Limburgish names

Limburgish names are used in the provinces of Limburg in Belgium and the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent in North Rhine Westphalia in Germany. The complete name usually consists of a given name, one or more middle names and a family name.

The present-day Limburgish-speaking areas of the Netherlands and Belgium were once part of the Southern Netherlands (which for the most part consisted of nearly all of what is nowadays Belgium). Fixed surnames already existed in the 14th and 15th centuries in the Southern Netherlands (in contrast to the Northern Netherlands, where fixed surnames only started to appear in the 16th and 17th centuries), though they were relatively rare, mostly used among the nobility. The ordinary people adopted the practice of fixed surnames a little later (starting first in the cities, later spreading to the countryside); before that time, most of them had a patronym (which often differed per generation), though some were (variably) known by their occupation, their place of origin or a personal trait. By circa 1600, about 95% of the population of the Southern Netherlands had a fixed surname, though the spelling often varied, depending on the literacy and interpretation of the person that wrote it down.

The surnames were later officially recorded (thus, they truly became permanent and unchangeable) with the introduction of the civil registry under Napoleon in 1795: this goes for Belgium entirely and the Dutch province of Limburg - other Dutch provinces followed in 1811, but for some of those provinces it would take until 1825 for the civil registry to be properly implemented and for every single person to have a (fixed) surname.

The story of fixed surnames in the Southern Netherlands as illustrated above also applies to the Limburgish-speaking region of Prussia, which consisted of several duchies in the Late Middle Ages (and would later become known as the Rhine Province from 1822 to 1946). The left bank of the Rhine ("linksrheinisch") later became part of Napoleon's empire, and surnames were officially recorded there in 1798. It took until 1874 before the civil registry was fully implemented in all of Prussia, modelled after the system in the Left Rhinish area, the part of Prussia where the civil registry had been introduced first.

The Limburgish-speaking area was surrounded by three dominant cultures, namely the Dutch, German and French, and as a result, Limburgish names were greatly influenced by the dominant languages of those cultures, especially German and French. Because Limburgish has always been an oral language and has not had the chance to develop as a written language, nearly all Limburgish names came into being as unofficial short forms or pet forms of the official names. Limburgish people were generally Roman Catholics, and so their official names were usually Latin (as written down in the church books by the local priest). Those official names were not used in daily life (save for official matters); rather, it was the Limburgish form of the official names. For example, a man born as Johannes would simply be known as Sjang in daily life. This pattern of official vs. unofficial names largely continued when the civil registry was introduced by Napoleon: from 1795 to 1814, people's official names were French, while in everyday life, they were known by their Limburgish names. But this somewhat changed after the First French Empire collapsed: the clerics no longer translated a name to the administrative language of the time, but wrote the name of the newborn down exactly as it was stated by the father. This gave way to a greater variety among the official names, most of which were Latin, Dutch, French and German. Occasionally, a Limburgish name could be found, but overall, the pattern of official vs. unofficial remained. A possible reason of this is that the people might have been ashamed to do otherwise, as Limburgish people were generally seen as farmers and peasants, plus speakers of the dominant languages in the area (Dutch and German, and French in the deep south) looked down upon the Limburgish language. Use of the Limburgish language was not encouraged by the speakers of the dominant languages, so it would be understandable if the same applied to Limburgish names as official names.

Another consequence of Limburgish being primarily an oral language is that many variations exist for each name, just like there can be various spellings for a word: a general standard had never been developed. Spellings usually differ per place, in accordance with the borders of the counties, duchies, etc. that existed in the Limburgish-speaking regions under the Holy Roman Empire, before Napoleon conquered them all and incorporated them into the départements Meuse-Inférieure and Roer of the First French Empire.

See European names for a list of the usual sources of Limburgish given names. As stated previously, Limburgish people were generally Roman Catholics, and so it was customary for them to name the first son after the father's father and the first daughter after the mother's mother. After the grandparents' names were used, the other children were often named after their uncles, aunts or a predeceased sibling.

The word name in Limburgish can be both naam and naom (plural: name and naome), while given name can be both veurnaam and veurnoam (plural: veurname and veurnoame). As for family name, this can be both achternaam and achternoam (plural: achtername and achternoame) in Limburgish.

(this article contributed by Lucille)