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Van is a very common prefix in Dutch language surnames, where it is known as a tussenvoegsel. In those cases it nearly always refers to a certain, often quite distant, ancestor's place of origin or residence; for example, Ludwig van Beethoven "from Bettenhoven" and Rembrandt van Rijn "from the Rhine".[note 1] Van is also a preposition in the Dutch and Afrikaans languages, meaning "of" or "from" depending on the context (similar to de and di in the Romance languages). Van also exists as a surname in its own right, but as such it's very rare.
In surnames, it can appear by itself or in combination with an article (compare French de la, de l'). The most common cases of this are van de, van der and van den, where the articles are all current or archaic forms of the article de "the". Less common are van het and van 't, which use the similar but grammatically neuter article het. The contraction ver-, based on van der, is also common and can be written as a single word with the rest of the surname; an example being Johannes Vermeer (van der meer "of the lake").
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" (also in combination aan de, aan den, aan het, aan 't), e.g., aan de Stegge (meaning aside the road)
- op — meaning "on" (also in combination op de, op der, op den, op ten, op 't, op het), e.g., as in Op den Akker (on the field)
- in — meaning "in" (also in combination in de, in den, in der, in het, in 't), in 't Veld (in the field)
- bij — meaning "at" (exclusively in combination bij de, bij 't): Bij 't Vuur (at the fire)
- uit — or archaic uyt (uijt), meaning "out" or "from" (also in combination uit de, uit den, uit het, uyt de, uyt den, uijt de, uijt den, uijt ten), e.g. Uytdehaage (from The Hague or from the hedge).
- over — meaning "over" or "from the other side" (also in combination over de), as in Overeem (from the other side of the river Eem)
- onder — meaning "under" or "below" or "at the bottom" (also in combination onder de), Onderdijk, Onderwater
- achter — meaning "behind" (also in combination achter de) Achterberg (behind the 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 (outside the house)
- voor — meaning "in front of", (also in combination voor de, voor den, voor 't, voor in 't)
- 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 Johannes van der Waals is filed under "W", as:
Waals, Johannes van deror
van der Waals, Johannes. 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"). In compound terms like "de Van Goghtentoonstelling" ("the Van Gogh exhibition") the "v" is capitalised, unless the connection between the person and the concept is or has become very weak.
- 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.
- In South Africa the Afrikaans surname Van der Merwe would be listed under the "v" section as is done in Belgium (see below) and not under "m", however South Africa follows the same capitalisation convention as the Netherlands (thus, one would refer in English or in Afrikaans to a "Jan van der Merwe" when the first name is included, but simply to "Van der Merwe" when the first name is omitted).
- 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).
- Some scientific terms derived from names have become words in their own right, such as vanderwaalsstraal ("van der Waals radius"). In English, The American Chemical Society Style Guide recommends writing "van der Waals", "VandenHeuvel" and "van't Hoff–Le Bel".
- Where the word "Van" is not of Dutch origin, such as in the Vietnamese middle name Wen or Van (as in Dương Văn Minh, Nguyễn Văn Thiệu), 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. Prominent examples include "Vandenberg" and "Vanderbilt".
The German "von" is a linguistic cognate of the Dutch "van", however, unlike the German "von", the Dutch "van" is not indicative of the person's nobility or royalty. Van has a history of being used by commoners and nobility alike to simply signify ancestral relation to a particular place, (e.g. Willem van Oranje "William of [the] Orange [family]"; Jan van Ghent "John [who hails] from Ghent").
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
- Achille Van Acker (1898–1975), fourfold Prime Minister of Belgium
- Adriaen van der Donck (c. 1618–1655), lawyer and landowner in New Netherland
- Adriaen van der Werff (1659–1722), painter
- 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), anatomist & physician
- Anna Maria van Schurman (1607–1678), polymath
- Anneliese van der Pol (born 1984), actress and singer
- Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), painter
- Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723), scientist
- Ariën Van Weesenbeek (1980-Present), drummer
- Armin van Buuren (born 1976), popular Trance DJ
- Ben van Beurden (born 1958), Current CEO of Royal Dutch Shell plc.
- Cameron van der Burgh (born 1988), swimmer
- Carice van Houten (born 1976), actress
- Caroline van der Leeuw - Caro Emerald (born 1981), popular singer
- Claire van der Boom (born1983), actress
- Cornelis Van Niel (1897–1985), microbiologist
- Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794–1877), business magnate and philanthropist
- Daan Van Der Linden (born 1996), professional skateboarder
- Danielle van de Donk (born 1991), women's football player
- Dick Van Dyke (born 1925), actor and comedian
- Dutch van der Linde, fictional character (19th century outlaw leader of America's Wild West) from Rockstar Games' Red Dead game series.
- Earl Van Dorn (1820–1863), Confederate general during the American Civil War.
- Eddie Van Halen (born 1955), guitarist of Van Halen
- Edwin van der Sar (born 1970), football player
- Giedo van der Garde (born 1985), racing driver
- Giovanni van Bronckhorst (born 1975), football player
- Greta Van Susteren (born 1954), Fox News journalist
- Guido van Rossum (born 1956), inventor of the Python programming language
- Gus Van Sant (born 1952), film director, screenwriter, painter, photographer, musician and author
- Han van Meegeren (1889–1947), painter and ingenious art forger
- Hendrik Willem van Loon (1882–1944), author, historian and journalist
- Henry van de Velde (1863–1957), painter, architect and interior designer
- Hoyt Vandenberg, second Chief of Staff of the Air Force of the United States for whom Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is named
- Hubert van Es (1941–2009), photographer
- Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff (1852–1911), physical & organic chemist, first winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry
- Jacob van Campen (1596–1657), architect
- Jacob van Ruisdael (c.1629– 1682), landscape painter
- 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), chemist & physician
- Jan van Eyck (c. 1395–1441), painter
- Jan van Riebeeck (1619–1677), 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
- Johnny Vander Meer (1914–1997), baseball player
- John Hasbrouck Van Vleck (1899–1980), American physicist & mathematician, co-awarded the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics
- Jon van Rood (1926–2017), immunologist
- Joost van den Vondel (1587–1679), writer & playwright
- Joost van der Westhuizen (1971–2017), rugby player
- Joran van der Sloot (born 1987), convicted murderer
- José van Dijck (born 1960), new media scholar, first female president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
- Kiliaen van Rensselaer (1586–1643), merchant
- Lee Van Cleef (1925–1989), actor
- Leontien van Moorsel (born 1970), cyclist
- Louis van Gaal (born 1951), football player and manager
- Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969), German-American architect
- Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), composer and pianist
- Mamie Van Doren (born 1931), actress, model, singer and sex symbol
- Marco van Basten (born 1964), football player, manager
- Marinus van der Lubbe (1909–1934), person executed for setting fire to the German Reichstag building
- Mario Van Peebles (born 1957), actor, director
- Martin Van Buren (1782–1862), eighth president of the United States
- Menno van Coehoorn (1641–1704), military engineer
- Michael van Gerwen (born 1989), darts player
- Monique van de Ven (born 1952), actress
- Nick Van Exel (born 1971), basketball player
- Olivier van Noort (1558–1627), explorer, first Dutchman to circumnavigate the world
- Paul van Dyk (born 1971), DJ/music artist
- Peter van Dievoet (1661-1729), sculptor and architect.
- Pierre van der Linden (born 1946), drummer and composer
- 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
- Rianne van Rompaey (born 1996), fashion model
- Rik Van Looy (born 1933), cyclist
- Rip Van Winkle fictional character from a short story by American author Washington Irving.
- Rob Van Dam fictional wwe character (born 1970), pro wrestler
- Robert J. Van de Graaff (1901–1967), physicist, developed the Van de Graaff generator
- Robin van Persie (born 1983), football player
- Rogier van der Weyden (1400–1464), painter
- Ronnie Van Zant (1948–1977), lead singer of the American rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Ruud van Nistelrooy (born 1976), football player
- Simon van der Meer (1925–2011), particle accelerator physicist, Nobel Prize in Physics in 1984
- Shane van Gisbergen (born 1989), race car driver
- Steven Van Zandt (born 1950), musician, songwriter, arranger, record producer, actor, and radio disc jockey
- Todd Van Steensel (born 1991), Australian baseball player
- Townes Van Zandt (1944–1997), musician, and songwriter
- Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), painter
- Virgil van Dijk (born 1991), footballer
- Willebrord Snel van Royen (1580–1626), Dutch astronomer & mathematician
- Willem van Oranje (1533–1584), nobleman, founder of the Dutch nation
- Willem Hendrik van Oranje (1650–1702), Stadtholder of the United Provinces of the Netherlands (1672–1702) and King of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1689–1702)
- Maerten Harpertsz Tromp, a famous Dutch admiral from the 17th century, was also known as Maerten Harpertsz van Tromp and even Maerten Harpertsz van der Tromp.
- Van Rensselaer (surname)
- Roosevelt (name), originally spelled "Van Rosevelt" or "Van Rosenvelt"
- Vanderbilt family
- Van Halen
- While Rembrandt was actually born close to the Rhine, he merely inherited the name from his father who already carried it. Van Beethoven neither lived nor was born in Bettenhoven, but a patrilinear ancestor perhaps was. Such names often go back centuries and may once have been mere self-imposed titles that their children then adopted.
- "Did you know that Ludwig van Beethoven's roots lie in Mechelen?". 2017-07-14.
- Brians, Paul (25 May 2016). "multipart names". Washington State University. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
- woordenlijst.org, line 16.B
- woordenlijst.org, line 16.D
- "Vlaamse Volksvertegenwoordigers Per Fractie". Archived from the original on 2007-02-27. Retrieved 2007-02-27.
- pubs.acs.org, ACS Style Guide. Chapter 9: "Gammar and Spelling".