, who was the son of Samuel
The use of surnames gradually increased among the Dutch from the time the Province was occupied by the English in 1664, and after the first quarter of the following century few names were written without the addition of a family name.
Source: Pearson, Jonathan. Contributions for the genealogies of the first settlers of the ancient county of Albany, from 1630 to 1800. Albany, J. Munsell, 1872, "A key to the names of persons occurring in the early Dutch records of Albany and vicinity.", p. 1. https://archive.org/details/contributionsfor00pear
Types of Dutch Surnames
Dutch surnames can generally be sorted into four main types based on their origin:
- Patronymic surnames from an ancestor's personal name
- Toponymic surnames from where they were born
- Occupational surnames from what their job was
- Cognominal surnames from how they appeared or acted
Patronymic surname The name is based on the personal name of the father of the bearer. Historically this has been by far the most dominant form. These type of names fluctuated in form as the surname was not constant. If a man called Willem Janssen (William, John's son) had a son named Jacob, he would be known as Jacob Willemsen (Jacob, Williams' son). Following civil registry, the form at time of registry became permanent. Hence today many Dutch people are named after ancestors living in the early 19th century when civil registry was introduced to the Low Countries. These names rarely feature tussenvoegsels.
Toponymic surname The name is based on the location on which the bearer lives or lived. In Dutch this form of surname nearly always includes one or several tussenvoegsels, mainly van, van de and variants. Many immigrants removed the spacing, leading to derived names for well known people like Cornelius Vanderbilt. While "van" denotes "of", Dutch surnames are sometimes associated with the upper class of society or aristocracy (cf. William of Orange). However, in Dutch van often reflects the original place of origin (Van Der Bilt - He who comes from De Bilt); rather than denote any aristocratic status.
Occupational surname The name is based on the occupation of the bearer. Well known examples include Molenaar, Visser and Smit. This practice is similar to English surnames (the example names translate perfectly to Miller, Fisher and Smith).
Cognominal surname The name is based on nicknames relating to physical appearance/other features, on the appearance or character of the bearer (at least at the time of registration). For example "De Lange" (the tall one), "De Groot" (the big one), "De Dappere" (the brave one).
Other types of surnames The name may relate to animals. For example; De Leeuw (The Lion), Vogels (Birds), Koekkoek (Cuckoo) and Devalck (The Falcon); to a desired social status; e.g., Prins (Prince), De Koninck/Koning (King), De Keyzer/keizer (Emperor). There is also a set of made up or descriptive names; e.g. Naaktgeboren (born naked).
Dutch names can differ greatly in spelling. The surname Baks, for example is also recorded as Backs, Bacxs, Bakx, Baxs, Bacx, Backx, Bakxs and Baxcs. Though written differently, pronunciation remains identical. Dialectal variety also commonly occurs, with De Smet and De Smit both meaning Smith for example. Surnames of Dutch migrants in foreign environments (mainly the Anglosphere and Francophonie) are often adapted, not only in pronunciation but also in spelling.
Wikipedia has more information about Dutch names.