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van is a preposition in the Dutch and Afrikaans languages, meaning "of" or "from". It is also a common prefix in Dutch language surnames (being known as a tussenvoegsel), as in Vincent van Gogh or Marco van Basten. It can appear by itself or in combination with another prefix, such as van de, van der and van den (current and archaic forms of the article de, meaning "the") and less commonly van het or van 't' (the neutral article het). Common is ver, a contraction of van der and written as a single word with the rest of the surname, as in Johannes Vermeer.
The preposition "van" is the most widely used preposition in Dutch surnames, but many others are also used, although not always recognized as such if the whole surname is written as a single word. Just as "van" all these prepositions used to indicate geographical locations:
- te — meaning "at" (or/of towards), (or ter and ten, being the old dative forms), e.g., ter Beek (of the stream)
- thoe/thor — being the old forms of te as in Thorbecke (meaning at the brook)
- aan — meaning "at" or "aside", e.g., aan de Stegge (meaning aside the road)
- op — meaning "on" (also in combination op de, op den, op 't, op der), e.g., as in Op den Akker (on the field)
- in — meaning "in" (in combination with the neutral particle: in 't), e.g., in 't Veld (in the field)
- uit — or archaic uyt, meaning "out" or "from", e.g. Uytdehaage (from The Hague or from the hedge).
- over — meaning "over" or "from the other side", as in Overeem (from the otherside of the river Eem)
- onder — meaning "under" or "below" or "at the bottom": Onderdijk, Onderwater
- achter — meaning "behind": Achterberg (behind de mountain)
- bezuiden — meaning "south of": Bezuidenhout (south of the woods)
- boven — meaning "above" or "up": Bovelander(up in the land)
- buiten — meaning "outside" or "in the country": Buitenhuis ()
- zonder — meaning "without": Zonderland (without land) or Zondervan (without van, e.g. without a surname beginning with van)
Apart from these prepositions the prefix "de" (not a preposition but an article, meaning "the") is also very common. They indicate a property, quality or origin, as in "de Lange" (the tall one), "de Korte" (the small one), "de Groot" (the big one), "de Zwart", "de Wit", "de Rode" (the one with black, white, red hair or skin), "de Rijke" (the rich one). The most widespread is "de Vries" (the Frisian).
For Dutch people of French (usually Huguenot) origin whose ancestors never modified their surnames to fit Dutch norms, the prefix "de" is a preposition similar in meaning to "van".
Collation and capitalisation
- In the Netherlands, and Suriname, names starting with "van" are filed under the initial letter of the following name proper, so van der Waals is filed under "W", as:
Waals, van der, Johannesor
Waals, Johannes van der. The "v" is written in lower case, except when the surname is used as standalone (when the first name or initials are omitted), in which case it is capitalised, as in "de schilder Van Gogh" ("the painter Van Gogh"). The same filing usage applies for Afrikaans (in South Africa). Derivative terms like van der Waals radius (Dutch: vanderwaalsstraal) the "v" is not capitalised, unless it is the first word of the sentence.
- In Belgium, any surnames beginning with "Van" or "van" are filed under "V". So for example Eric Van Rompuy is listed under the "V" section, not under the "R". The lowercase spelling in a name from the Netherlands is respected but not necessarily differentiated in alphabetical ordering and its Dutch style capitalization for certain usages is generally unknown and thus not followed. The painter's full name however, having become commonplace, is usually spelled Vincent Van Gogh in Belgium. In Flemish surnames the "V" is always capitalized though a following interjected "de", "den" ('the') or "der" ('of the', 'from the') usually stays lowercase. Names as Van der Poorten, Vander Poorten and Vanderpoorten include a double genitive, in which case Van made it a patronym - literally "Of from the Gates", originally a son or daughter of the man referred to as coming from the gates: each of these family names goes back to a child of assumedly an emigrant from the then nearest walled city. "Van der" or "Vander" also occurs contracted to "Ver" and then must never be separated from the main term, e.g. in the surname Verpoorten. Names starting with "Van" and its derivatives often refer to a placename (never with any de- form) or some word for a location. Few with "Van" relate to other common sources as professional occupations and physical characteristics, though for instance Van der Jeugd, Van der Kinderen and Vanden Avond atypically refer to 'youth', 'children' and 'evening' respectively.
- In anglicised versions of Dutch names (as in Dick Van Dyke, George Vancouver, Martin Van Buren), the "van" is almost always capitalised in the United States, but in the British Isles some families of Dutch origin continue to use the Dutch form (e. g. Caroline van den Brul).
- Where the word "Van" is not of Dutch origin, such as in the Vietnamese middle name Wen or Van (as in Duong Van Minh, Nguyen Van Thieu) there is no reason to use a lower case "v."
In some names, usually those of the Flemish/Belgian ones, and also some of the names of people from outside the Low Countries (with Dutch-speaking immigrant ancestors), the prefixes are concatenated to each other or to the name proper and form a single-worded or two-worded surnames, as in Vandervelde or Vande Velde.
In the United States some English surnames were later given the preposition Van, such as in the case of Van Allen, Van Owen or Van Blake. Since Owen and Blake don't represent geographical locations, they are recognizable as not original Dutch "van" surnames. "Owen" is a Welsh cognate with Eugene meaning noble-born. "Blake" could come from "blac", a nickname for someone who had light hair or skin.
Prominent people with Van in their surname
- Abraham Van Helsing, fictional character (Dutch doctor & vampire hunter) from Bram Stoker's 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula
- Albertus van Raalte (1811–1876), Calvinist preacher and leader of Dutch immigrants to Michigan
- Alex Van Halen (born 1953), drummer of Van Halen
- Andries van Wesel (1514-1564), Flemish anatomist & physician
- Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), painter
- Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723), scientist
- Armin van Buuren (born 1976), popular Trance DJ
- Carice van Houten (born 1976), actress
- Cornelis Van Niel (1897-1985), Dutch-American microbiologist
- Dick Van Dyke (born 1925), actor, comedian
- Earl Van Dorn (1820–1863) Confederate general during the American Civil War.
- Nick Van Exel (born 1971) basketball player
- Eddie Van Halen (born 1955), guitarist of Van Halen
- Edwin van der Sar (born 1970), football player
- Giovanni van Bronckhorst (born 1975), football player
- Greta Van Susteren (1954–), Fox News journalist
- Gus Van Sant (born July 24), film director, screenwriter, painter, photographer, musician and author.
- Hendrik Willem van Loon (1882–1944), author, historian and journalist
- Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff (1852-1911), Dutch physical & organic chemist, first winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry
- Jacob van Campen (1596-1657), Dutch Golden Age architect
- Jaap van Zweden (born 1960), violinist and conductor
- James Van Allen (1914-2006), space scientist
- James Van Fleet (1892–1992) U.S. four star general
- James Van Der Beek (born 1977), television, film, and stage actor
- Jan Baptist van Helmont (1579-1644), Flemish chemist & physician
- Jan van Eyck (c. 1395-1441), painter
- Jan van Riebeeck (1619-1677), Dutch colonial administrator and founder of Cape Town
- Jean-Claude Van Damme (born 1960), martial artist, actor and director
- Johannes Diderik van der Waals (1837–1923), physicist
- Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (1547-1619), statesman
- John Hasbrouck Van Vleck (1899-1980), American physicist & mathematician, co-awarded the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics
- Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679), Dutch Golden Age writer & playwright
- Joran van der Sloot (born 1987), convicted murderer
- Kiliaen van Rensselaer (1586–1643), merchant
- Lee Van Cleef (1925-1989), actor
- Louis van Gaal (born 1951), football player and manager
- Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827), composer and pianist
- Mamie Van Doren (born 1931), actress, model, singer and sex symbol
- Mario Van Peebles (born 1957), actor, director
- Martin Van Buren (1782-1862), eighth president of the United States
- Marco van Basten (born 1964), football player, manager
- Menno van Coehoorn (1641-1704), military engineer
- Monique van de Ven (born 1952), actress
- Olivier van Noort (1558-1627), explorer, first Dutchman to circumnavigate the world
- Pieter van den Hoogenband (born 1978), swimmer
- Rafael van der Vaart (born 1983), footballer
- Raymond van Barneveld (born 1967), darts player
- Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669), painter
- Robert J. Van de Graaff (1901–1967) physicist, developed the Van de Graaff generator
- Robin van Persie (born 1983), football player
- Ruud van Nistelrooy (born 1976), football player
- Simon van der Meer (1925-2011), particle accelerator physicist, Nobel Prize in Physics in 1984
- Steven Van Zandt (born 1950), musician, songwriter, arranger, record producer, actor, and radio disc jockey
- Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), painter
- Willebrord Snel van Royen (1580-1626), Dutch astronomer & mathematician
- Willem van Oranje (1533–1584), nobleman, founder of the Dutch nation